I am a huge closet astronaut, by my own admission. Ever since I was a child, aside from film space has always fascinated me, both in real life and in science fiction. To this day, I remain thoroughly interested in this subject and spend a lot of my free time doing research into it.

On one such occasion, I was reading into the Apollo 11 mission that brought men to the moon and I wanted to see if there were any videos about it. After a quick search I found a lot of documentaries and a few 3D animations, but nothing really simple that outlined the whole mission. Feeling slightly frustrated, and with nothing better to do, I set about creating my own.

The first day was spent scouring the internet for flight data from the mission. Fortunately, NASA has an amazing online archive where you can read the flight journals of all their missions. You can find the Apollo 11 flight journal as well as many others here, and if you are at all interested in the history of space exploration I definitely recommend having a look. Using this as well as a few other sources I was able to construct a document outlining all the times, flight data, etc that I would then use as my script.

Once this was done it was time to create the assets I would go on to use for the animation. I created the Saturn V rocket and Apollo spacecraft myself in Photoshop, which took the better part of a day. Doing so enabled me to rig the individual layers for easy animation once I moved the asset into After Effects.

Saturn V

Saturn V


Command/Service Module

Lunar ModuleAstronaut


 USS Hornet

USS Hornet

Along with these assets I also used a few royalty free images I sourced online, mainly the Earth and Moon, as well as the American Flag. Once I had all these assets in place, it was time to move to After Effects.

My intention for the animation was that it should be both simplistic and fun to watch, but at the same time be as historically accurate as possible without diminishing the former. As such, I laid down the framework for the animation by using the time-codes from the flight journal and choosing appropriate time acceleration factors for each event of the mission. This allowed me to then simply place key-frames for the relevant asset at the appropriate time, making it very easy to animate. The only real issue was the overlay display. Especially the time display required a lot of math to represent the passing of time correctly.

I also got to try a new feature in After Effects I had not used before: the puppet tool. Character animation has never been my strong suit, but I quite enjoyed animating Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Lunar Surface. This is also the least accurate part of the animation, as while the times are still true, they did a lot more on their EVA than just set up the flag and salute. I chose to keep it short and simple so as not to break the flow of the video.

Once the animation was done, I handed the project to my favorite composer, Marco Caricola, for scoring. The piece he wrote for it, appropriately titled 1969, is fantastic and gave the animation that bit of character is was missing. You can see the finished project below:

I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project and if it proves popular I may make more educational animations like this in future, either about more space missions or about other subjects.


One thought on “One Small Step – The Apollo 11 Mission Animated

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