2015 Recap – Godzilla

The final weeks of the Fall 2015 Semester were a whirlwind. The project that consumed most of my time during this home stretch was a video that had been in the works since October – a course trailer for a Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness course taught by Professor Natalie Baker.

Natalie was a TON of fun to work with. She approached the Innovative Learning Media  team at ALT Lab with a very specific vision for her course trailer, and when we learned her aesthetic would largely include Japanese sea monsters and Snoop Dogg it became pretty impossible to resist.

The general gist of the video was this: in a post-apocalyptic world, Natalie and her Godzilla companion would be performing a rap about media portrayals of disasters and the problematic elements that accompany them. Is this reading as “too much sake” yet? Read on, dear reader.

This project required the construction of a world made entirely from scratch. Our awesome student worker, Michael Couchman of VCUarts Department of Graphic Design, took on the role of art director and began gathering and arranging elements for the Look while our team tackled the video and audio production elements with Natalie. Michael came up with this crazy good collage-y look that merged old, noisey photographs and muted, toxic-looking colors. The result was both wonderful and nauseating. Michael’s environments were very fun to work with, and I was excited to start deconstructing them when the animation phase began.

Here’s a quick mock-up we sent to Natalie of how we envisioned one given frame to look.

These are the sorts of projects where my God complex begins to show, haha! The thing I’m drawn to most in animation is the creative freedom — if you can imagine it, you can find a way to portray it. Your vision can be as specific as the time you are willing to invest in it. Video production can produce astounding images, but I often find myself frustrated by the limitations of lighting, actors, time, multiple takes… Maybe it’s a sign I need to develop more patience, but in any case, this particular project was a great outlet for me creatively. Michael’s world was a great backdrop for some of the new techniques I wanted to try.

After receiving Michael’s environments and assets and the sweetened rap audio from Max, I set to work breaking them apart. There are quicker ways to animate puppets in Adobe After Effects (and I’m sure that Adobe Character Animator will expedite this process even more moving forward), but in order to maintain consistency across the board, I broke each image down as much as I could (even further than Michael already had, which is saying something), separating hands, feet, jaws, and heads into separate layers. Each character existed within their own Composition, and would be placed, animated, and timed appropriately depending on the frame that was being animated. Time intensive? Yes, but totally worth it if it meant easy transferability. The backgrounds themselves were also animated along a 3D axis, which helped to push some of the “believability” of the world, mainly the existence of a depth of field.

 

The future of educational media, y’all.

Along with our multiple Godzilla characters and Natalie-in-a-Hazmat-Suit character, there were also several still and video elements that came into play as well. In order to create the 34 separate shots that the video ultimately comprised, I ended up working with about 300 or so layers in AE. Let’s just say I learned a LOT more about how to use color coding and naming structures over the course of this project.

The finished product?

https://player.vimeo.com/video/147380261

Looking at this project now, I still see glitches and timing issues I’m dissatisfied with… but they don’t eclipse how happy I am that this video got completed at all. Our team was very often crunched for time during the past year, so it’s pretty incredible that we managed to crank out a piece that is SO animation heavy. I’m also really thankful to Molly and Natalie for allowing me to get silly and push some of the more ridiculous elements of the video. There are unavoidable NSFW aspects that come into play when you’re using gangster rap in an educational video… but playing it “safe” would have cheated this video out of some of its charm and humor, and those are 2 attributes that become increasingly important when trying to emotionally connect an audience with subject matter that’s -actually- pretty important.

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