Saturday, February 17, 2007

Anatomy Of A Trailer

Earlier this evening Greg Nunamaker and I put the finishing touches on an animated project that will play tomorrow in all four services at Christ Community Church. Here's a summary of how it came to pass. (Finished product at end of entry.)

Less than two weeks ago Nick Kelly and I were at Starbucks brainstorming ideas for a meeting we had later that morning. The meeting centered around the upcoming series "Unlikely" which is based on the Book of Jonah in the Old Testament. Somehow we came up with the idea of simple animation, a 2-D animated bumper or trailer that could lead into the sermon. The logo that Christine Gerhart came up with had us thinking of animation, especially after some of the animated pieces Greg had come up with for the Destressta video we recently did. (Also, South Park entered into the discussion as something we could mimic with the animation, but we won't mention that since people would be offended.)

It was difficult for Nick and I to convey the idea in the meeting so we had to really sell it. We were confident in it, though, and that helped sway people. The big hurdle seemed to be other people had their own ideas they wanted pursued, which is understandable.

We get the green light and have to basically start running with it. Why? Well, in the meeting we decided to have the animated piece be a preview trailer for the next week's sermon. It didn't leave us much time to get our stuff together, especially since we've never done a full on animated piece before.

Out of the meeting we come back to the Comm Suite and start talking to Greg. Greg was the key to this project because of his expertise in Flash. (Prior to working at CCC he taught Digital Media at UNO.) Greg was game for it but he did have one legitimate concern, his wife was expecting any day. Nick and I had forgotten that "slight" issue. Still, Greg said he could work from home if need be. Game on.

Immediately Greg and Christine started doing sketches in Flash and Adobe Illustrator. I scripted out chapter one. While simple, since I'm primarily using scripture, I had to tweak parts to adapt it to the medium. I added some lines which brought some fun angles to it. Storyboarding the piece was fun. Even though my sketches were rudimentary, compared to Greg's past storyboards, it conveyed the direction of the piece. The blocking, action, etc. This gave Christine and Greg direction with their illustrations.

The problem coming out of the storyboard, though, was I had written a much longer piece than anticipated. In the meeting we said we could do a short trailer of thirty seconds. Not anymore. I had drawn 17 panels. No way it was going to be thirty seconds. However, as we started progressing with the project people were grasping the idea better. The time of the trailer wouldn't be an issue, but getting it done in time would be.

This past week saw Greg and I spend an inordinate amount of time on the project. It dominated our work, which would be fine if it was all we had to do. Greg is also maintaining our website while trying to create a new one, and I have all the responsibilites I'm messing with.

I was trying to track down people to do the voice work and for some reason this was difficult. I thought it would be easy to get people to do it, but a number of people didn't respond to my inquiries. One person who I thought for sure would want to do it told me no. Great. One person who was excited for the project was Lee Westphal. I had my MacBook Pro, microphone and GarageBand ready for him to do lay down vocals. He immersed himself into it. Brilliant. I thought he did a fantastic job with the narration. He did three different voices for the part and we could have used any of the three.

Another person who helped was Larry Hovorka. He did some vocals for Jonah and God that we didn't use. Why mention it? Well, I appreciated the fact he wanted to help. And, while we didn't end up using his vocals (his stuff was good) it did give us some direction as to how to approach the vocals with those characters.

While I'm recording vocals I'm also using GarageBand for fx in the piece. That was fun to finally use GarageBand for something beyond podcasting. The fun with the first trailer was mixing tracks for the storm. Greg also had some audio fx handy that he utilized.

As I'm getting tracks and fx finalized I'm exporting them to Greg so he can implement them into the animation. He had the unenviable task of editing and animating the illustrations. He was phenomenal with what he cranked out in the limited time he had.

With little to zero response to inquiries to do voice work I start recording parts in case we need a Plan B. I do the parts of the Mariner and Captain, but also had the part of God done just in case. (Some old friends from Arkansas would say it would be natural for me to be the voice of God.) Yesterday, I tracked down Tim Marsden and Steve Yost to do the other voices. While it was last second they both did a good job. In GarageBand I changed the pitch of both of their voices, along with mine. I didn't mess with Lee's voice at all.

Greg continued to plug away at editing and animating all day yesterday. (Website? Who needs that!) We left work late last night knowing we'd have to finish it up on Saturday. Greg continued to work from home while I crashed early from a long work week.

Today I called Greg to set up a time to meet and he said, "You know, I think we need some sort of intro dialogue for the piece." We're suppose to have this done in a few hours and now we are adding dialogue, but Greg was right. We did need some sort of intro. On my way into the church I called up Lee to see if he could come in and do some more work. I left a message but he called back a few minutes later and was more than willing to help. Less than an hour later we had his additional dialogue recorded and edited. (Props to Lee for helping out on short notice!)

Then Greg and I went to work. I had to tweak some of the audio tracks because their levels weren't that high, Greg continued to edit and animate scene by scene. We'd discuss various scenes as to what would or wouldn't work. For instance, we realized we needed another line or two of dialogue from the Mariner and Captain. So, I did that quickly, edited it and exported it to Greg. We'd listen to the various tracks and then make edits within the animation. It was a tedious process.

Once it was finished Greg exported it from Flash into an avi file. The file was 4 GB. When I tried bringing it into iMovie or Final Cut Express I had errors. So, Greg had to export it in a lower quality to get it to work. While we did want to figure out why we had errors we got to a point where we didn't care and just wanted it done. The lower quality version is still excellent and you can't see any pixelation or bad rendering.

I imported the file into iMovie, made a few tweaks and then sent to iDVD. The first copy that came out I gave to Greg.

Greg was hoping to be out of the church by 5:00 pm. He left just before 7:00 pm. I left around 7:30 pm.

Greg and I both remarked we wished we had another week to just tweak the piece to take it to the next level. We had wanted to add a dash of color to various scenes, but time didn't allow us that. Perhaps next week.

God also answered our prayers that Greg's wife Amy didn't give birth. (They will induce Tuesday.) It will make this next week interesting while working on the trailer for chapter two, but with one down it will seem easier. Already I have the storyboard done for it.

I'm eager to see and hear the reaction from the congregation after they see it. I don't think anyone has any idea what they are getting. Granted it's no Pixar animated piece, but considering we pulled it together in under two weeks with our limited abilities I'm pleased with the outcome. I work with some great people. We've raised the bar at the church with this one, I believe.

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