Cartoon Solutions :: Designing 2D Smoke

Designing 2D Smoke

Think of the overall shape first
Designing smoke can be made much easier if you think first of the overall shape(s) that you would like to design. Base your design on basic shapes like circles, or tubes, keeping the objects' perspective in mind as you go. Sketch or rough out the design, focusing on overall shape than on line quality.

Draw in the wireframe contour lines to help you see the object 3 dimensionally. In this example, we want our view to be looking at the smoke from slightly underneath it.
On a top layer above the contour drawing, you will add the finer details to make the object look like smoke.

Adding details
The next step is to define the shape further by adding more details. The shapes should be round and vary in size. Be creative and remember that overlapping lines can really help show perspective and depth within the design. Like the contour drawing, this step of the drawing should also be done rough and sketchy.

Thinking of the design 3 dimensionally will help you to know how and where to place the lighting (tones or shadows).

Clean up and lighting
Once you are satisfied with your rough design, the next step is to clean up the image. Thinking of your shapes as round objects you can add a shaded area to further define your shape and keep your smoke from looking flat. You can use the pencil tool to draw the line to hold the shaded color. Once you have filled in the colors, you can delete the pencil line you have created by double-clicking on the line to select it, then press the 'delete' key to eliminate it. Make sure if the design has been cleaned up with the pencil tool, that before you add the line to hold the shaded color that you change the color of the pencil tool. If you don't do this and keep the color the same as your clean up line, when you select the line to eliminate it, it will also select your clean up line which you don't want to eliminate!

Designing tips
When roughing in the design on top of the wireframe sketch, it makes a stronger design if the bulges of the smoke are varied. They don't have to follow the outline of the wireframe exactly. The wireframe is there as a guide.

When cleaning up the design, add little rounded bumps in the lines throughout rather than having large round shapes everywhere. This will add variety and also help your design feel more organic.

For smoke trails, the smoke coming out at first is thin and streamlined. As it hangs in the air, it expands and grows, thus changing it's design to be more billowy and round.
When animating smoke, the smoke comes out quickly and then it's movement drops in speed quickly. Remember that it does not stop moving altogether, but keeps moving at a slow and steady pace.

Fading off smoke
An easy way to have your smoke disappear is to change the alpha of your symbols to 0%. You can put all of the animation into a graphic symbol on the stage, which you can then tween the alpha of that symbol down to 0% to fade off the smoke.