Animators and designers are quick to point out that the soft economy is influencing current trends in the design of opens and logos. But the economy has not affected the quality of work being done. And, any new clients that come in do so with smaller budgets and more cautious approaches. Therefore, business relies on repeat customers.
"Money is tight, and as a result people are a little less adventurous," reports Kent Hodder, executive creative director/CEO of Met Hodder, a Burbank-based content creation company specializing in broadcast programming and promotional marketing. "These decisions are never made by a single individual, and as a result we're seeing [things go] back to a very slow, more conservative process, almost like we would experience with someone who hadn't done it before. The clients are experienced but they want to check in at more phases in the process so they have more control and they're able to see their vision.
"There may be some creative tradeoffs because it ends up being more a consensus project but, on the other hand, [this more conservative approach] tends to cause us to not have to go back and start over," he adds.
For this AXN project, the client wanted to retain the original flat art logo and color red; Mocean was free to change everything else. They used After Effects and Maya.
Comments Michael McIntyre, founder/executive creative director of Mocean in Venice, CA, "We're still getting a lot of new projects but everything's couched with, 'We need to do this as cheap as possible.' It's funny. It seems more than ever, clients are saying that and they end up paying the normal price by the time it's done. But their initial statement is, 'We only have X,' which is half of what it used to be. It takes a certain amount of money to do this stuff. However, the clients have to feel like they're getting a discount."
All the studios reported on in this article say that even with client budgets being tight, their businesses are healthy. This is a tribute to those studios that have diversified their businesses, that have sought more efficient technical solutions, and that have continued to make strong imagery on tighter timetables and tighter budgets. They are very conscious of their bottom lines.
"One of the reasons we sent [our creative director] to NAB this year was to be a little more proactive on what we're seeing," says Jan Phillips, president of 168 Design in San Francisco. "So instead of budgeting as projects come in, we're trying to think ahead about what we're going to be doing in a year. It's like gambling with the stock market. Buying equipment today is a risk but what I like about it, at least with the desktop systems, I'm not risking $1 million on real high-end digital compositing. I'm risking maybe $25,000 or far less. I think it makes the gamble a little less scary for me. Then I can pass on a reasonable rate to my clients as well as offer them more creative techniques at better rates because I can amortize and pay off desktop equipment faster."
Here's what some of these studios had to say . . .
COMPANY: Met Hodder ( www.meth odder.tv and www.digitalbucket.com, its graphics/animation division), a content creation company specializing in broadcast programming and promotional marketing.
Zona employed a variety of Adobe products while creating this design for Biography's Box Office Bio.
Recent Project: A :15 open for Ask Rita, comedian Rita Rudner's syndicated series. The client was Litton, the production company owned by Rudner and her husband. Met Hodder was asked to redo the pilot packaging, keeping the logo and lighthearted/high-energy approach. Rudner opens the show on set, the open cuts to the logo animation, then goes out to a commercial break or straight to the guests. Rudner's caricatured face is a 2D element, along with postcard icons since the premise is for viewers to send in their questions. The new logo has a flower motif with the title in flowing calligraphy writing. The open was part of an entire package, which also included bumpers and IDs.
Met Hodder uses Mac G4s. "The final elements for show packaging were either designed in [NewTek] LightWave for 3D perspective or as 2D elements crafted in Adobe Illustrator with motion animation orchestrated in After Effects. The final pieces were then composited using AE and Combustion yielding a finished set of show animation elements on videotape with embedded alpha channels for crisp keying into and out of the show's studio material," says Hodder.
Met Hodder used After Effects, LightWave and Combustion, running on Mac G4s, to freshen up this Ask Rita open.
Economic Trend: Some clients are asking Met Hodder to tweak existing projects, rather than create new ones. Hodder says people are asking, "'How about if we go with something similar to X,' a previous project we've done. As a result, everyone already knows what it's going to feel like; we're just freshening and fluffing it up a bit.
"Also, we're willing to do a fixed budget with people, and we do that a lot, where we all agree on what it's going to cost at the beginning," continues Hodder, who thinks his company's stance is a bit unusual. "Typically you'd find 1/3 of the industry or less would do this. Most animation and graphics emerge from post production models or agency/design models, both of which bill by the hour. Maybe they've all been forced to do this a little more because people frankly want to know what it's going to cost when the dust settles. We charge a fair value, not a premium, but not more or less."
Montgomery & Co. created the :45 open/main title for ABC's Dragnet. Elements were compositing in After Effects and edited in Avid Xpress.
Visual Trend: Opens are shorter, often come later in the show and are increasingly being used, as in their formative days, as sponsorship opportunities, he says.
COMPANY: Mocean (www.moceanvenice.com) in Venice, CA, began as a movie trailer company in 2000, then jumped into broadcast work a year later after hiring managing director Kevin Artari from Pittard Sullivan. "It was a natural bridge," says Michael McIntyre, founder/executive creative director. "It just made sense to me that if I wanted to get into broadcast to help diversify my base I needed to have an expert."
One Six Eight Design provided a :15 opening for National Geo's Surviving Everest. The client wanted a sense of scale, impact and starkness.
Recent Project: They rebranded Sony's AXN (action-adventure) Network, now available in Asian, European, Latin American countries. It may be available in the US soon. The progressive rollout of this new rebranding began airing in Asia in April. Sony's philosophy is to rebrand every three years. The client wanted to retain the original flat art logo and color red; Mocean was free to change everything else in the graphics package.
An extensive greenscreen 35mm shoot with live actors formed the basis of the logo design, which has silhouetted characters interacting with the 3D logo. They hide, bike and karate chop their way through and around it. All scenarios are for 15 different IDs the network uses to introduce different programming time periods. These elements may be integrated into show opens, at the Sony designers' discretion.
For The WB Buzz, Revolve used a Sony digital camera to shoot 1,000 digital stills at the University of Texas; the images were then incorporated into this open package.
Maya was used for 3D and After Effects for most everything else. Ninety percent of the project was created on Mac G4 dual-gig processor workstations.
Economic Trend: "The growing challenge is working with global companies like Sony. On this project, we would have weekly phone meetings with five to eight creative directors from around the world, as well as get feedback on Internet posts," says McIntyre, who gives Suzi Zimmerman co-creative directing credit. "It was great but there were so many different opinions. My specific role as creative director was to calm everyone down. The Internet has completely affected big and international jobs. Three years ago, we couldn't have done this job." Currently Mocean currently has many international clients.
Visual Trend: "A lot of clients are asking for organic, anything done by hand, things with light involved, some optical things - basically, 180 degrees from the digital look. I don't think it's a trend across the board but because of what we do here these are the requests we're getting," says McIntyre.
COMPANY: One Six Eight Design (www. 168designgroup.com ) in San Francisco, the graphics and design division of Varitel Modern Videofilm.
Recent Project: A :15 open/title sequence for Surviving Everest, a National Geographic Channel special that aired in May. The client wanted a sense of scale, impact, starkness; the One Six Eight designers were given footage from many sources and asked to convey the history and majesty of this monumental peak. They treated the footage and put it in the one-minute tease prior to the graphic open. In that open, simple bold typography interacts with 3D animation of a snowstorm, created with Maya's Particle Animation. Major compositing work was done in After Effects on dual-gig Mac G4s. Color correction and supporting compositing was done in Quantel Henry. This open was part of a larger package with hundreds of elements.
Economic Trend: "What I'm finding unusual for us is we've been getting a lot of calls from different areas, not just broadcast - corporate, multimedia presentations to launch products," says Phillips.
Creative director Brad Soderlund discusses One Six Eight's interest in desktop tools. "We've been exploring what solutions are available for desktop more and more. We've found some nooks and crannies in there that have been intriguing. Long before NAB 2003 we had decided it was a real practical possibility in terms of hardware and software to do fully legitimate broadcast design work in the desktop arena. That became very plausible when we got the kind of talent that someone like animator Jeff Jankens brings to the table."
Soderlund says his recent trip to NAB was very educational. "I saw a predominance of people talking about HD more than ever, from the standpoint of makers of gear, and talking about DV. It was almost like standard def, right in the middle, is almost ignored. What I saw regarding desktop vs. high end equipment is that desktop making a push to become an industry standard." He points to Apple's Final Cut Pro, which he says, "is really being pushed as a new industry standard for all sorts of things."
This graphics house recently purchased the Magic Bullet plug-in for After Effects, after getting good results from DV footage tests.
"If anything, NAB alerted me that there's more software out there than you're going to generally hear about," adds Soderlund. "I learned about Mokey and Boujou, great for post rather than design people, but we've designed jobs that incorporate enough live action and post effects that both of them would've been real winning options for us a year ago on the stuff we were doing."
COMPANY: Austin's Revolve (www.revolvemotion.com ) is the graphics/design division of Matchframe, a Texas-based digital post company. It is adding Discreet's Inferno and Fire, it already has Smoke so it can do most of its own editorial and effects. "I wanted to start Revolve because people were looking to us more for solutions," says creative director Ron Pippin, who helped open the Revolve doors about a year ago.
Recent Project: Revolve designed an open and graphics package for KNVA-Austin WB network's The WB Buzz, a :30 daily update on entertainment in the Austin area.
"We're working with local stations with tight budgets. We're trying to do the cool work with significantly lower budgets [than major markets], so the challenge is how to do things on the quick and cheap," says Pippin. Revolve had a week to cast, shoot and create. It adopted a guerrilla production style - they took Sony digital cameras to the University of Texas campus. They captured 1,000 digital stills that went straight into After Effects, where Pippin had already comped out a timeline in Avid. That rough cut was matched back to images. Animated lines created a moving landscape. Flame was used for final output and a little cleanup. Eighty-five percent of the project was done in After Effects. Keith Lowry was the art director. Mark Miks, of Action Figure in Austin, was the DP.
"Before, After Effects used to be strictly 2D so you had to scale things to get the illusion of 3D. I was always reticent to use AE, coming from Flame where you had a 3D camera in a 2D space. When AE brought that on, it became so much more powerful. We used spline tools to create an animating line that runs through the landscape," he says.
Economic Trend: "The thing I am noticing is that we're having to present more to get the work. We're having to do tighter boards. Clients will shop the work just as an agency would have to go out and pitch. Sometimes we have to pitch. That's time and expense, which is hard when you're a small company," he says, though he adds that being under the umbrella of a larger company certainly helps in this case.
Visual Trend: "People want to get away from digital looking things," reports Pippin. "The late '90s were so full of 3D, and people [today] are more interested in 2D and natural things. A lot of the interesting work that's coming out is more organic, more handpainted - more things are done using multimedia. Not only do things get shot on camera but they then get painted under animation stands. So compositing has gone from something that's strictly in the computer to something that's more of a tool because people have figured out how to use it intelligently and creatively."
COMPANY: Manhattan's Zona Design (www.zonadesign.com) is a multi-disciplined design and branding studio. Projects range from broadcast opens to 130-foot projected walls for Chrysler product intros to spots for a skateboard manufacturer.
Recent Project: Zona completed a dozen opens for the digital network Biography (not to be mistaken with A&E's Biography show), including those for Box Office Bios and Divas and Darlings.
The :10 Box Office Bio open for movie programming combined live action film footage and graphic type elements. It was shot on DV. Creation and compositing tools include Adobe's After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator running on Mac G4s. The executive producer was Dennis Fluet, Tamar Samir was designer and Keith Yan was compositor.
Economic Trend: Due to the current economic climate, Zona president/creative director Zoa Martinez says her company is doing certain projects, such as entire network redesign packages, in progressive stages. "I think that's fair," she says
Visual Trend: "Stylistically, about a year ago everybody was doing this flat Flash thing, it's not as popular now. We frown upon [doing one particular style] because you're asking for technique and you're not asking for good design. We're a design company. That's why people keep coming back to us - we don't get typecast."
On the visual front, Zona Design is known for its "color branding," a particular skill in creating and combining color palettes so they will be most effective.
COMPANY: Montgomery & Company Creative (www.montgomerycreative.com ) in Culver City, CA, which since 1997 has specialized in main title design, broadcast design, cable/network branding and promos.
Recent Project: They worked on the :45 open/main title of ABC's Dragnet for Wolf Films. The client wanted to pay homage to the original classic but keep it current. Driven by music, the open features four elements: 1) footage from show (edited into a "Day in the Life" vignette of the two main characters), 2) foreshadowing images of badge 3) a historical montage of Los Angeles from the 1940s to now, via newspaper clips and photos 4) a helicopter flyover of downtown LA. Finally, the badge segues into the title. It was edited in Avid Xpress, with elements created and composited in After Effects. Frames were output and laid off on HD tape at Matchframe Video in Burbank.
Blake Danforth was the art director/creative director; Han Yii was lead animator; Gerald Steiner Jr. was animator and Greg Thanos was editor.
Visual Trend: "Trends are like style and should just be another variable in terms of trying to answer the filmmakers' idea," says creative director George Montgomery. In terms of technique, he says, "We've always done A-list broadcast stuff on Macs."
OPENS & LOGOS GALLERY
Visual effects/design studio Beehive (www.beehive.tv) in NYC recently completed the on-air and on-stage graphics package for the fifth annual Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for Humor event, which premiered on PBS. Beehive commissioned illustrator Robert Risko to create various sketches for the project, including a portrait of Mark Twain, another of this year's award recipient, Bob Newhart, and a rendering of the Kennedy Center building. Beehive incorporated these drawings into a simple design scheme similar to Mondrian paintings of adjacent white- and primary-colored rectangles. To present the long list of names in a varied and interesting manner, Beehive animated the camera to move in a a 3D space around the 2D design. Adobe After Effects was used for both the design and animation. In addition to creating the on-air package. Beehive also created the graphics that preceded clips of Newhart's comedy screened on stage at the event.
MK12 (www.mk12.com) in Kansas City produced a new promo for the NASCAR Championship on TNT. The promo opens on a team of NASCAR drivers standing against an American flag. MK12 juxtaposed the drivers seen in grainy black & white against the bright red racing stripes that flash across the screen. The studio used Adobe After Effects and Photoshop.
Zoic Studios (www.zoic.com) in LA created an HD show open and logo for The Tonight Show With Jay Leno via branding agency Jacobsrahi. The open, directed by John Scheer, takes viewers around the country and into the lives of different people and twists each vignette into a painted mural. Interiors and exteriors flow into one another as the camera pulls back to create a window into the world of American life. Zoic composited the scenes together using Discreet Flame.
Borrowing heavily from Soviet propaganda poster art, post house Twothousandstrong (www.2000strong.com) in Venice, CA, designed the graphics package for the Independent Film Channel's film festival Ten New Titans:The Future of Film. The studio created the graphics in Adobe After Effects, Illustrator and Photoshop and then imported them into Softimage|XSI to build the graphic elements within a 3D space, which allowed for more freedom of camera movement while maintaining a 2D look. The package was edited in Avid|DS.
The studio also provided voice-over direction and supervised the final audio mix.
NYC's Click 3X (www.click3x.com) designed the logo and unicorn mascot for the new cable network College Sports TV. The network's animated mascot will be used in variety of promos, IDs and bumpers that will brand the new network. Click 3X used Adobe After Effects and Discreet Inferno to create the logo and Illustrator to design the mascot.
Super-Fi (www.super-fi.com) in NYC completed work on a branding campaign for The Cartoon Network that re-introduces the look of classic videogames to a new generation. The package consists of an open, close, bumpers and five IDs, all of which revolve around a single storyline. Daniel Garcia was creative director for Super-Fi. John Yuiska was executive producer. Kenny Yee was lead animator and handled pixel illustrations. Alvin Bae provided animation using was Softimage|XSI.