Capstone Journal: Week 14

Crunch time! This is going to be a short post because I have to get back to work. As of the time of this post, I’ve completed all of the suspect interrogation videos as well as the entire desk scene. There are only a few tweaks I need to make to each of them.

The elephant in the room is the intro motion graphic which I haven’t started on. I was originally hoping to have it completely tonight but as of right now it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen since it’s 11pm and I haven’t started. As per usual, everything is taking significantly longer than I anticipated. Luckily I have planned some extra time so that I can put in as much work as I need to this weekend outside of a few family events (tee ball with my step-son and Mother’s Day brunch).

I showed Motley the suspect videos a few days ago and he said he liked them but was distracted by the fact that the characters didn’t blink even though their mouths were moving. This had been haunting me a bit too but I was trying to ignore it. Of course I wasn’t able to any longer after that comment and immediately came home and figured out a way to get that done. Everybody blinks now.

Back to work!

Why Do Videos Go Viral?

As someone interested in content marketing, the idea of things going “viral” is a hot topic. As ridiculous ideas and videos began to garner huge followings on places like Youtube, companies began to scramble to figure out the formula. Why do videos go viral? Well, rather than re-invent the wheel, I found a great video from Kevin Allocca, the trends manager at Youtube. He recently spoke at a TED conference on this very issue and broke it down into 3 distinct elements. While this isn’t a recipe for creating content that can go viral, it will certainly help anyone looking to understand how this phenomenon takes place.

Tastemakers

Similar idea here to thought leaders or influencers. Tastemakers are people who have a large influence and can push a piece of content with the potential to go viral into the stratosphere by endorsing it and promoting it to people who value their opinion. For example, the now famous “Double Rainbow” video was originally endorsed by Jimmy Kimmel on Twitter. Prior to that it had been posted on the users Youtube account for months with close to zero hits. Other examples of tastemakers would be people like Ashton Kutcher, Shaquille O’Neal, Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, John Stewart, etc. In todays world, pop culture and social influence go hand-in-hand and folks like these wield a lot of power with regard to getting a video or piece of content off the ground.

Communitiy Participation 

A key difference between something being viral and something being simply popular is community participation. The first step, of course, is exposure. A video, for example may take off and receive millions of views in a short amount of time. Shortly after this happens, however, communities typically begin to spring up, often creating derivative works, mashups, or spoofs from the original viral content. While many of the creators are simply trying to mooch a few hits off of the original viral piece, many just genuinely feel inspired or have an idea that they think would add to it. A community forms and this gives the viral content legs.

Unexpectedness

Of course, just like with any good piece of entertainment, unexpectedness is a key element. For example, I’m sure many of us have seen the Susan Boyle video from Britain’s Got Talent a few years ago. As this frumpy, awkward, and unkempt woman made her way on to the stage, everyone began to judge. The anticipation for this woman to be awful was clear. When she opened her mouth, however, something changed. Her voice was something you find only a few times in a generation. The clip soared within days on Youtube and is still popular today.

The simple fact is that the way we consume and share content is changing. We are no longer passive watchers or listeners but are now creators. The content is a living, breathing thing and thus it has taken on a life of its own.

What Makes an Image Iconic?

We all know an iconic image when we see one. Just the term “iconic image” probably prompts a particular image to pop into your head. But what makes an image iconic? Is it about the technical expertise utilized to create the photograph? Is it the artistry? Or is it more?

Of course, it doesn’t hurt for a photo to be beautiful or well composed, but I would argue that this is perhaps the least important factor with regard to whether or not the image will be iconic. A truly iconic image captures the essence of something that a wide variety of people can relate to and connect with emotionally.

I’m sure we’ve all seen thousands of photographs over the years taken on September 11, 2001. It’s a day that our nation will never forget. But does every image from that day strike the same chords within us as the images below? I would like to propose that each photo speaks to certain emotions in each of us.

For example, the photo of President Bush is one that many of us recognize as the photo or a piece of video from this same moment is almost always shown in documentaries about 9/11. Before entering the room to read to a group of school children, the president was notified that a plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. At this point nobody knew or thought of anything other than an accident. The moment captured in this photo is of the president finding out that a second plane had hit the second tower. Not only is this an iconic moment in the history of our nation, but it captures the reaction of a president, sitting in front of a classroom full of elementary school students as he realizes that our nation is under attack.

The plane flying into the building is another  iconic image. To hear that a plane flew into a building is one thing, but to see photograph of a full-sized commercial jet flying directly into one of the world largest buildings is gripping. Perhaps the most gut-wrenching aspect of the photo is that the viewer realizes and relates, even if it is subconsciously, to the fact that this photo captures the last seconds of life of every single person on that plane. They did not know what there day would hold when they got on that plane to visit family, or go on a business trip. They did not realize as they stepped into that plane that they would never set foot on the ground again or that they would never embrace a loved one again.

“Falling Man” is perhaps one of the most famous photos taken on 9/11. I don’t need to describe why we can all relate to this photo. Of course the image of a man falling over 100 stories speaks for itself. What we may not realize we’re relating to, however, is the deeper meaning. Whatever was happening where that man was in the building was so bad that he chose a 100-story free fall. This is a haunting image that strikes the same nerves described in the image of the plane flying into the building.

The photo of the fire-fighters strikes a few different chords. It is a photo that captures hope, heroism, pride, and patriotism. Even when our country had taken a huge blow, there were thousands of people willing to risk their lives for days, weeks, or months on end to go through the rubble, identify remains for families, provide opportunities for proper burials, and in rare case, find survivors. The image of these heros standing in the rubble of what was once one of the largest buildings on the planet, covered in ash, planting the American flag, is a photo as iconic as the soldiers planting the flag in Iwo Jima.

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Capstone Journal: Week 13

As soon as I decided I was going to record the dialogue I knew who my characters were going to be. Luckily everyone agreed so I have a really good cast with regard to voice talent. The detective has the most lines and I’ve been doing the voice in my head from the second we decided to take the project this route, so I recorded the dialogue for the detective. I also recorded it for the old man borrower which is sort of funny.

Once I had the audio recorded, I went in to the rough cuts and created final audio files. This took forever since there were some clips that were 5-6 minutes long for only 30-45 seconds of audio. I was really picky with it but hopefully it shows in the end.

I got final approval at the end of last week for the complete script as well as the characters. This allowed me to complete the entire cast of characters. I then created an interrogation scene that I’m really proud of. I used a similar style to something I did for a “frogger” game that I made earlier this year. I enjoy using real-life textures in cartoony-type settings. The characters are cartoons but the rest of the settings have a “real life” feel to them. Doing the whole thing in black and white let me make things really pop.

I have two different angles for the interrogation. One angle is from the perspective of the suspect being questioned. There is a bright desk lamp off to the right, shining right in your face. The detective is standing behind the table you’re sitting at, in the shadows, questioning you. Far on the other side of the dark room you can see a door with a complicated lock on it. The other angle is from the detectives point of view. You see the same lamp from behind, shining right on the suspect. They are “blown out” and there is a harsh shadow on their right and a drop shadow on the back wall.

As of right now I have about half of the interrogation videos completed. As expected, the mouths takes forever. It’s pretty zen though just sitting there moving the pieces around. The only downside of it is that because it has to match the audio, I can’t listen to music while I do it which is what usually keeps me sane while I work on graphics and things lately.

I created the basic Flash framework this week as well. I don’t want to wait until the last minute for this even though I don’t think it will be terribly hard and dont’ have any of the final pieces that will go into it. For now it’s pretty basic but at least it will make it easier to “plug and play” once I have the other stuff done.

Capstone Journal: Week 12

As of right now I am only a few weeks away from turning this in and I still don’t have approval on finalized scripts and finalized characters. They’re having to send everything to their lawyers since we’re dealing with some sensitive issues, so there isn’t much I can do other than work on other things to try to stay ahead.

I have a pretty close to final draft of the animated infographic script though, so I’ve created a storyboard for that. I met with Mary & Ellen this week and got it approved. There may be some minor tweaks once the final script is finished but hopefully it will give me enough to go on that I can create the rest of the simple graphics that I’m going to use.

The characters are still a slow process. I have 3 more that I need to complete and I keep getting requests for what seem like minor changes, such as to skin tone, etc. The issue with this is that as I’ve said before, I’m doing most of this in Photoshop so it’s not as simple as changing the color of a fill. I’m literally having to go in w/ the bucket, paint the area, and then go in with a paintbrush and clean up the edges. There has to be a better way.

The good news is that waiting on the scripts and the characters has allowed me to create a lot of the individual “pieces” that will all be coming together in the final flash project, video, etc. Being ahead here I’ve decided to take another leap into the deep end. I’m going to solicite help from my colleagues at school and record the dialogue for all of the interrogations. Then I’m going to animate the mouths to match. I know this is going to be a drawn out and tedious process, but just like with the characters themselves, it will add another level of realism and help the audience connect.

I’ve found a really cool mouth chart used for animations and have created a set of 9 mouth positions that I can use for every single character. I will just go through and scrub the recorded dialogue in aftereffects and put the mouth position that correlates to each sound. I know it’s going to be tedious but I think I’ll be proud of the final outcome.

This week I also came up with a final idea for how to do the “evidence” section. I’m going to make it look like the detectives desk, with all kinds of clutter on it including the files of all of the suspects. I’ll use basic actionscript tweens with easing to have the user zoom to each suspects file and read it up close. I’m thinking of using the suspects themselves as a secondary navigation in the evidence section as well as the interrogation section. I figured, since I am putting so much extra effort into them, they might as well be the star of the show.

Capstone Journal: Week 11

Everything is taking longer than I expected. I guess I should have expected that. The approval process for the script, the editing back and forth and the approval for the characters are all taking longer than I had hoped.

I did get a final approval on a few of the characters so I have started creating them in photoshop and illustrator. That process is extremely painful right now. I honestly feel like I’m going completely blind on this but I’ll figure it out. The way I’ve been doing it is I’m sketching them with a pencil and paper, then scanning them in. Then I go into Photoshop and jack up the contrast to try to get it so it’s clean black and white. I am using “live trace” in illustrator to give it a more clean and cartoony feel.

I’m sure there are some shortcuts that I haven’t figured out yet but at this pace I’m getting roughly one character done each night on top of everything else I have going on in the program. I wish I had sucked it up this year and used Illustrator more often rather than falling back on Photoshop which I already knew pretty well. I think if I had gotten a lot of experience with Illustrator, I may have been able to do it avoiding Photoshop completely and would be coming out with really clean vector images instead of PNG’s that may or may not pixelate in the final product. Keeping my fingers crossed.

One of the big things I’ve been facing this week as well is working with the client on the script. It’s a challenge when you work with a client because they have a message they want to convey. They also tend to know everything about the topic and their natural inclination is to do a “mind dump”. They want to feed the user all of their knowledge. I’m having to constantly rein it back in and be the advocate for keeping the message focused on the most important issues and on the story to engage the user. The client is great at trusting me but it’s taking some time to get them thinking along the right lines consistently.

The other main task I’ve been working on this week is creating the basic graphics for the intro animated infographic. I don’t even have it fully storyboarded yet but I know some of the main graphics we’ll be using, such as the “bathroom people”, a bank, a house, money, etc. Again I’m using a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator to get it done. I can’t figure out whether live trace is my best friend or my worst enemy right now.

Capstone Journal: Week 10

The date for the presentation to Congress got pushed back. As of right now they don’t have a new date so this takes a huge load off. Hopefully now I will be able to do more with the project like I have been envisioning.

I met with Mary the other day for an entire afternoon. I wanted to get a better sense of each character and what their exact role was in the crisis. If I’m going to be responsible for crafting this message to educated the general population, I need to make sure I have my facts straight. We went through each character and I took detailed notes. I then created a rough draft of the “interrogations” and sent it to Mary and Ellen so that they can revise it. Hopefully I’ll have a finalized script for this part in a few days.

Perhaps the biggest news is that we decided that now that I have more time for the project, I would like to use actual illustrated characters for the experience. I think it will add a whole new layer with regard to how the audience relates to it and will make the story feel deeper and the characters more real.

I was so excited after my meeting that I came home and stayed up late creating rough drafts of most of the characters. I sent them to Mary and Ellen. They liked most of them but have a few suggestions for just about all of them so they’re a work in progress. Hopefully I can get some final drafts of the characters done in the next few days as well so that I can begin making them on the computer. I’m not sure what that process looks like so I want to give myself plenty of time to mess around and figure it out.

Capstone Journal: Week 9

We have decided to run with the “WhoDunIt?” idea. When Mary first mentioned it I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. It wasn’t what I had originally been seeing in my head. It didn’t take long though before I had a million ideas.

I’m thinking we can do the classic black and white detective mystery here. The only thing I’m having issues with is the characters. We need to represent them somehow. We can go with basic graphics like the typical “bathroom people” but I’m not sure how much we’ll be able to do with the story side of it if the characters are simple like that. Hard to relate. I need to give this more thought.

Here is the basic breakdown as I’m envisioning it today.

Intro Video

This will introduce the user to the topic, setup the story, and introduce the characters. From there we will have an animated and narrated infographic. Maybe we could even have the detective character be the narrator for the whole thing. Might be kind of cool. The animated infographic will give the user the background they need to understand what happened in a general sense with the mortgage crisis. We don’t to give all of our secret sauce away in the beginning, so we won’t be pointing fingers or getting into details beyond the general lay of the land.

Interactive 

This portion is where the user gets to dig in. I’m toying with a few different ideas here but the “WhoDunIt?” theme lends itself maybe to doing something with clues, or evidence. Also thinking of how to question the suspects and get their side of the story. This way we may be able to show not only why each suspect was at fault but how they perceive their own involvement as well. Again, the issue of how the characters are represented poses a problem. Either way, the idea here is that the user gets to interact to teach themselves more and feel like they’re solving the case.

Conclusion

By this point the user should have most of the information necessary to understand everyone’s individual role in the mortgage crisis. This will be a video where the detective conducts the classic “final reveal” and talks about how each suspect was involved,etc.

We’ll end the experience with some sort of call to action. This whole experience is going to accompany the paper being presented to Congress so there needs to be some sort of call to action whether it’s simply spreading the word, calling a congressman, whatever.

The main thing I’m worried about at this point is time. Considering how big this project is getting, I’m feeling like I’m going to have to make some concessions to my “vision” if I’m going to get it done on time.

Capstone Journal: Week 8

I took a deeper look at Raphael.js this weekend as well as some other ways of completing the project without using Flash. While I would love to do something new and different by not using Flash, I think I have come to realize that Flash is the perfect tool for something like this. Where Flash is a problem is that it was never made to create things like websites. Instead it is best used for interactive, standalone elements including banners and interactive experiences.

Another reason I have decided to use Flash is that CRL has recently found out that they will be presenting the finished white paper to Congress on April 19th and would like the presentation to accompany it. While this cuts my time to work on it down by almost a solid month, I think it would be silly to not do what I had to in order to have it ready on time. Knowing this, the learning curve for doing it without Flash is simply too high.

I spoke to Mary twice this week. We are really starting to move now. I explained that by the end of next week I would like to have an idea and possibly some mockups that Ellen could approve so that I could begin building and have a solid 3 weeks to get it done. After the presentation on 4/19 I will then have some time to help promote the presentation on social media, etc.

Mary came up with the idea of framing the entire experience like a “WhoDunIt?” I thought this was a really creative way to do it and having a theme will help me when I’m trying to figure out how to write the scripts or how to visualize the data. Mary is going to speak to Ellen on Tuesday morning and run this by her. If she likes it I will begin to organize the entire project through this lens.

We went through our revised outline and eliminated some topics and points that Mary didn’t feel were necessary or would complicate the experience for the user (and for me). The only issue is that every time we eliminate data and information, it feels like more is added on. It’s going to be a challenge to tell this story without a ton of background information that the average audience would almost certainly find painfully boring.

I am thinking of doing 2 short motion graphic videos. I will still do the original introduction video but will also be adding a conclusion video which will wrap everything up and present a clear call to action. We are still working on coming up with exactly what that call to action is, what it will look like, and how it will be implemented into the experience. While educating the public is important, I don’t think the project will be as effective without a specific call to action. The problem is that there are so many issues and so many factors. There is not simply one policy that needs to get passed or enacted or one politician to call.

Over the next few days I have asked Mary to be diligent in trying to nail down a call to action as well as finding more specific interesting facts and statistics. I am working on reorganizing everything that we have. I am committed to trying to have all of this information broken down as well as having some more specific ideas for scripts, mockups, etc by the end of this week. I would like Mary to be able to run it by Ellen so that I can have a solid 3 weeks to build and refine the project itself.

Capstone Journal: Week 7

I have decided to take a step back and look at whether or not there are good ways to produce this project using HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Jquery, etc. I’m sure that there are but of course there are compatibility issues and lack of standards there as well as a major learning curve for me as I have done little with Javascript and Jquery that wasn’t plug and play.  I worked with a friend of mine who is a developer to dissect an interactive experience that I found that hadn’t used an Flash. We were able to determine that they were using a Javascript library called Raphael.js to produce most of the interesting effects that I would need. I am not sure how complex it is so one of my main tasks for next week will be to look into how this is used and see if it’s doable.

Mary and I each came up with general outlines this week. I came up with a possible breakdown of how the experience will be setup and navigated while Mary created one to help break down all of the information I’ve taken in over the past few weeks and help me better understand it. We spoke on the phone again this week as well. Basically Mary went through my outline and helped to break things down for me so that I understand some of the finer points. I asked lots of questions and took opportunities to simplify the ideas even further while also making sure I was getting my facts straight.

As far as the layout of the project goes, I am thinking we will start with a short introduction video using motion graphics to help draw the audience in and help them realize that the information is going to be told in an interesting way. From there we will break down each of the real causes of the mortgage crisis as well as who is not to blame.

We are still working on a specific call to action but a lot of ideas have been thrown around over the past few weeks. I told Ellen, Toni, and Mary about the “Twerrible Towel,” a twitter campaign that McKinney did where any time someone used a specific Twitter hashtag about the Pittsburgh Steelers, that a mechanical arm would spin around a “Terrible Towel.” They liked the idea of incorporating social media and specifically were interested in creating a movement with a hashtag. We threw out ideas including #dontkillthedream as a call to action for responsible mortgage lending. We are going to work on refining the idea and will come up with ideas on how we can implement it into the project.

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