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April 2014
Issue: March 1, 2008

POSTING FOR NEW MEDIA

By: Christine Bunish
Projects for the Web, mobile devices, next-generation DVD and other new media platforms are forming a bigger and bigger chunk of business at post houses and design studios nationwide. “A good idea will work no matter what the platform,” declares Jeremy Hollister, creative director at Plus Et Plus. As radical as the application may seem, new media can be “surprisingly similar” to traditional media in execution, he reports.

MULTIPLATFORM FOR JETBLUE

A boutique design studio with full post production capabilities, New York City’s Plus Et Plus (www.plusetplus.com) was primarily doing traditional TV projects when it opened in 2002. Today new media comprises about one-third of its business, and the sector — fueled by clients like Nike and Mac cosmetics — is growing every year.

“New media is growing in a lot of ways; it’s not just all kids’ applications,” notes Jeremy Hollister. “We still see TV projects repurposed for the Web, but more and more are developed exclusively for the Web or they are viral films designed for various platforms.”

He recalls that not long ago, “because of the limitations of the Internet, a client would do something more guerrilla than they’d put on the air. Now you can do a lot more polished work for the Web, and clients are starting to have the same expectations as for traditional broadcast media although budgets are still not as big.”

When JWT/NY won the JetBlue account, the agency developed a multi-platform strategy that focused on JetBlue’s intense customer loyalty and strong customer relationships. They shot real people telling their real stories, then selected and provided footage to Plus Et Plus, which transformed the tales into an array of custom animations, all very “low-fi” in style.

Each Web spot began with a few frames of the real customer introducing himself or herself and then launched into the animation whose techniques included clay, cel, stop-motion model train figures, cut paper and a goofy Monkees-style follow-the-bouncing-ball song. One boy-meets-girl message featured the timelapse line drawing of a caricature artist in Central Park. Plus Et Plus’s Judy Wellfare used a Panasonic P2 DVCPRO HD camera to shoot over the artist’s shoulder and capture him drawing the story in a single image. The HD footage was imported into Apple’s Final Cut Pro and given a timelapse effect by Wellfare and Ryan McKenna, who also performed the color correction. A QuickTime file was delivered to JWT for the Web.

“We did everything at NTSC so we’d be broadcast-ready if the spots went to air,” says Hollister. And sure enough they did. Of the eight Web spots crafted by Plus Et Plus, most were turned into :30 TV commercials. “I think if the spots had been developed for broadcast first, JWT probably would have decided on one style of animation,” Hollister muses. “New media thinking really opened up the possibilities of using a lot of different styles.”

In contrast to JetBlue’s low-fi look, a very “slick 3D” approach is in the works for Australia’s premium Lucky Beer, which is launching in the US, Hollister reports. “They’re a small company, so a large, traditional media buy isn’t feasible. Everything in the first phase will be viral; we’re developing a character for viral films and an online presence that will align with and help build the brand.”
First up will be a one-minute, 3D-animated viral film introducing the “upbeat, funny, endearing” character. Plus Et Plus is likely to use Autodesk’s Maya for the project but also has Softimage on hand. The animation, and subsequent initiatives, will also go global.

REPURPOSING CONTENT

Giant Interactive (www.giant-interactive.com), a New York City-based digital media design and production company, sees clients wanting “to use assets in as many places as they can,” says David Anthony, who co-founded Giant with Jeff Stabenau. “They’re thinking about how their video assets can live on Blu-ray disc, HD DVD or SD DVD; be part of an Electronic Press Kit; turn into a Web vignette; or be available on set-top boxes or via mobile streaming. That means what’s on tape and what files is totally blurred now.”

The big news is that clients are also posting trailers, TV shows and entire features to iTunes. ‘We’re one of the few places sanctioned by Apple to prepare assets for iTunes delivery,” he notes. “We understand the very specific workflow required to work with them.”

Now, if clients “want to develop a Blu-ray disc, HD DVD or SD DVD and sell on iTunes or Netflix, we can simplify things by using the same HD master for all of the platforms,” he explains. But the workflow still necessitates “mixing and matching HD and SD” material, especially if the project includes legacy assets acquired in SD. “Post facilities are challenged to be expert in a lot more formats than they used to be. The good news is that the tools are more accessible than ever, and we’re able to do a tremendous amount of work uncompressed on our Final Cut workstations.”

Cable’s A&E is probably Giant’s biggest client for multiple platforms with most of their home video releases now going to iTunes, next-generation DVD and SD DVD, notes Anthony. Giant encodes shows for iTunes and designs and conforms them for DVD delivery; the company often shoots directors’ commentaries for DVD, editing the special features in Final Cut Pro and handling audio post in Digidesign Pro Tools or Final Cut.

Giant also did 10 DVD titles for the Leapfrog learning system working with a bicoastal production team on the interactive short film content. “The titles are only on SD DVD for now, but they wanted to future-proof their assets so they originated a lot on HDCAM,” notes Anthony. Most of the editing was done in California, so Giant received drives with Final Cut Pro project files to do final edits, conform and encode as MPEG-2 for DVD streams.

Meeting iTunes’ compression and digital delivery parameters is a new capability for Giant, although “it speaks to the whole digital workflow from inception to delivery,” says Anthony. “The flat-panel revolution has made video content on the computer not just more friendly but enjoyable. And the iPod is an extension of this experience. People are now trading content freely between their TVs, computers and iPods.”

BETTER IMAGES ON WEB

At HomeNYC (www.homenyc.com), a full-service visual effects, editorial, finishing and production house in Manhattan’s Soho, new media is increasingly becoming a consideration, although the company still largely designs for television.

“Clients are becoming more savvy about getting their spots out in as many ways as possible,” points out Ben Orisich, a HomeNYC director. “TV time is expensive so they want to hit on all levels.” He has been “pleasantly surprised” with advances in Web image quality over the last six months. “You can deliver HD for the Web now. If the initial quality of the content is really good it ends up looking good online.”

Last summer HomeNYC collaborated with Mike Kelly, head of PVH Marketing, to provide creative services to Arrow, the subsidiary brand of fashion conglomerate Phillips-Van Heusen (PVH), for the company’s landmark multi-platform campaign to “Save Ellis Island,” the gateway to America for millions of immigrants. HomeNYC crafted live-action television commercials, cinema and in-flight ads driving viewers to the www.WeAreEllisIsland.org Website, plus 21 Webisodes relating the history of the Ellis Island immigrant experience through interviews with stars from TV, motion pictures, music, sports and academia, as well as everyday Americans.

“We knew there was a Web component to the campaign and that visitors to the Website would be able to create their own stories and add them to the site,” says Orisich. “But everything — including Arrow’s print ads — all had to match and present one unified message.”

Intending to capture “as much engaging material” as he could, Orisich shot 45,000 feet of 35mm film, much of it 3-perf, during a six-day shoot on Ellis Island, where he and DP Joe Arcidiacono were given extraordinary access to the unrestored buildings and tried to capture as many of the celebrities’ stories as possible. John Taggart simultaneously lensed long-format, greenscreen HD interviews for the Webisodes.

For the TV, cinema and in-flight commercials, editor Gary Hernandez used an Avid to intercut the compelling celebrity stories with clips of everyday Americans on Ellis Island and moving archival footage. The two- to three-minute Webisodes, 19 of them edited by Steve Gifford on Final Cut Pro and two by Hernandez on Avid, focus on individual stories with B-roll supporting. Keys were done in Adobe After Effects.

Orisich, an accomplished VFX artist/designer, finished the spots and Webisodes in Autodesk’s Flame, where he performed color correction and image manipulation and crafted elegant typographic elements. He shot everything widescreen and was “adamant” that the Website have a widescreen aspect ratio as well.

“In the past, you didn’t want Web content to be too big or people wouldn’t want to wait to download it,” he notes. “But that’s really not the issue anymore. The Web has a chance to become even more of storytelling medium, and that offers a lot of opportunity. I love that the Web’s image quality has improved. My background is all about the image, and I want the Web audience to see the amount of care we put into shooting and posting content. And now that’s visible to viewers.”

CONTENT IS STILL KING

New media comprises as much as 50 percent of Blink Digital’s business, with the balance being longform broadcast and DVD content. The Santa Monica-based creative boutique (www.blinkdigital.com) does a lot of Web and mobile device content, and new media projects related to network television shows, merchandising and the toy market.

“Our goal is to tell great stories regardless of the platform they ultimately end up on,” says executive producer/original programming, Jeffrey Eagle. “The question is, does the story hold your attention? Does it engage you? Do you want to watch the next installment? People have so many viewing choices today you have to bring them high-quality content, something worth watching.

“At the end of the day you can encode content to work on any device,” he notes, “but if you don’t have the shot you need or you’re not working with great writers, producers and editors, you’re in trouble. We feel the Web pieces we’re creating are every bit as good as our DVD or broadcast work.”
Blink’s work on Mariah Carey: The Adventures of Mimi concert DVD for client Live Nation Artists extended far beyond authoring the DVD itself. The company cut a series of TV and Web promos for the DVD, which also played on the Web.

“We were given HDCAM concert footage, B-roll and behind-the-scenes footage, which we offlined at 1080 DVCPRO HD on Final Cut,” says post production supervisor Tony Alvnauer. “We onlined in Final Cut at 8-bit uncompressed HD and did minor color correction with Apple’s Color. We mastered on HDCAM, downconverted to NTSC and PAL Digital Betacam and delivered to Live Nation Artists in New York and London.”

Blink is currently working on an extensive Web-based project with a major cable network. The company is cutting a reality series shot on the set of one of the cablenet’s popular shows and crafting behind-the-scenes segments for other programs. It’s also recutting elements, rescoring and rerecording voiceover for 20 spots from a big automaker, which will run on the cablenet’s Website in a serialized adventure.

“We’re finishing the content as if it were for SD delivery but compressing to whatever specs are required: Flash, Windows Media, QuickTime’s H.264 codec,” says Alvnauer.

“A lot of what you see online these days looks raw, which works for some viewers, but our approach is to give our work a much more polished, documentary feel,” adds Eagle.

“In the early days of streaming content, you’d be lucky to get a piece with a runtime of one or two minutes to even play. These days we routinely cut pieces that are five, 10 or 12 minutes long. That way people get invested in the stories as well as the show or product they’re connected to.”

BUILDING OFF THE WEB

New York City production/design company Creative Bubble (www.creativebubble.com) is experiencing an upswing in new media projects. “New media was a big part of our business plan when we established the production division nine months ago,” says head of production Paul Iannacchino, who is also repped as a director of commercials and promos. “We’re working with clients on new media projects and developing our own content, too.”

On the post side, senior editor Pat Carpenter reports that “we’ve definitely seen an increase in posting and creating content that lives strictly on the Internet or as a new media property. More things are also being multipurposed: they may be shot to air traditionally, but the client wants to incorporate broadband content delivery.”

Sometimes projects intended for the Web are so successful that the client decides to extend its reach to other platforms — something they would have done well to consider early on. “The Web acts like a new kind of focus group,” notes Iannacchino. “You throw a little money at it, people love the content so maybe you want to do a media buy for cinema. But you might be handcuffed by the format you shot in. If you’d made a little more of an investment upfront, to shoot in HD, for example, you’d have a safety net.”

Creative Bubble crafted a viral spot for Champion Sportswear from Kaplan Thaler Group/NY called See How You Play, which features people wearing Champion clothing engaging in some offbeat sports armed with hackeysacks, pogosticks, double-dutch jump ropes, hula hoops and more. “They wanted it to feel like it came from the YouTube community,” Iannacchino explains. “The Website www.seehowyouplay.com would feature still photos highlighting what the athletes were wearing and where you can buy it.”

He shot the spot in 24p MiniDV to meet the needs of the 12-hour production schedule, which crisscrossed New York City. “I had to be very nimble; it was pretty close to point-and-shoot,” he recalls. Some hula hoop and pogostick shots were locked off so Avid Symphony editor Chris Reinhart could “play with reality” and duplicate characters, but “we didn’t augment any skills or performance — we captured everything in camera,” Iannacchino emphasizes. Flame artist Kevin Quinlan handled additional compositing.

“The post workflow was identical to that for any traditional platform,” Carpenter notes.
Wearing its content-provider hat for the first time, Creative Bubble has begun work on a Web-only series for www.mojohd.com, the online outlet of the recently-launched HD cable network for men. Tentatively titled The Circuit, the show takes an “irreverent look at new technology” in the spirit of popular television programming such as The Daily Show, Talk Soup and Real Time With Bill Maher, says Iannacchino.

He’s shooting the studio-based show with Panasonic’s P2 DVCPRO HD camera; episodes are edited on Final Cut Pro and delivered to Mojo as uncompressed HD files on a drive ready for encoding to Adobe’s new Flash player. “We never go to tape, which is probably the only difference in our approach to the workflow,” says Carpenter. “Otherwise production and post is the same as if The Circuit were on TV.”

CLEARING IT UP

Four-year-old creative shop Interspectacular (www.interspectacular.com) launched with broadcast design and motion graphics, then as it moved to more narrative work and character development, began getting more requests from agencies that wanted to tell stories on the Web.

“The Web is really a different way to communicate to an audience,” says Luis Blanco, who is partnered with Michael Uman in this New York City-based company. “You’re not tied to 15 or 30 seconds so you open things up to tell a funny, exciting, interesting story.”

New media now comprises a growing portion of Interspectacular’s business. Witness such projects as branding Comedy Central’s mobile initiative, developing branded content for the Web for Volkswagen and crafting super-sign animations for Target.

The company uses the same design and skillsets for new media work as for broadcast. “It’s less a technical challenge than a visual formal challenge,” notes Blanco. “It’s about understanding the form: how to display and where to display the content. Technology used to consume so much time and effort, but getting the form of new media right requires more thought than the technical stuff.”

Last November, Interspectacular completed a series of Webisodes for Clearasil from Euro RSCG aimed at the teens-to-young-adult demographic.  The 10 pieces comprising “A User’s Guide to the World” were designed for Clearasil’s specially-built microsite, www.MayCauseConfidence.com.
Spiked with dry humor, the Webisodes featured tips and advice for making one’s way through the world.  That Voice told viewers how to get rid of the internal voice that causes a lack of confidence; Accessorize taught them how to make a fashion statement; and Posture Counts instructed young people on the importance of their everyday stance. “The scripts were very funny, but they had no visual direction,” Uman recalls. “We worked on developing the scripts and the visual humor that would illustrate each line.”

Inspired by instructional slide shows, Uman and Blanco devised Webisodes consisting of illustrated do’s and don’ts.  “Part of our decision was based on the budget but, more importantly, the concept made sense,” stresses Blanco.  “We could cut illustrated stills together and get a funny story if the artwork was great and the writing was good — we didn’t need full animation.”

They chose illustrator Mark Todd for his “deliberate, naive style,” Blanco says.  “He’s honed it to perfection over the years; it looks like maybe a high school kid drew this in his notebook.”
Todd illustrates on paper and colors his drawings on computer. He provided Interspectacular with high-resolution Photoshop files, which animator/editor Andrew Macfarlane cut together with the voiceover in After Effects. The company delivered full-rez QuickTimes to the agency for conversion to the Web.  Euro RSCG also did live-action TV commercials for the May Cause Confidence campaign.

“Our Webisodes added another layer, another texture to the campaign,” notes Blanco. “They were a little more quirky than the broadcast spots. That’s the beauty of Web-branded content: You can take risks and experiment with things you’d never attempt for broadcast where it’s too expensive to take chances and you have to play it a little bit safer.”