Everyone loves "trend" articles, but not everyone loves to follow the trends. Some people, in fact, prefer to go the opposite direction. Tosh Kodama of Exopolis is quick to point out that his company wants nothing to do with obvious trends. He is not alone in wanting to avoid the latest visual cliches. However, one trend that has developed in the broadcast world of opens and logos is embedded: to place or fix firmly both of those elements within their show content.
THE 'INVISIBLE PACKAGE'
Spark (www.sparkcreativeinc.com), a Los Angeles-based creative group, underscored ABC network branding for its 2006/2007 show lineup by "gluing" one brand to another, says Spark's creative director/founder Elaine Cantwell. "ABC's challenge to us was, 'We don't want to disturb the show experience for the viewer but we need to figure a way to embed our brand.'"
Spark designed a large round glass logo, retaining the ABC call letter font in its circle, but transparent enough that the graphics from individual shows appeared in the background. For Desperate Housewives, viewers see the picket fences among the call letters or even the show's title and time within the curve of the letter 'B.' Cantwell calls tagging every single spot for every show with an ABC logo "the invisible package."
"There's definitely cross pollination of what's happening on air to connect the show brand with the network brand because people watch shows, they don't watch networks," she says. "I do think efficiency is a trend where the logo needs to communicate quickly and succinctly about what the brand or show is about because the viewer is able to absorb multiple messages very, very quickly now, and also airtime is at a premium, so you want to make sure you're communicating brand and image at the same time."
For the ABC package, Spark animators used Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator for the design. QuickTime Pro, Adobe After Effects 6.5, NewTek LightWave 8.5 and Eyeon Fusion 5 were used for 2D and 3D animation.
Spark also recently created a logo for a Canadian network re-launch this past summer. The name changed from Prime to TVtropolis, and it's now a pop culture-themed specialty channel. "The technical requirements for a logo for TV are often very different than for other environments because it has to be a very flexible vehicle, almost chameleon-like, to convey the experience the viewer is having at different times," says Cantwell. "Television at any given network at 10am in the morning is a very different experience than at 8pm."
For TVtropolis, Spark created a logo that was a city made of color bars, with the tagline "hit TV lives here." Everything built around the new brand either goes in or comes out of this city of color bars, along a color bar highway that shows a city shimmering on the horizon. It starts with true television color bars, then the camera pans up over the edge onto this striped highway that is flat but then curves, featuring 3D lampposts. The camera flies along this highway and resolves center frame when it arrives at the city, with a little silhouetted helicopter almost landing on a skyscraper color bar. This unity of brand, name and logo is a combination of 3D and 2D elements animated in 3D space, part of a package of IDs and special presentation opens.
The logo was first designed in Illustrator because the animators needed to provide a full logo system in vector format. In After Effects 6.5 they choreographed some of the camera moves though the true 3D moves, including a full 360-degree rotation around the city, were done in Maxon Cinema 4D 9.5. Compositing was done in After Effects.
A DRIVING LOGO
An open for Celebrity Rides, which premieres this month on the DIY (Do It Yourself) network, manages to pack many show elements into a quick :07. "There are shorter opens for lot of reasons — budget, people want things a lot faster and to the point, otherwise it would be too slow and boring," says Alex Di Mella, creative director/designer for Thirdeye Design (www. wearethirdeye.com), a graphic design/motion graphics/on-air branding company in Miami. "Our open is an elaborate logo build and we're using that logo to showcase all the elements of the cars."
The one-hour show premiere features talk show host Jay Leno's classic Duesenberg auto collection. The series' other episodes will also show muscle cars, newer cars and high-tech cars owned by celebrities. That's a lot of cars in a very small timeframe. "Instead of creating this whole environment for all these different cars, we designed the logo to have all those different styles embedded in the logo itself, so it's a very fast-paced and elaborate logo build. All the nice detailing is in there, like a hood ornament, part of the car door, exhaust pipes. The housing for the type was like the body of a car," says Di Mella. They also created an even quicker :04 cold open that resolves down to a lower third, like a bump open before a commercial.
All modeling and animation was done in Cinema 4D 10 with Trapcode plug-ins on a 3GHz dual core Mac Pro. All compositing and post effects were done in After Effects 7 on a Boxx PC. The camera info from Cinema 4D was imported into After Effects 7 to maintain consistent moves. Textures and final color treatments were applied, along with additional 2D and 3D elements from illustrator and Photoshop.
"Budgets are always getting smaller as technology gets better and everybody has more access to doing this kind of work," he says. "Basically what we have to do is make sure we put more production value into our graphic designs and have bigger concepts and better art direction. And we need to try to find the best plug-ins and tools to use, and use them in unique and unorthodox ways. We have to do that to keep our head above water as budgets get lower."
"I see a trend toward severely quicker opens," says Andy Reynolds, creative director/founder of Minneapolis-based Motion 504 (www.motion504.com), which specializes in motion design for broadcast. "Clients want the most show they can get; they want to give a snippet of flavor of the show and then the title rather than trying to do a short story. They're not trying to summarize the show anymore. We haven't noticed that the budgets dropped. It seems that they're always fighting to show more content, especially with these travel shows."
A :10 open for the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, a new one-hour series airing Mondays, needed to include both distinctly different (but not gross) foods and interesting travel scenes. Designers chose a bowl textured with an antique map filled with foods like a tentacle or bug. The bowl begins life as a globe in a black sky that drops into a stylized ocean, becomes the bowl and fills with food as it travels through mountains and jungles, ending up with the show logo reveal. Localized graphic styles of those environments were used, including Asian forms of water and old, Italian sketches.
The 3D bowl, food, foreground mountain and boulders were modeled, textured, lit and rendered in Cinema 4D 9. All the water, clouds, vegetation and background mountains were 2D elements, drawn and scanned into After Effects. Everything that was not full 3D was a flat cut-out in 3D space. Camera movement, final color grading and compositing were done in After Effects 7. All software ran on Mac G5s.
Reynolds sees another trend. "I think there's been more collaboration or requests for input from us on the content, at least to react to it, rather than just tacking things on to the end of the show. We did this piece last fall that didn't air until March, so there was a little give and take until it aired. The client showed us early cuts, and while they weren't asking us for cuts and ideas or changes, there was definitely a real willingness for us to react to things that were not necessarily our purview or even what people had considered our expertise before."
"We do a lot of opens for HGTV and most of their shows have cold opens [Ground Breakers, Gardening By the Yard, among others]," says Doug Grimmett, creative director/founder of Primal Screen (www.primalscreen.com), a youth-oriented network branding company in Atlanta. ABC's Lost is a good example of a cold open. "It has one little :05 ID, hardly a title, but they go through the whole first 10-minute scene of the show, and then the Lost logo comes up and that's it. Then they'll have a credit role at the end, which is squeezed and distorted. I think that a lot of the show branding is now embedded in the show, mostly because of nonlinear viewing, like TiVo and other platforms of the delivery — people just don't want to watch :30 open."
Grimmett sees another trend, this one visual. "There is a trend toward real things — photographic elements," he says. "We've gone from minimalism five to seven years ago — the ABC black and yellow is a good example — and then we went to this maximalist trend. We're still seeing a lot of it but I think it's really played out. The maximalism is everything on screen but the problems with trends is you lose brand distinction. Sometimes I have a really hard time telling networks apart, everyone's doing the same thing. What happened to brand integrity?"
However, a recent Primal Screen project, the open for a new Turner Classic Movies show premiering this month, bucks both those trends. It is both long (:27) and created with an illustrative pen-and-ink-style that has definite brand identity.
Grimmett says they wanted to retain TCM's attitude and sophistication, this time for a children's audience. Funday Night at the Movies will show classic family movies every Sunday night at 8pm. There will be an audience and host (Tom Kenny, the voice of Spongebob Squarepants), all of this a new idea for the network. The host is the propmaster in an old movie storeroom where children in the audience sit. This is what the show open builds on.
The animated open is the back story, panning through different movie genre sets before these big hands come out of the prop house and puts key props into different scenes. It continues back into the prop house to a projector that shows the logo, also created by Primal Screen.
All elements were drawn, scanned, animated and put together in After Effects 7 on Mac G5s. The look is very stylized and not cartoony, with a sense of 3D space. "It's an old fashioned [style]," says Grimmett. "It's so funny, you do things like that nowadays and people wonder how you did it and what filters you used." The director was Ben Prisk.
"We're a hybrid interactive and broadcast shop, so the trend we see is doing whole packages," says Tosh Kodama, Exopolis' associate creative director. "Clients will come to us for one thing and we'll also tell them that it can exist online, and it opens doors." They created the :20 show open for February's annual IFC (Independent Film Channel) Spirit Awards hosted by Sarah Silverman and they did the print.
The client wanted the rules to be broken and LA-based Exopolis (www. exopolis.com) was happy to oblige. This is not your typical awards show — it's held in a tent on the beach and it's got a rock 'n' roll edge to it. Exopolis designers teased the show in an open that used a really vibrant color palette, even illegal colors like bright red. They married Greek mythology with the playful casualness of the California movie star. They also poke a little fun at the establishment. The thread is this unattainable award that mythological characters, glammed out as rock stars, follow and try to grab. The award gets lost in an ocean current, a clamshell full of jewels and the trophy opens up to reveal the logo, and finally the trophy goes into the tent and the first shot of the live action show. The visual style was indicative of '60s and '70s album cover art.
To stay true to that rock 'n' roll era (there was no 3D then), the designers used 2.5D movement and ignored 3D packages. After Effects 6.5 on Mac G5s was used for 90 percent of it, most of the movement, all the camera moves and the final composite. Certain details were hand animated frame by frame in Illustrator.
"We definitely try to stay away from those obvious trends that are happening. If anything, our shop is known for quirky animation," says Kodama. "Some of that comes from the new technology, like there's things you can do in Cinema 4D 10, where we take advantage of those technical innovations that could maybe start a trend. But we try to stay away from visual trends."