About Betsy de Fries

Betsy de Fries is founder, director and producer of Little Fluffy Clouds Animation studio. She and her partner, Jerry van de Beek LFC's creative director, bring an imaginative edge to concept design, character development, animation, VFX, photoreal modeling, title sequences and on-line media. As a multi award-winning studio LFC specializes in high-end motion graphics and digital animation of all flavours. Diversity of style is our byword.

A Very Happy New Year!


On the cusp of 2012 we at Little Fluffy Clouds hope that this new year brings each and everyone of you everything you wish for yourselves and more.

Now a word from our esteemed Chairman of the Board, JAX Omar, who wants you to know that from his vantage point he can clearly see that the economy has turned the corner and asks you to be prepared for great things in 2012. … The oracle has spoken.

A Very Happy New Year! ~ Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!!

LFC is doused with Platinum PIXIE dust

Imagine the incredible surprise of being awarded not just one, but two, platinum Pixel Academy Pixies. Well, that was the news around here this morning. Making the win super sweet is the knowledge that these awards are judged by our fellow animators and VFX artists. High praise indeed.

First up, with a 9.7 score, was Power of Sound, itself an interesting take on the character of sound. This traditional 2D animation uses origami to illustrate the narrative whilst skillfully synthesizing that imagery with CG models to underscore the use of technology in sound applications today. The sampans, water, moon, ocean and skies are created using only particles and projected lights and are not models. The “waveform” is also particle based but here movement is initiated by the music. VFX, using plug-ins, comprise the transitions. The origami horses, boats, kites and cranes are all 2D as is the floating text and the Golden Ratio shell animations. The larger shell in that scene is it’s 3D counterpart. Here’s what the judges had to say:

“A very powerful creative work. Imagery is very strong, created by excellent animation.”

Next up, with a 9.2 score, was CALU Built, which like it’s companion piece, Journey, is a veritable kaleidoscope of images, beautifully layered together in 2D and 3D. These stunning Super Bowl spots combine hand-drawn imagery with CGI to recreate the textured and layered look of a traditional watercolor painting – one that breathes life into the canvas. Built scored 9.2 and here the judges said:

“A very well done animation with very realistic body movements. Good job!”

Winning the Pixies does feel like a good job indeed. So, well done us!

Air – Awareness Campaign for the Steel City

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a beautiful city of rivers and bridges with wide stretches of recreational areas but, like many of the north east industrial towns, the air quality is still not everything it could be. In an effort to identify and focus attention on this real environmental threat local philanthropists, The Heinz Endowments, have sponsored a multi-platform ad campaign – spearheaded by The Breathe Project and SF agency, Citizen – to encourage businesses and citizens to work together to provide a solution for the betterment of all.

Having a great affection for the Steel City, Little Fluffy Clouds was more than happy to step in and provide animation, VFX, color correction and motion graphics for such a worthwhile cause. The entire campaign includes on-air PSA’s, print, billboards and a 30 minute informational awareness film.

Air was voiced by Pittsburgh favorite actress, Blythe Danner, whose dulcet tone strikes just the right note to bring across the message. Airs regionally. Go Steelers!

Power of Sound and the Subconscious Moment.

A rising moon, a star-lit sky, a gentle ocean of drifting Sampans, brightly colored fish, tumultuous waves, origami paper boats, prancing horses, soaring kites, folding cranes; all moving in a carousel and dancing through a landscape peppered with eye catching VFX. Set this to a powerful soundtrack and this exploration is the Power of Sound.

Using simple animation accompanied by programmed expressions, Power of Sound, is an interesting take on the character of sound. The animation, running at just over a minute, is a pretty good example of a mostly 2D piece using 3D cameras in 2D space, coupled with occasional CG models to underscore the use of technology in sound applications.

The sampans, water, moon, ocean and background skies are made of particles and projected lights. So, not modeled. The “waveform” is also particle based with movement initiated by the soundtrack. VFX, using plug-ins, comprise the transitions. The origami horses, boats, kites and cranes are all 2D, as is the floating text and the “Golden Ratio” shell animations. The larger shell in that scene is it’s 3D counterpart.

There are moments in the life of an animation when the subconscious takes over – even in a commercial. And so it was here. Power of Sound became less about the technology and the message and more of an artistic response to the shock of the Japanese earthquake and the resultant tragedy. An homage in a way to the Japanese people and a small story about the lifting and triumph of the spirit in such dark moments.

Software: AFX, Trapcode, Sapphire and Maya.

Adding Live Action to the mix LFC paints Portraits for TD Ameritrade

In his continuing foray into live action, LFC director Jerry van de Beek, explores with visuals, graphics and music, the dreams and plans of today’s independent investor in, Portraits, two companion pieces for on-line broker, TD Ameritrade.

Conceived as personal moments in busy lives both spots were shot on location – one at work and one on arriving home. With deft use of slow motion, enhanced with VFX and text graphics, the viewer is drawn into a seminal and private moment. A space where time slows down and the outside world becomes very still – allowing ideas to spin through the mind in free fall motion – allowing the modern day, time crunched, person the breadth for inspiration to formulate just the right plan of action.

Both spots were filmed on the same day in snowy Denver Colorado for local agency, Karsh\Hagan, using a small but very nimble crew. Footage was then transferred and transported to Little Fluffy Clouds in sunny California for editing, post, color grading and VFX. Trivers Myers Music, composed original music on a theme for both spots. These sponsorship “billboards” air on all PBS stations.

Designing with Color – Concepts and Applications

About a year ago I wrote about, Designing with Color – Concepts and Applications, when it was still in it’s formative stages. You can read that post dated Jan. 10, 2010 in our archives. I commented then that good design books are hard to come by and how pleased we were to be contributing to one that, from the galleys, looked like it would be just that.

As an animation and design studio Little Fluffy Clouds often provides images and commentary on our work to writers, editors and publishers, only to find that for whatever reason the book in question never sees the light of day. I could write an entire post on the whys and wherefores of the publishing industry and how difficult it is to bring a book – particularly an instructional one – to market in this day and age of instant apps but for right now I’m just happy to report that the book is now published. Hats off to Fairchild Books, a division of Conde Nast Publications, for staying the course and making this happen.

Written primarily as a workbook for students who want to work in the field of arts it might also benefit art directors across the board in the way that only good design publications and the theory of art outlined within can do. After all, the joy of the “happy accident” is short lived in an artist’s entire career, of far more use is the ability to confidently articulate why an image – a project – a campaign – was created that way and publications such as this one help put you on that path of knowledge backed up by experience.

Designing with Color takes examples from nine disciplines: advertising, animation, fashion, fine art, graphic design, illustration, industrial design, interior design and photography. The idea of this is less to separate these areas of art but to “inspire” and illustrate “the interconnected nature of all the visual and applied arts.”

The book is divided into 17 subject areas in two parts: part one color, part two design. Each chapter is choc-a-block with images from artists: photos, drawings, diagrams, paintings that come together to succinctly illustrate the chapter point. Space is allowed for those keen enough to contribute their own ideas – a sort of journal of art – along the lines of “process and idea” so the entire book can be personalized and students can take advantage of the myriad of tools – camera phones, apps, iPads – available to them.

Here’s an introductory quote from the authors talking about the porous nature of the crossover in media that is the mainstay of today:

One defining feature of the postmodern era we live in is the breakdown of disciplines. An artists practice might resemble that of an architect: an illustrator’s that of a 3D modeler. With the pervasiveness of marketing and media in our current culture, people in disciplines such as advertising, photography, graphic design, illustration and 3d animation frequently collaborate. The disciplines of fine art, industrial design, interior design and fashion also merge to create, represent and disseminate a product and the visuals that surround it.

Designing with Color – Concepts and Applications, by Chris Dorosz and J.R. Watson, published by Fairchild Books a division of Conde Nast Publications, is available now. What are you waiting for? Go out and get your copy.




LFC Breathes Life into a Moving Painting for CALU Superbowl Spot

Blue sketches appear on a painted canvas. The spokes of a bicycle wheel spin. Singular watercolor images emerge from the framework of an underpainting – that gives way to richly textured architecture and foliage. A student rides forward weaving a tapestry of imagery as the campus of the California University of Pennsylvania reveals itself before his wheels. Ever advancing buildings grow from the imagined to the constructed.

This is the story of Built, a 30-second spot, the second in a continuing integrated campaign of broadcast TV, web, print and radio crafted for the CALU by Pittsburgh agency, Dymun + Company.

Built, like it’s companion piece, Journey, is a veritable kaleidoscope of images beautifully layered together. 2D and 3D animation are combined with hand drawn imagery to recreate the textured and layered look of a traditional watercolor painting. In a spectacular display of animating genius, LFC’s Jerry van de Beek, breathes life into this moving painting.

In Built the camera moves forward with the main character creating the campus as he rides towards the new Convocation Center which makes it’s debut in October 2011. The effect of the growing color palette, as it washes over the canvas to create vivid moments and fleeting glimpses of the campus, is nothing less than stunning. Once more a gentle pullout transports us skyward, like a serenely gliding plane, over the rooftops of new and older buildings to lay the entire campus before us and cradle us in the crook of the river bend.

The campus, characters and shaders were created in Maya. The animation created in multiple layers and finessed using After Effects. Compositing, color correction and post was handled in-house at Little Fluffy Clouds. Built, airs on the east coast from January 2011 including Super Bowl XLV.

Russian Internet Telecom Giant – MegaFon – Extends the Speed

Our very own Lara Croft leads you on in a high-speed chase from the Dacha through the streets of Moscow, to escape – as only a fast gal can – into the wild galactic territories of outer space.

Could she have made it without the aid of Russian Internet Telecom giant MegaFon‘s fast and continuous speeds and all that it promises?

Live action lensed with the amazingly versatile Red camera. Raw files imported on the fly directly into our CG pipeline. Animation created in Autodesk Maya and Adobe After Effects and Illustrator. All definitely indispensable tools for all your breakneck production deadlines. Nostrovia!