CASE STUDY: The Water Cycle

The Water Cycle


Water Cycle Case Study PDF


Westchester Community College, 2D Animation Instructor, Deborah Krikun


Fall Semester 2015


Designed and created by Julie Bacon

Music by John Goodman


Ninety-second video designed as an educational tool for children. Its purpose is to describe the unique properties of water and animate its transformations within the water cycle. It is also intended to generate awareness about the water cycle and water consumption. The video will be created in the Adobe programs, Flash, After Effects, Premiere Pro, and use data visualization techniques.


Research for this project began with the study of water. Through children’s books and internet based research I learned about the unique properties of water and its molecular structure. I was particularly interested in understanding how water molecules interact with other water molecules, and how this changes when it occurs as a liquid, solid or gas. I thus focused on understanding these properties of water:

  • Cohesion: The hydrogen in a water molecule causes it to stick to other water molecules.
  • Adhesion: Water clings to other polar surfaces.
  • Surface tension: Water has a high surface tension because water molecules cling together at the surface level —where they are closer to oxygen — creating a surface-tension that resists penetration.
  • Density: The varying density of water is based on temperature. The temperature of water rises and falls slowly, so it responds slowly to changes in external temperatures. The hydrogen in a water molecule allows it to absorb a large amount of heat before changing its chemical state.

Understanding the unique properties of water and its molecular structure informed my strategy for communicating the information visually.

It was important to understand how a drop of water looked in motion. I studied a drop of water in slow motion to see if the principle of “squash and stretch” would apply.

Initially I wanted to address scarcity concerns. However, through my research, I decided that communicating information about the fundamental properties of water, and the water cycle, were the best way to initiate a conversation about scarcity and conservation. Also, while reviewing many moving and informative videos on water scarcity concerns, I did not find many unique animations of the actual water cycle. Even so, I was inspired by studying many videos about water, which gave me insight on how to create my animation.


My primary challenge was learning to use the tools of the Adobe program, Flash. Since I am already familiar with Illustrator, I had a sense of the drawing tools. I also have proficiency with the timeline based programs, After Effects and Premiere Pro, so understood conceptually how to animate using key frames. Even so, I found the Flash menu and timeline to be very challenging. Dragging, dropping, copy and pasting, nesting — many key concepts used in other programs — did not have a one-to-one translation to Flash. As a result, I spent many hours learning to navigate the program and understand the nuances of its capabilities.

Another challenge was to animate the properties of water.  Initially, I envisioned “squash and stretch” to be an important principal of animation for animating water, however, through my research and the study of water in slow motion, I learned that water stretches, but doesn’t squash.  When it hits water, it penetrates slightly, then retracts, and then penetrates or scatters. Even so, the principal of squash and stretch helped me conceptualize how to make the water look realistic.

Below are still images of my rain drops. (Movie clip symbols of shape tweens).



My strategy was to animate the water cycle and the properties of water both physically and metaphorically. I employed data visualization techniques, using images to communicate the information visually, rather then through numbers or narrative details.

To construct the animation, I created assets in Illustrator, Photoshop and Flash. I then created graphic and movie symbols in Flash and animated the symbols using key frames and motion-tweens.

Some assets were left as shapes so that I could utilize shape tweens. It was important to use shape tweens to illustrate the interconnectedness of the objects (because of the use of water in their production) and the fluidity of water.

For example a person transforms into a water bottle then to a car. A mask allows water to rise within the circle:

In this example I also use the principle of “staging” — taking control of where people look on the screen by circling my main action. The circle helps to direct the viewer’s focus by framing and isolating the action.

In the examples below I use the principle of animation, “Straight Ahead” so that my character (the line) will end up with the correct amount of points to shape tween from a straight line to a liquid, to a peaked line (a solid) to a rising molecule (a gas).

My workflow for constructing the video was to create individual FLAs, export as movie files, and then edit in Premiere. This gave me a lot of flexibility to repeat and make adjustments to the FLA animations. It also allowed me to edit to music and voice over.

I also created some elements in Illustrator and Photoshop and then animated in After Effects.

For example:



The design elements I created were all intended to metaphorically reference the cyclical properties of water.

The circle is a metaphor of the continuum of life. It also specifically references the water-cycle, the spherical shape of a drop of water, and spherical shape of the earth.

The circle and a line are the two main characters in the video. Both are composed of a series of points that are re-cycled in a variety of shapes. The circle and line connect and are repurposed in multiple shapes to symbolize the omniscient relationship of water to material goods, as well as the life giving properties of water, the fluidity of the water cycle throughout the earth and its constant process of recycling.

I established a limited character vocabulary and color palate of blues, greens and greyscale. Occasionally I brought in yellow (for the sun) and some brighter greens for trees and browns for shading.

I created one background in Illustrator and used motion tweens to create movement. I used After Effects to create spherical shapes and animate text to look like wavy water. I also used scale and position properties in Premiere to help establish perspective and focal point.


Water is a precious resource that sustains all living things. Three-quarters of the earth is covered in it, two-thirds of our bodies are composed of it. But how often do we reflect on how much our lives are dependent on it? Or, how all the material products we use and create in the modern world are also reliant on it?

Water is a unique and interesting element because it is the only substance on earth that occurs naturally in the form of liquid, solid and gas. Importantly, the water on earth has always been here and is all we will ever have. It epitomizes recycling! In fact, the natural water-recycling process, known as the water-cycle, has kept just about the same amount of water on earth for millions of years (National Geographic). Despite this, water scarcity concerns are prevalent and many people do not have water to bathe, grow food or even to drink.

It is important to educate children about the nature of life on earth so they can grow to respect and appreciate through understanding. In this way we establish a conversation about the resources we have, the resources we need, and can hopefully, be inspired to be good stewards of these resources.