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.