Welcome to our interview series #21, There’s No Magic Without Art.

Spoiler season for Guilds of Ravnica is over, and that means we’re back to our weekly interview series!

This week we’re going to have a special interview with Geoffrey Palmer, who has been creating amazing animations on Magic cards.

We recently teamed up, and you can now see some of Geoff’s animations directly on the cards, with our newly released Augmented Reality feature.

Here’s what Geoff told us.

Watching Prossh, Skyraider of Kher animation using MTG Manager’s AR feature.
Prossh, Skyraider of Kher by Todd Lockwood © Wizards of the Coast

Hi Geoffrey! How did you start animating Magic cards?

The short answer is that in early 2015, it all started with famous Magic artist Noah Bradley. I found myself on Reddit, as I unfortunately seem to most days, and I saw he had posted a pixel art animation of his own artwork, ‘Anger of the Gods‘.

He had hand animated each frame with a simple loop of the flames falling. It was a neat effect, but it got me thinking. What if I animated the actual artwork? Just like the animations I had seen in the amazing trailers that Wizards of the Coast puts out for each new set.

At that point in my life, I had been directing TV commercials and doing motion graphic design for about ten years. Enjoyable work, but I was getting burned out so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

I spent hours animating Anger of the Gods in my spare time. Finally, I posted my animation back on Reddit with the simple title, “I Animated Anger of the Gods by Noah Bradley“.

It instantly shot to the top of the Magic subreddit and even the front page for the day. Tons of commenters posted words of encouragement and demands to see more. Noah Bradley himself said simply, “This is awesome. Sweet work, man. :)”. I was hooked and I’ve been animating Magic artwork ever since.

We recently made a video together, where we used our card detection system together with Augmented Reality to show your animations. How did it feel to see your work on the actual cards?

I’ve been animating for several years and I’m coming up on my first year actually working in Magic full-time for ChannelFireball. I’ve seen and done a lot during that time, but I have to say when I saw the cards spring to life with my animations – it took my breath away.

I’d seen AR before, it’s such a cool effect when done well, but to see cards actually become “living” with my animations was beyond cool. It honestly inspired me to get back to animating more!

Animated by Living Cards
Anger of the Gods by Noah Bradley © Wizards of the Coast

Our newly released AR feature with some of Geoff’s animation work.

How do you decide which card to animate?

It all starts with the artwork. I have to see a story to unlock in the piece. Rarely do I pick hero poses or wide landscapes. The animation works best when I can take an action in process and show you just a moment before or after the main frame that the artist originally created.

I love effects like fire, energy, and well, magic so I’m drawn to those types of pieces. Lately I’ve been obsessed with making perfect loops like I created for Icy Manipulator.

I also love picking artwork from newer artists or artists that I personally love in hopes they will see and enjoy what I have done with their work. I’ve never had a negative comment from an artist and many have sought me out to work on their own special projects!

Can you give us a brief description of your animation process?

Once I have selected a piece, it all starts in Adobe Photoshop. To create, I have to destroy. All the artwork that I receive is a flat piece. To animate, I have to separate the artwork into many, sometimes tons, of individual layers.

Finally I have to put it all back together so you can’t see the seams. The less you notice what I’ve done, the more amazing the effect is in the end. I can’t say I’m much of an artist myself, but I do a ton of photo editing so I’m able to stitch pieces back together to convincing effect.

Now, I’m ready to animate so I head over to Adobe After Effects. If the piece calls for 3D, as in the case of the impossible shape in Icy Manipulator, I use Cinema 4D.

Much like a traditional animator, I create keyframes of motion for the characters and set pieces – often using a digital camera to create movement and depth.

Finally as the piece calls for it, I composite stock footage and particle systems to fully flesh out the world.

On average, how much time does it take to do a single card animation?

The amount of time that I spend animating varies wildly from piece to piece. These days, I don’t have as much time to animate so I tend to favor smaller pieces.

I would say 4-5 hours on the low end and I think I spent about 20 hours over two weeks to animate one of my earlier pieces, Liliana, Heretical Healer AND Liliana, Defiant Necromancer.

Animated by Living Cards
Icy Manipulator by Doulgas Shuler © Wizards of the Coast

Animated by Living Cards
Liliana, Heretical Healer & Liliana, Defiant Necromancer by Karla Ortiz © Wizards of the Coast

What are your favorite animations?

It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but I think I’ll go with the animation that I’m probably most known for – Sol Ring. Some of my animations are used for The Command Zone podcast and in every single episode, they thank me and promote my work.

After about a year, I was looking for a way to give back to them so I animated the most ubiquitous Commander card, Sol Ring, and turned it into a title design for them.

They were overjoyed and that boosted my status within the community, leading to work with Tolarian Community College, Loading Ready Run, and many more.

Animated by Living Cards
Sol Ring by Mark Tedin © Wizards of the Coast

As a Senior Motion Graphics Designer for ChannelFireball, you’re also working on Magic professionally. What can you share with us about your day-to-day?

After about two years of working with ChannelFireball as a freelancer, they hired me on to work full-time doing graphic design and animation. We’ve got a ton of things going on so my day-to-day varies quite a bit.

I create all of our advertising and promotions for the website. We launched a new show called, MtG Top 5, which highlights the best clips of Magic content from around the whole community and I edit that weekly.

I work with our awesome Events team that runs all of the Grand Prix tournaments. Go check out Turbo Town, I created the logo! I create graphics for our content that you can read on ChannelFireball.com and and a ton of social posts for Twitter and Facebook.

It’s an absolute pleasure to work for a company that cares so much about delivering the game of Magic at the highest quality, in the form of cards and content, to a great community. I hope I get to do this for many more years, but don’t worry – I’ll never stop animating!

Animated by Living Cards
Chalice of the Void by Seb McKinnon © Wizards of the Coast

Thank you for reading!

We want to thank Geoff for sharing his vision with us!

You can find more about Geoff’s work on Twitter.

Meet us next week for another interview!