Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Magic is in the Texturing

When you are designing characters or scenes for 2D or 3D animation, texturing is not a necessity, but a choice. There are a lot popular 2D projects that don’t texture many of their elements and focus on a minimalist approach. This is how it was done in early age cartoons, like the Looney Tunes shows.

Bugs Bunny - Image Source

As you can see, the character is outlined in a black line and filled in with solid colors at full opacity. There is no texturing applied to the character at all, but instead the outline implies texture. For example, the leaf on the carrot was softly drawn to show that the leaf itself is soft. Another example is Bugs Bunny’s face. There are lines drawn to signal fur without actually having to add texture to the character. There are still shows today that take this minimalist approach, like Family Guy or South Park.

Another variation of 2D texture is simply using texture for background elements to add depth and detail to your scene. A good example of this can be seen here in a still from the show Hey Arnold!

Hey Arnold! - Image Source

Here you can see that the characters are a little more detailed, but still take that approach we say in Bugs Bunny. There is a hard outline of the character and drawn in lines to imply texture. However, now our backgrounds are textured. The wood molding on the building looks like wood, the sky looks somewhat like an oil panting, and there is even rubble on the ground at the bottom right. While the approach still looks simplistic, you can see how much of a difference just a little texture can make.

Now, let’s dive into texturing as it applies to 3D animation. While 3D animation in general is very driven by texturing and lighting, there are still variations in how far creators will go with their texturing. Disney, for example, is known to go all out, but let’s take a look at a popular Disney show, Doc McStuffins.

Doc McStuffins - Image Source

Clearly, this show is utilizing textures in both their character and scene designs. You can see the sheep character has some light wool texturing, the girl has textured hair and a knit looking shirt, and the walls even have a little grain to them. From a 3D animation standpoint, this is somewhere in the middle in terms of texture. The artists for this show could’ve brought more detail to the scene with further texturing, but they made a stylistic choice and it works. Let’s look at a popular Disney movie, Brave, and the difference in textures between the two.

Brave - Image Source

The elephant in the room is that every single element we see in this shot is textured. Even further, it’s textured so realistically that it looks like you could reach out and touch anything in this scene. This level of detail in texturing takes a lot of time to conceptualize and apply, which in turn costs a lot of money. The budget for this movie was $185 million and it was 93 minutes long, which averages to roughly $33,150 per second of this film. Of course, that includes everything from scripting to talent acquisition and through the animation phase, but a project of any size requires those steps.

Now take a moment to scroll back up through the variations and consider what impact you think texturing adds. Is the magic of texturing the realism it can bring to a scene? The detail? Or is it simply the depth it adds? The next time you start an animation project, think about texturing before you begin and see how it sculpts the rest of your creative decisions.


Looking for your very own animation project to start? Email us at info@swagger-media.com and let us bring magic to your project.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Why 2D Sketching is the First Step to 3D Modeling

3D modeling is the term used for digitally mapping out your character’s or object’s geometry within a 3D software. It's a meticulous and time consuming process, so it’s always recommended to have your details completely fleshed out before mapping them out digitally. Having a blueprint to work from ensures you’re being timely and efficient and avoids any unnecessary back and forth in the process. For Jimmy’s Big Adventure, we went through several sketches before finalizing the look and styles of each of our main characters and even a few key scene elements. Here’s how we did it!




Our football player is a major character in Jimmy’s adventure. He is Jimmy’s idol and a widely known star in Houston. We needed him to be strong, big and chiseled to not only reflect the style we’ve chosen for this part of town, but to really embody the persona of a football player. On the other hand, we didn’t want him to be so firm and large that he was unapproachable. It was essential for this character to embody both strength and kindness.

To Houstonians, this design may resemble someone we all know and love. After all, the number 99 is well known by our football fans. Though we did draw inspiration from this individual, we also drew upon other iconic characters in his development, like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast and even Kristoff from Frozen.



Armadillo.jpg

The Armadillo was a particularly tricky character because his design is extremely detailed. We wanted to maintain the general anatomy of a real armadillo, but we wanted to spruce it up. We took inspiration from a number of characters, like Mad Eye Moody from the Harry Potter series, the mobster rats from Flushed Away and even popular mole characters. A few things we knew we wanted were the spectacle glasses, a fancy overcoat or vest, and the iconic shell. Throughout this sketching process, we played with a number of head shapes, clothing options, and accessories. We even debated if its pant should be worn under his tail. (We opted out for that one because it showed too much backside.)

Though this character won’t play a major role in Jimmy’s Big Adventure, we think his design is going to be spectacularly detailed and we can’t wait to share every bit.


 
Sugarland.jpg

Sugarland’s history is greatly rooted in the town’s now unoperational Imperial Sugar Factory, so naturally it framed our landscape for this scene. We didn’t want to stick too much to the factory’s actual appearance, but still wanted it to be somewhat recognizable. The silos are a big component of that. We thought the silos were the most defining aspects of the factory’s landscape, so we decided to focus our attention to detail there first. We explored many options and styles for these, but the melted and puffy silos definitely stole our hearts. We liked that they looked so unique and really helped to embody this “out of service” look we’re going for.

We also wanted to really play up the fact that the factory isn’t operational. We knew we wanted it to appear overgrown and dramatic, but not scary or intimidating. We decided the best approach for this would be to “overgrow” the factory with candy. We used twisted licorice candy to act as vines and colorful gum drops as flowers. We also will have one of the silos overflowing with mounds of sugar that will help bring some dimension to the scene.





Jimmy.jpg

Of course, the character that deserved the most attention was Jimmy. In the script, we see Jimmy at 2 ages. At first, he is younger, about 8 years old. This is when he receives his football from his father, along with a disappointing note. Young Jimmy needed to look completely innocent and soft. We wanted his eyes to be very large, his nose very small, and his clothing to fit a little loose to emphasize his small body. Even though we see him in a very emotional time, we wanted young Jimmy’s appearance and facial features to still show he is a hopeful, playful and brave young boy.

When we see Jimmy next, he has grown to be around 13 years old. His edges are a little more refined, he’s grown into his big eyes a little bit, and he’s a very active and strong young man. We are right on the cusp of Jimmy’s transition into manhood, so he still maintains much of that innocence and hopeful feeling we first saw. In the design, we used his eyes to embody those emotions and to really tie the two versions of Jimmy together.




What do you think of our initial sketches? Which character is your favorite? What would you add to really make the characters stand out? We want to know! Tell us in the comments below, or share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to follow the behind the scenes campaign as we continue to give you an inside look into every step of the creation of Jimmy’s Big Adventure.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

A Behind the Scenes Look at Storyboarding

Whether you’re filming a video or crafting an animation, a storyboard is a helpful and arguably essential planning tool. The purpose of storyboarding prior to filming or animating is to visually break down your project and give everyone a sense of the framing, pacing and flow. It will act as a reference for your entire team throughout the project and will ensure everyone is visually on the same page. At Swagger Media, we storyboard before beginning any project, so of course we’ve done the same with Jimmy’s Big Adventure. For this project, a storyboard was especially important because we outlined some very big ideas in the script and have a large team all working on different facets of this project at once. Luckily, to create a storyboard, all you really need is an artist and a script.

To be more specific, you need the script to be broken down into an A/V format, or Audio/Visual format. This allows you to map out the camera movement, graphics and reactions for each part of the script. This is how your storyboard artist will be able to a fully fleshed out storyboard.

Storyboard Scene 1 - Jimmy's Past

We wanted to make sure our character designers had full creative freedom to imagine what each main character looked like, so the best way to do that was to create generic and basic placeholders for our initial storyboard. We decided to use basic shapes and color coding to represent our characters and essential objects. Here’s what that looks like.

Storyboard Scene 3 - Transition 

Storyboard Scene 3 - Moment of Fear

Now we have a visual map of our project and will know that our animators and designers will have the same visual to reference. It may seem simplistic, but it is extremely important to have a single visual reference when working with a team of creatives. The best thing about creative professionals is they envision everything in their own way. However, when they all have to work together, it’s important to set a baseline for them to work from. This eliminates room for individual interpretation and ensures a more cohesive final product.

Of course, the storyboard is just one of many steps we will take to make sure our team is always informed with the same information. Now, as we move into the design phase, we will let the creative juices run wild. When we’re ready to begin prepping for the 3D Animation phase, we will reconvene and create an animated version of our storyboard that will help us block the characters within the environment and set the pacing for each scene.

Stay tuned as we continue to share with you every part of this process. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram so you don’t miss out on any of the behind the scenes action! Have questions about anything? Just ask! We’ve started the conversation, you just have to speak up.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Introducing Our New Adventure

Dear Houston,

You may not know our name, but you’ve heard our stories. You’ve heard our voice through the caring reassurance from your Best Neighbors Ever, the wild styles of Trigger Finger Tracy, the focused and driven entrepreneurs of Houston, the peppy Allergy-Free Fred, and even the training of the University of Houston’s best and brightest.

There’s nothing we enjoy more than helping our clients’ develop their stories, but now we have a story of our own to tell. A story created, crafted, and communicated by a group of passionate Houstonians, just like you. More importantly, it is a story of Houston.

We will travel through and across our vast and colorful city. We will explore the ways others see us and the way we see ourselves. We will fantasize, romanticize, and idealize our city’s diversity and remarkability.

We’ll take you through each phase of our process and give you the ultimate behind the scenes look at everything. You’ll see the brainstorming sessions, the script writing, the character development, the 3D preparations, the animation, and even our review sessions. At the end of this journey, you’ll see the product these efforts built and you’ll understand the heart, soul and endless dedication that went into its creation

We want to hear your voice, your questions and your feedback through every step of the way, so please don’t be shy.

So Houston, this is our plan, or rather, our adventure. And it all starts here with a cup of coffee.


Come along this journey with us and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the full behind the scenes look.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Why Brands Should Embrace Storytelling

Everyone loves a good story. Whether it’s a fascinating film, a book that you just can’t put down before finishing it, or grandpa’s story of the good ol’ days, people enjoy watching, reading, and hearing stories. Stories entertain us and teach us as we relate to the characters of the story and reflect our own lives through them. Increasingly, brands are embracing storytelling techniques to give their audience what they want, a good story. Storytelling is an extremely compelling marketing tool that engages the audience like no other. But how exactly does storytelling make a difference in marketing communications?

Let’s look at a concrete example and pretend that we run an online store that sells plastic boxes for storing and organizing items at home. The boxes come with a lid that you can easily snap into place, and we offer three different sizes for different storing and organizing purposes. Now, let’s say we want to write a Facebook post to promote the boxes.

“Check out our storage boxes for any home! The boxes have a lid that easily snaps into place and we have three different sizes to accommodate all storing and organizing needs. Visit our online store at www.ouronlineboxstore.com and place an order today!”

How does that post look? All the features of the boxes are listed in the post and we have included a call to action to visit our online store and place an order today. That should do it, right? However, before we post this, let’s try a different approach.

“Allison used to dread having guests. It was not because she didn’t like her family and friends, no. The reason she never invited anyone over was that her house was always so unorganized that it embarrassed her. Socks missing their mate, important documents, and dog toys would all create one big mess that she just didn’t know how to handle! Luckily, she found our boxes with lids that open and close easily, and the three different sizes fit all of her organizational needs perfectly. Now, her home is always ready for guests! Having similar trouble to Allison’s? Visit our online store: www.ouronlineboxstore.com

How is the second post different from the first one? It has all the same information about the product features as the first one, the different sizes and the lid that you can easily open and close. However, while the first post simply stated the facts about the boxes, the second post tells a story. We have a character that our audience can relate to. The character has a problem, and our product helps her resolve it.

Alternatively, we could leave the ending of the story open to make our audience want to learn how it ends:

“Allison used to dread having guests. It was not because she didn’t like her family and friends, no. The reason she never invited anyone over was that her house was always so unorganized that it embarrassed her. Socks missing their mate, important documents, and dog toys would all create one big mess that she just didn’t know how to handle! Sound familiar? Find out how Allison solved her organizational issues: www.ouronlineboxstore.com

Commercials, content marketing campaigns, and websites that tell the audience a story are more engaging than the ones that don’t. Stories activate our emotions, so when the audience can relate to your story, they like you and your products or services more and are more likely to engage with you. Marketing communications that embrace storytelling are also more memorable because people tend to remember stories better than facts. And isn’t that exactly what we want to achieve with marketing? An audience that likes us, engages with us, and remembers us when it’s time to buy.

Do you have any other good examples that prove the power of storytelling? Leave a comment in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if your business has a story that you want to share with the world, go to our website or give us a call at 832-831-7592 and we’ll help you bring it to life.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Don’t Hate, Anticipate

While we animators dream of getting to work on a big budget Disney or Pixar film, many of us find ourselves starting out on smaller scale projects. This can prove discouraging to early animators since the tight budgets and quick turnaround rates constrain us from putting our heart and soul into each and every frame like we did with our college theses. Small-scale character animation projects are rare and when they do arise, we find ourselves having to minimalize poses and cut corners to stay in budget. However, this doesn’t mean we have to throw out the textbook completely. There are ways to incorporate the techniques we were conditioned so well on in order to give even the most simplistic of sequences the heart and feel that we all strive for. The quickest and easiest way that I’ve found to achieve this is through anticipation.

Yes, there’s that word again. The word we animators have heard so many times from tutorials, seminars, books and documentaries. There’s a good reason for that, though, because anticipation (Ah! There it is again!) can immediately boost a sequence’s value. Think about it, if a viewer sees a character anticipating, what are they going to do? Anticipate with it!

But it doesn’t always have to be a big wind up like you’d see in a Warner Brothers cartoon. It can range from a long, exaggerated build-up…
…to just eight or so frames of moving in the opposite direction.
It can even be applied to motion graphics. Again, it doesn’t have to be super elaborate, even the most subtle usage can bring a whole new feel to your work.
Here’s the same sequence without anticipation:
So, while you’re reprioritizing and fast tracking in order to compensate the tight deadlines, don’t be afraid to pull this out of your tool kit. Even if the end user doesn’t see it, they’ll definitely feel it. So if you find yourself working on small scale projects, don’t hate, anticipate.


Are you interested in an animation project? Our team is here to assist you. Give us a call at 832-831-7592!

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

My Experience at a Screenwriting Workshop

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Literally Short Film Festival, hosted by Literal Magazine here in Houston. For the 3rd consecutive year, this festival allowed filmmakers from all over the world to share their work, with the opportunity to win various prizes and screen their projects in a platform intended to bridge all cultures through artistic expression.

As part of its 3rd year, Literally Short hosted 2-day seminars, including a screenwriting workshop. I looked at this as a GREAT opportunity to not only learn more about the scripting process, but also collaborate and share my experiences with other people in the industry. The workshop was led by Ben Wiggins, a Los Angeles-based producer and screenwriter who originally entered the production world in Houston, while working on commercials and music videos. Some of his work includes co-writing and producing three episodes of Take One with Justin Nichols, and co-writing Devious Maids episode #310: “Whiplash”.

I truly enjoyed learning about his writing process from start to finish, including how to collaborate with a writing partner and the ins and outs of writing for the film and TV business, specifically in LA. We had the chance to ask him many questions regarding his particular workflow and development, and had the opportunity to work on some live scenes with the acting workshop attendees.

Here are some of my highlights and takeaways from the workshop:

The screenwriting process can be divided into four different steps-

1. Story breaking
This is the brainstorming part of the process, designed to come up with and develop the IDEA behind the project (film or TV episode). During this stage, Ben identifies the primary elements of the story:

  • Inciting Incident: an event that throws character out of balance and forces him/her to take action. 
  • Progressive Complication: a sequence of events that obstructs the character’s process and forces him/her to consider other alternatives.
  • Crisis: a specific moment when the character is forced to face a dilemma and make a decision.
  • Climax: events crescendo after character makes that decision.
  • Resolution: end of the character’s journey, where we show how the character has changed and resolved the conflict.

Ben’s story breaking method involves using a magnetic white board and colored index cards, in order to build a grid and visually keep track of these elements. He organizes acts vertically, adding one card per scene, and color codes cards per storyline, character, theme or type of conflict. He also uses a second board for character development, where he includes columns for the character, drive, backstory, and conflict.

2. Drafting
This is when the actual writing begins. Ben recommended a screenwriting software called Final Draft, which is considered the industry standard, despite its recognized limitations.

We also discussed industry standard screenwriting lengths:
  • Screenplay: 100-120 pages
  • TV Pilots: 53-55 pages
  • On-going TV Episodes: 51-52 pages

3. Internal Revisions
After finishing your first draft, also called the “vomit draft”, you enter the revisions stage. This is when you continue to review and re-write your script, while using the boards as a visual map.

Keep in mind:
  • First drafts are almost NEVER good. And it’s okay, remember writing is re-writing, and it never ends!
  • Each scene must serve the story and its characters. And each line of dialogue must serve the scene.
  • Our main character should drive the story- be careful with inactive protagonists.
  • Storylines should follow the primary elements of the story (Step 1), as well as the characters development and overall arc.

4. Feedback & Notes

Once the script is ready to be shared, Ben recommends sharing it with your A-team or closer circle first, before letting out into the world.

After the script is revised and finished (including external feedback and notes), the process can go both ways:
  • In film: the writer hands script to the director and he/she takes it from there.
  • In TV: the writer continues to be involved in the production and post-production process, especially for table reads and on-set revisions.

Besides discussing the steps involved in the scripting process, we also talked about the economy aspect of screenwriting:
  • Specificity is KEY, especially when writing dialogue parentheticals or intentions, which should be no longer than ONE line.
  • When it comes to dialogue and parentheticals, it’s important to have the right balance between giving the actors enough direction, while giving them freedom to develop their characters.
  • Limit dialogue to about FOUR lines. More than that is considered a “speech”.

Finally, Ben recommended the following books on screenwriting and storytelling:
  • Story by Robert McKee.
  • Screenplay by Syd Field -You can also review one of my previous posts about Syd Field’s scripting structure!

So tell me, what’s your favorite part of the scripting process? Do you have a particular workflow or technique that you consider helpful when developing a story? Please let us know your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if you need any help with developing a script and tell your story, our team is happy to assist you! Go to our website or give us a call at 832-831-7592.


Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Social Media Strategy: What's New with Platforms

The whole marketing landscape has changed with the introduction of social media. No matter what type of business you own, what size that business is, or who you're selling to, social media is a must for any company. And because we find social media so important, we have updated our recent blog post about the topic to reflect changes with certain platforms.

Social media allows us, as marketers, to have an easy-to-use and powerful tool at our finger tips that shares a single piece of content all over the world in seconds. So, not only knowing where your audience is, but also keeping up-to-date with platform changes is key to your business' success on social media. Let's review some of the most popular social media platforms, and what you need to know about their recent updates:

Instagram

Gender: More Women than Men
Most Popular with Ages: 18-29
Number of Active Users: 400 Million

Since we wrote the original version of this blog, Instagram has surpassed both Twitter and LinkedIn for the number of active users. This platform is centered around images and short videos lasting no more than 60 seconds, which increased from 15 seconds in April 2016. Brands are participating through hashtags and posting images, image series, or short engaging videos that users can relate to. Make sure your imagery is visually appealing and mimics your brand’s personality. If you don’t have a tangible product to push, this is a great platform to give your consumers a behind-the-scenes look at how your business functions.

In May 2016, Instagram launched a new Facebook-like algorithm that shows users what the app believes the users want to see, instead of posts appearing chronologically. After the update, posts from less popular accounts will likely get buried in users' timelines. For small businesses, this will most likely result not only in a drop in engagement, but also a potential drop in customers and sales. Educating your customers on this change, and how they can customize their profile and actions in the app to trick the algorithm, is key. You have two options as a small business owner. First, encourage your followers to seek your business’ posts out and engage with them. Alternatively, encourage your followers to click on the triple dots at the top right of your business’ photo or profile and select ‘Turn On Post Notifications’.

Twitter

Gender: Slightly more Men than Women
Most Popular with Ages: 18-50
Number of Active Users: 320 Million

Twitter is described as a “microblogging site”, which really just means the short content typically consists of informational updates that followers can subscribe to, just like blogs. Very short in fact, less than 140 characters per post. This platform is ideal for companies who are trying to market to and engage with a younger audience. Twitter is utilizes 2-way communication, so brands typically use this platform as a way to increase dialogue with their followers. However, be warned, your content MUST be engaging and memorable. Competition on this platform is high, with over 6,000 tweets being sent every minute. If your content is not engaging, you will be scrolled past.

In the coming months, Twitter plans to make changes to simplify tweets and decrease what counts toward your 140 characters. So for example, @names in replies, links and media attachments, like photos, GIFs, videos, and polls, will no longer count toward your valuable characters. Twitter has not announced the official release date for these updates, so stay tuned!

Snapchat 

Gender: Equally Men and Women
Most Popular with Ages: 13-17 and Millennials
Number of Active Users: 200 million

Snapchat is a mobile app that allows you to send videos and pictures, both of which will self-destruct, unless the recipient saves that image, after a few seconds of a person viewing them. One con to this platform is that the demographic is very specific. Also, all content has to be created natively on the app, so no professional photos or videos allowed, unless you’re paying to advertise on the platform.

However, if it fits your brand’s goals, you have the potential to see real engagement with a younger demographic. Snapchat is a great app to show real-time, behind-the-scenes content to your followers. You can also leverage your ‘My Story’ to promote a contest, or reward your followers in other ways. But be aware, your visual content must be meaningful to your followers in order to receive engagement.

So, what social media platforms do you use for your business? What do you think about the most recent updates to these social media platforms? Share your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! We’ll continue to update this blog as the forever-changing world of social media continues to evolve, as well as cover other topics through our Social Media Strategy blog series. Stay tuned! And if you’re ready for marketing professionals to take over, give us a call at 832.831.7592.



Friday, 27 May 2016

What Makes a Great Movie Trailer

A trailer is an essential marketing tool for any film, short to cinematic. A trailer needs to capture an audience, describe a story, and build hype in a matter of minutes. No matter the length of your movie, you always have enough to make a trailer. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you’re cutting a trailer.

Keep It Short

You’ll likely have a few different cuts of varying lengths, depending on your advertising platform. These cuts will stem from your full-length trailer. Your full-length trailer should not exceed 3 minutes; anything over that is pushing into the “extended look” category and unless you’re producing the next blockbuster, this is too long.

This in no way means you need your trailer to be a full 3 minutes. Depending on your film, you may be able to capture your audience in just 1 minute. Let your creative instincts guide you.

Use Music and Sound Effects

Every cinematic experience is made better through the use of music or sound effects, including a trailer. Sound effects can be used in particularly creative ways in trailers since often times you need to incorporate studio logos, release dates, and hype information like awards received, quotes from critics, etc.

It can be hard to find one song that fits your trailer, so don’t be afraid to explore other options. Use multiple songs, have a song come in halfway through your trailer, don’t have a song at all.

Creative and bold audio choices can do wonders in a trailer. The examples at the end of this blog will surely convince you of that.

Always Leave Them Wanting More

A preview should be just that, a peek at the product. No one wants to feel like they’ve seen the whole movie after they’ve watched a trailer, so don’t give away all of the good stuff. Select clips that will underline the overall narrative, hype the drama (or humor), and pull the audience in. Then, when you have them….

End Strong

Your last soundbite should be dramatic and triumphant. It should be the peak of your emotional build. Keep in mind, your soundbite can accompany strong visual shots from anywhere in the film. Since the audience hasn’t seen the movie yet, you have the freedom to dictate what shot best fits that soundbite in the context of the trailer. It all depends on what you feel makes more of an impact.

I have a passion for trailers. I think a great trailer can make a movie better, or rather make it appear better than it actually is. While I am not a fan of trickery, I do think there is something magical about taking a 2-hour movie and capturing all of its drama, humor, action, fear, and emotion in a matter of minutes. It’s never a bad idea to test your trailers out on an audience. Watch them as they watch it and read their emotional responses. If you’re asking for feedback, make sure they don’t sugarcoat it; it does nobody any good.

Here are a few of my favorite trailers. I tend to get carried away when it comes to sharing great trailers, so I limited myself to just one trailer a genre. Enjoy!

Drama: Spotlight
Action: Suicide Squad (Not the official trailer, but the first look)
Comedy: The Vacation
Horror: The Blair Witch Project

Do you have other favorite trailers? Share your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if you need help with your video projects, our team is happy to assist you! Visit our website or give us call at 832-831-7592.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Composition: The Fundamental of Digital Imagery

Today I’d like to talk to you about composition, one of the most important yet often forgotten fundamentals of digital image creation. While exposure is an equally important aspect it often requires more technical knowledge and often achieving a great exposure is easier said than done. Good composition is something that can be accomplished at any skill level with even the most basic gear, even if the most advanced camera you have is your iPhone. Amateur photographers and filmmakers can always shoot in automatic modes while learning how to expose manually but there is no shortcut for good composition. Fortunately, for us all, there are only a few basic rules that are fairly easy to master with a little practice and patience. Below are four tips that will help you take your image creation to the next level, whether you’re an aspiring photojournalist or budding cinematographer.

1. Rule of Thirds - Arguably one of the oldest and most unbroken rules of visual arts is the rule of thirds, it can be observed in nearly every form imaginable, from 18th-century paintings to modern day films and advertisements. The idea is that the best place to position your subject within a frame is on an intersection of the thirds (see below). Contrary to popular belief our eyes do not naturally find the center of an image, but rather the thirds. This serves to create more dramatic and compelling images, not only in still photographs but in film as well. When done correctly you can create a sense of tension and balance by having your subject weighted heavily in one area of the image while the opposite side is relatively empty. This creates a dramatic sense of composition that is often more pleasing than a perfectly balanced image. By simply recomposing your photographs or videos to align with this standard you can increase the quality of your images immensely.

2. Lead Room - Another important rule of composition is lead room, or the idea that you should provide space in front of your subject for them to look or move. When your subject is looking or moving off-frame this can lead the viewer’s eye off the image, which is usually the opposite of what we want. By providing lead room in front of our subject we give the viewer’s eye room to explore the rest of the image, even if there aren’t necessarily other elements to explore. When the lead room is behind our subject it becomes something called dead space, or a part of the image that doesn’t add any value and is mostly just empty or unimportant space (in other words we want to avoid this). Lack of lead room can become particularly offensive when interviewing subjects; for example, if I have a subject that is frame right and also have them looking off the right side of the frame they would feel very squished into my shot. If I have them look towards frame left, however, I create ample lead room for the subject to look and gesture. It’s worth mentioning though that if your intention is to create drama or a sense of unease then breaking this rule can be very powerful, but only do so if you feel very comfortable with telling a visual story in such a non-conventional manner.

3. Perspective - Something often not considered by both amateurs and professionals is the perspective we choose to use in our images. There is a massive difference between an image captured from ten inches off the ground and an image captured from ten feet off the ground. Using a high perspective can make the subject look small or weak, whereas a low perspective can make the subject look powerful or intimidating. This has both artistic and practical applications in all facets of digital imagery. For example, if I’m setting up a scene where our protagonist is facing their arch nemesis then I might consider filming the protagonist from a high perspective (making them appear small and weak) and the villain from a low perspective (making it clear that they’re more powerful and our protagonist is outmatched). I often consider this when taking photos as I travel: how can I take a compelling photograph of something that has been photographed millions of times? The Eiffel Tower, for instance, is one of the most photographed structures in the world. I could plant my feet and take a photo at face height (about 5’8 in my case) or I could get down low and shoot up, or even better take an aerial tour and get some images from the air. Even if aerial tours aren’t available I could stand on a park bench or any elevated position to get a slightly more unique take on your image. Always consider this when photographing landmarks: how can I capture an image that will make people want to look at it even though they’ve seen the subject hundreds of times before?

4. Time of Day - This is one of the most difficult ways to improve your images because it required you to wake up early or stay out in rush hour traffic, but the rewards can be incredible. In the gif below you can see how dramatic the effects of directional lighting can be. I often use the example of holding a flashlight below your face while telling a spooky story around a campfire; we don’t often see a light source originating directly below our subject, so the unnatural shadows this creates are often unflattering and unsettling. The same idea can be applied to overhead light sources, when they originate from directly above our subject they create very unnatural shadows that we don’t commonly see. Photographers and filmmakers often refer to the time just after sunrise and before sunset as the 'Golden Hour', the time when the sun’s light is more soft and red than it would be at any other time of day. This is when you want to be creating your images, either still or moving. Not only is the angle of the light ideal but also the intensity. While the sun’s light at noon is hard and very directional, the light cast during the 'Golden Hour' is soft and wraps around the subject, creating a flattering look that will help you create some amazing images. While it’s not always possible to capture images at these times, especially while traveling, it’s worth the hassle of waking up early or staying out a little late whenever possible, your portfolio and demo reels will thank you!

Do you have any other tips for capturing the perfect image? Share your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if you need help with your photography projects, our team is happy to assist you! Visit our website or give us call at 832-831-7592.



Friday, 29 April 2016

Social Media Strategy: Platforms

Social media marketing is an absolute MUST for any company, large or small. Social media allows you to connect directly with your consumers in a non-obtrusive, and often playful, way. Before you go plastering your brand across all platforms and creating accounts just for the sake of it, you need to understand where your audience actually is. Otherwise, you’re just shouting into the abyss of the internet. Let’s go through the most popular social platforms and why they might be right (or wrong) for you.

Facebook

Gender: Slightly more Women than Men
Most Popular with Ages: 18 to 65+
Number of Active Users: 1 Billion

This is by far the most popular platform, with over 1 billion active users worldwide. In the United States alone, 72% of adults of all ages use Facebook. That means if you’re a business, you need a Facebook page. They’re ahead of the curve on advertising and often times the trendsetters in this area. Facebook will be your greatest opportunity to reach potential customers, drive traffic to your website, and increase brand awareness.

Twitter

Gender: Slightly more Men than Women
Most Popular with Ages: 18-50
Number of Active Users: 560 Million

Twitter is described as a “microblogging site”, which really just means the content has to be short and sweet. Very short in fact, less than 140 characters per post. This platform is ideal for companies who are trying to market to a younger audience. However, be warned, your content MUST be engaging and memorable. Competition on this platform is high, with over 5,700 tweets being sent every minute. If you’re not eye-catching, you’re not noticed.

LinkedIn

Gender: Equally Men and Women
Most Popular with Ages: 18-50, most users ranging ages 30-50
Number of Active Users: 240 Million

Something to note about this platform is that around half of the users are college graduates looking to network professionally. 79% of all users on this platform are over the age of 35. They don’t care about just your latest product, they want to know why it’s groundbreaking and how it was made. Content on this platform needs to offer something educational for your users. For marketing, this platform works best for companies with a B2B approach.

Instagram

Gender: More Women than Men
Most Popular with Ages: 18-29
Number of Active Users: 150 Million

This platform is centered around images and short videos lasting no more than 15 seconds. Brands are participating through hashtags and posting images, image series, or short engaging videos that users can relate to. Make sure your imagery is visually appealing and mimics your brand’s personality. If you don’t have a tangible product to push, this is a great platform to give your consumers a behind the scenes look at how your business functions.

Pinterest

Gender: Mostly Women
Most Popular with Ages: 18-65
Number of Active Users: 70 Million

Pinterest has gained tremendous popularity surrounding any and all lifestyle topics. Users on this platform repin content to their own boards, allowing them to access it again and again. This is a tremendous way to drive traffic to your website, and you have more of a chance of doing this by creating helpful blog posts or tutorials. While this platform can be used by any business, it’s not ideal for every business. Unless you’re steadily creating original content that fits both Pinterest’s demographic and topics, this platform will be a waste of your time.

Vine

Gender: Equally Men and Women
Most Popular with Ages: 13-17 and Millennials
Number of Active Users: 200 Million

The con to this platform is that the demographic is very specific. However, if it fits your brand’s goals, you have the potential to see real engagement here. The point of this platform is to create micro-videos that play in a loop and last no more than 6 seconds. Take a look at some brands that are really using this platform right. Much like Instagram, this platform is most popular amongst brands with tangible products to sell. If you don’t have a tangible product, get creative and maybe even a little silly!

Outside of choosing the right platforms, there are many other factors you need to consider before putting your brand in front of the consumer. This includes your brand voice and personality, messaging language and strategies, defining a demographic, and video content. All of these components are essential to a fully fleshed out brand. If your marketing efforts don’t encompass all of these elements, you likely won’t get the response you’re looking for. We’ll continue to cover all of these topics through our Social Media Strategy blog series. Stay tuned!

Ready for marketing professionals to take over? Give us a call 832.831.7592!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

My New Favorite Expression in Adobe After Effects

There’s a tough lesson that all us motion graphics designers must learn and that’s maintaining a clean and organized workflow. But simply defining a labeling system for project files, comps and comp layers is the bare minimum. It’s imperative that we rig our scenes in a manner that allows for quick revisions as well as a smooth transfer to teammates. As we design and animate, we have to constantly ask ourselves, “If I can’t come in to work tomorrow, could somebody else pick this up easily?” or, “If the client doesn’t care for this, how quickly could I modify or reverse it?”

Working in a collaborative and client-based work environment, I’m constantly researching new tactics in order to help anticipate both scenarios. Most of these tactics involve using expressions in After Effects in lieu of excessive keyframing. Lately, I’ve come to particularly favor interpolation expressions. These can be used to have one object’s animation drive another (similar to parenting but with better precision). I used these expressions almost exclusively for a lower third template I developed recently for a virtual tour. This template is a great example of how expressions can be used to simplify a scene for yourself and your fellow designers.

My objective was to have the element, in this case, a cross, enter the scene and do a wipe reveal of the text.



Of course, from an animation standpoint, this is a very simple task to complete. However, this scene was going to be reused several times for a variety of phrases. These phrases would more than likely have to be modified without losing consistency. Hence, the layout had to be simple not just from an animation standpoint but from a user experience standpoint as well.

I began by animating the scale, rotation, and position of the cross. This was done with basic key framing. 






For the position, I knew I wanted the cross to end up on screen left no matter what. Its starting point, however, would depend on the length of the text inserted. I wanted the user to be able to adjust the text box’s length to match the width of the text without having to modify the cross’s keyframes. Thus, I had to write an expression that would allow the starting value of the cross’s position to change but the end value to stay constant. In other words, as the scene progressed from keyframe 1 to keyframe 2, the cross would move from point A to point B, with point A being the right end of the text box and point B being the left end of the text box (which would never change).



With these four variables in mind, I could proceed to create my interpolation expression.

Before writing my code, I first created a null object and positioned it to the right of the screen (at this point it didn’t have to be anywhere in particular). The position of this null object was to be my reference point for the cross’s starting value.



Next, I loaded my expression from the expression language menu.



Now, before we dive in and start plugging in numbers, I’m going to explain what we’re looking at here. Let’s not worry about the easeOut for now and move on to t, t1, and t2. “t” is the variable that this particular property (the cross’s position) is referencing. “t1” and “t2” are the minimum and maximum values of that reference.



“Value1” and “Vaule2” correspond to the property containing the expression, in this case the cross’s position. These need to be set to the desired minimum and maximum values of the containing property.



Hence, while our reference property “t” is progressing from “tMin” to “tMax”, the property in which the expression is contained, in this case, the cross’s position, will progress from “Value1” to “Value2.” The easeOut at the beginning is to clarify the interpolation of the cross’s movement. In this case, I desired the cross to ease into its final position. Now all I had to do was define “t”.

Again, my objective was to have the cross move from the point of the null object to its value at keyframe 2 over the same time frame that both keyframes were set. Hence, “t” would represent time and “tMin” and “tMax” would represent the cross’s position keyframes that I had already created.



I also needed to define the starting value of the cross’s position. So I created another variable called “p1” (though it could have been anything) and pick-whipped it to the null’s X position (for clarity, I renamed the null to “Starting Position”.



Now I could replace “Value1” with “p1”.



Value2 was going to be the constant value of the second keyframe. Hence, I replaced it to read “ValueAtTime(tMax).”



Now, no matter where I placed the null object the cross would begin its animation at its position but always finish at the value of the second keyframe.


I used the same type of expression to program the rest of the scene. Both the scale of the textbox and the transition of its reveal (which I completed using a stencil matte with a linear wipe) had to be synced up with the cross. This proved very simple once I determined the minimum and maximum values of each property.



I’m not going to explain these expressions in great detail but I’m going to point out a couple of things. First of all, I set both of these to linear so that they would lock onto the cross for its entire movement. Also, for the background’s scale, I had to specify the value for both X and Y. Since it was just scaling horizontally, I set the interpolation expression to x and left y as a constant value.

As a final touch, I programmed a slider control to adjust the position of the null (or “Starting Position” and placed it into a layer called “Master Control.”



Now, whenever anybody had to create a lower third, all they had to do was enter the text and adjust the slider’s value. Hence, with just a little bit of code, a template was created that allowed for quick modification and could be easily transitioned to my teammates.

While it may seem on the surface that manually adjusting keyframe values may be simpler than programming code, hopefully, my fellow motion graphics designers will find that, in the long run, taking the extra time to setup a few expressions will help save time and reduce inconsistencies in their work. If any of this seems a little overwhelming, you’re not alone. I too used to be confused by expressions and, to this day, have only scratched the surface of their capabilities. I strongly urge any motion graphics designer to at least try them out. For me, they have opened many doors in terms of creating cleaner project files and grasping a better understanding of the backroads in programming animation. Are you interested in a motion graphics project? Our team is here to assist you. Give us a call at 832-831-7592!


Monday, 4 April 2016

4 Lessons I’ve Learned as a Director

Being on set with Swagger has always been a refreshing learning experience. Since I joined the team, I started going to shoots to help in various areas, to both broaden my production experience and get more familiar with the Swagger way. Now I have the opportunity to step on set while walking in the director’s shoes, and so far it’s been thrilling!

But what exactly is the director’s role? What is it like to walk in his/her shoes? We think of a director as the one who runs the set, who controls the technical and creative aspects of a project, guides the cast and crew and dictates final decisions to accomplish his/her vision. This sounds like bread and butter, but I believe it is extremely challenging yet rewarding, and requires much more than just the willingness to “run the show”. Additionally, like the majority of creative jobs in this industry, directing calls for the perfect balance between skills, knowledge, experience, and most importantly, the ability to work as a team.

So, even though I consider myself a “director in training” I would like to share with you 4 things that I deem key if you are the one calling, “action!”:

1. Come prepared.

In case you missed my last blog post, I will reiterate: I am a firm pre-production believer, and will always think of it as the most important phase of a project. I’ve learned that as a director, it is crucial to take time during this stage to evaluate the script, develop a creative vision and create a thorough shot list or storyboard to ensure we go to production with a game-plan that will allow us to fulfill that vision.

This encompasses not only working with the production team to make sure the crew, cast, equipment and locations align with that concept, but to also think about all the other creative elements that will support the narrative. What’s the story and how do we want to tell it? How many cameras and what kind of cameras do we want to use? What angles and movements will carry the story the way we are envisioning it? What about the aesthetics, the style, and the mood of the project? What kind of shots will make the visuals more interesting?...

The number of questions can be endless, but the main thing to keep in mind is that as directors we should step on set prepared to guide the team in order to achieve that big dream we have in mind- our creative goal.

2. Listen to your crew.

I’ve already mentioned the word “team” and “crew” a couple of times here, and it’s not a coincidence. I’ve realized that a director’s responsibility lies in the ability to take the wheel as well as the ability to trust and listen to the passengers.

We have an amazing production team here at Swagger, and we have the opportunity to work with different talented vendors and contractors, who truly understand the way we tell stories. I cannot stress enough how valuable it is for me to know when to listen to my crew, and when to ask for their opinion or help (from a camera angle suggestion to a different creative approach). It’s been crucial to understand how this strengthens and benefits my vision and the overall production process.

3. Follow your instincts.

Now, there are times when I’m faced with tough decision calls or dilemmas on set, and times when the crew makes suggestions on how to proceed. This is where I recommend following your gut. Hear perspectives and evaluate, and if your intuition is telling you to agree with your team, go for it. If not, follow your instinct and make the call, even if it’s not a popular one.

Being prepared, knowing the project and the client well, along with understanding how to accomplish your plan will boost the confidence needed to make these tough decisions. Experience plays a big role here as well.

4. Focus on the solution, not the problem.

We all know things can happen. A member of the cast can cancel at the very last minute, someone from the crew can forget to bring a much-needed piece of equipment, or the noise at the location can be simply unbearable. No matter how much we plan or how well prepared we are, life on set can be pretty unpredictable. And as directors, it’s our job not to “lose our cool”.

I’ve learned that focusing blindly on the issue at hand can automatically create tension and make everybody around us uncomfortable and uneasy. Think about it as a fire hazard. Is it wise to start causing panic around the fact that there will be a fire or is it better to be patient, and direct all our energy towards finding an exit? Well, that was an easy one.

That’s the key. As soon as an issue arises, I recommend taking a step back for a second, breathing, and thinking about solutions and different options. This would be a great moment to communicate with the crew, evaluate suggestions and make the best call.

See how everything tied up right there?

So tell us, what else do you think directors should keep in mind on set? Have you faced any challenges while directing? If so, what lessons have you learned? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if you need help with your production projects, we are more than happy to assist you! Visit our website or give us a call at 832-831-7592.


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

How to Craft a Better Bio

Condense your life into just one paragraph. Four to five sentences of who you are and what you do. Writing a bio is an assignment many of us face when entering a new position, submitting our work for publication, or speaking at a conference. In my previous professional incarnations, I have asked countless people for their bios. In the process, I witnessed individuals who have won national honors, spent over two decades in their fields, or successfully built entire companies suddenly turn to ashen and blank-faced amnesiacs, incapable of recalling who they are or what they’ve done every day for the better part of their lives. 

Finding a way to efficiently wrap the complex, dynamic events and accomplishments of who you are into a brief paragraph is intimidating, but it isn’t impossible. A good first step is to sift through all those aforementioned events and accomplishments for the ones relevant to this bio. Just as you tailor your resume for different companies, you should tailor your bio just the same. The bio you give to The Knitting Guild Association to accompany your article on the history of worsted weight yarn is not going to be the same as the one you use for your administrative management position at Company Incorporated. While you are overflowing with skills and achievements, folks reading your bio only want the ones that prove you’re competent enough for them to listen to your opinions on the subject at hand. 

Now that you’ve narrowed down the subject matter arranging the information is the same as telling a story with you as the protagonist. Your opening sentence introduces who you are and your credentials. For example, let’s check with Sam, who is conveniently both a knitting expert and an administrative manager for Company Incorporated. For the sake of ambiguity, Sam will be referenced as the singular they:


Sam Smithey is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has been knitting for over 20 years.


Sam Smithey earned their BA in Business Administration from the University of Michigan and has over ten years experience in business management.


The middle of your bio leads from the past to present, lining up your relevant achievements and what put you on this path in the first place. This space is your brag zone as well as a space to connect more of who you are without going on tangents. For instance, Sam mentions that they got into knitting from their high school knitting club, but doesn’t tell readers that they joined because their sophomore year the club covered the sculpture of their school’s mascot in a knit full body stocking. While Sam loves to tell this story to every knitter they meet, it has a time and place. When you have limited space, less detail is more:


They discovered their love of knitting when they joined their high school knitting club and since then they have won national competitions, been featured in Creative Knitting Magazine and published over 50 patterns on Ravelry. They also organize a local knitting circle which donates their work to local youth shelters.


For their professional bio, Sam leaves out the story about how their very first management project in third grade where they built and managed an entire gel pen black market on the playground for half a year before the teacher’s caught them. Instead they focus on their adulthood endeavors:


Sam had an interest and skill in business management from a young age. After graduating college, they worked for six years as an administrator with Small Co. In their time at Small Co., they grew to manage a six-person development team whose efforts were integral to the company’s growth from a startup to an established business.


Close out with the information that directly ties into what you’re doing with this work. In Sam’s case, it’s noting their history background and prior experience writing on knitting history:


A business administration major, Sam minored in contemporary art history and has published 15 articles on the history of knitting in the United States and how the craft has evolved and gained popularity with modern crafters.


Sam’s professional bio links their past with their present position at Company Incorporated:


In 2010, Sam brought their management experience to Company Incorporated, becoming Chief Organization Officer. In their time at Company Incorporated, they’ve overseen the marketing department as it’s grown into a ten person team.


Finally, once you have your bio drafted, have someone who knows your accomplishments in this field, a cohort, mentor, or friend, read your bio. You can do this. Thousands of anonymous strangers will glance at this paragraph, endure a moment of scrutiny from a knowledgeable source. Chances are, they will remember what you’ve forgotten to mention: the time you created an entire organizational system for your previous departments client files, or, as in Sam’s case, that you’ve created over 50 knitting patterns on Ravelry.


Putting it all together, this is what Sam’s two bios look like following this formula:


Sam Smithey is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has been knitting for over 20 years. They discovered their love of knitting when they joined their high school knitting club and since then they have won national competitions, been featured in Creative Knitting Magazine and published over 50 patterns on Ravelry. They also organize a local knitting circle which donates their work to local youth shelters. A business administration major, Sam minored in contemporary art history and has published 15 articles on the history of knitting in the United States and how the craft has evolved and gained popularity with modern crafters.


Sam Smithey earned their BA in Business Administration from the University of Michigan and has over ten years experience in business management. Sam had an interest and skill in business management from a young age. After graduating college, they worked for six years as an administrator with Small Co. In their time at Small Co., they grew to manage a six-person development team whose efforts were integral to the company’s growth from a startup to an established business. In 2010, Sam brought their management experience to Company Incorporated, becoming Chief Organization Officer. In their time at Company Incorporated, they’ve overseen the marketing department as it’s grown into a ten person team.

There it is, Sam’s 20 years of knitting experience and ten years of business administration work condensed into two soundbites. Now, what experiences and skills can you condense down into a single paragraph? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below or tweet @Swagger_Media! And if you're interested in a marketing copywriting project, our team is here to assist you. Give us a call at 832-831-7592!