Recently we participated in a very particular event. APZmedia teamed up with Federica Raffin and we were selected among 10 creative teams in Italy to participate at the Adobe Creative Jam Milan .
The format of this competition is unique. In only three hours you have to develop a full project from concept to completion, with a surprise subject. Five teams make a graphic design piece, and the other five a motion design piece.
The challenge is too cool: can we make a project that is usually made in weeks in just three hours? Below, the answer.

The strategy

Motion graphics is a very time demanding discipline. My biggest worry beforehand was to not have enough time to generate the assets. We noticed certain asymmetry between the time given to the “still” teams vs the “motion” teams. Specially when you think that in real life usually the motion design work starts right when the graphic design works end. With this framework, is easy to realize that the motion designers had literally half the time than the graphic designers.
Once that you have this in mind, you have to add up the rendering time for a project. Even the simplest animation when exported to h264 might take a while to render. Our strategy had to take this into consideration as well, because rendering time is unproductive time. Our compositions needed to be not only astonishing, but also render efficient.
The third point to take into account was the balance between graphic and motion quality. The more time you invest in design quality, the less you have to invest in motion quality.
The final aspect that was very important was sound: 99% of the time sound is half of a project. And to fit sound design in a three-hour project was going to be very hard.

The reality

There’s a very famous quote that says “no strategy survives the first contact with the enemy”. The Adobe Creative Jam was no exception. We can easily state that the one and only enemy in this competition was time. And disrespecting it was probably what cost us victory.
The first problem we had was finding the core idea. Federica wanted to spend more time in the concept. I wanted to move as quickly as possible to execution. in that matter I think that’s where we make our first mistake. We didn’t make the project “simple” enough. My storyteller crave made me push an idea too ambitious to develop in three hours. But lets not rush things. We will see why.

Around 15.00 we received the subject. It was Dante’s quote “From a little spark may burst a flame” .

We rushed to the table to start thinking about the subject. It took us around 20 minutes to develop the concept and the storyboard. We considered that the quote talked about how the power of thinking overcomes violence. Sometimes giving just a little thought ahead can result in an astounding result. That way we thought about making a funny hommage to Stanley Kubrick, “quoting” his monkeys from 2001, and linking it with a rather silly discovery of fire.

Originally the idea was to make a silly monkey and a wise monkey. The first monkey would try to light some fire without success, and the second (the Dante Monkey) would show him the proper way to do it, which was with a match. Then there would be a comic pause and then a huge explosion leading to the end phrase.

This is the resulting storyboard, designed in less that 3 minutes.

Our workflow was the following: Federica would illustrate and I would animate. While I animated she would prepare the sound design. The plan was simple. The execution not so much.
After that, I made a very quick hand sketches based on references. We took pictures of those and passed them on to Federica
So far so good, except for the fact that we made too many scenes to both illustrate and animate. Animating two different characters was too much time intensive. Even relying on expressions and handmade motion.
There was a lot of tweaking involved to give a result that would satisfy us.
My animation approach was one of modular animation. I would rig and animate only one character and then make duplicates of that template animation and make modifications over it. That should save a lot of time. And indeed it had, but not enough.
The second mistake was to think shots from the side of the monkeys. We wanted the first monkey to be clumsy and bang the stick where the fire was being made, but if rigging one body and face was enough complex, rigging two was insane.

The critical point arrived around 17.30, when for a moment I felt that there was not going to be anything to deliver. It was taking too much time just to set the scene, even when it was very simple. Maybe we should have had design straight to AE, without going thru illustrator, but that wouldn’t allow me to cycle improvements thru similar projects. In any case, by that time I was really stressed out. It was the time to make quick decisions, so we scratched out the side monkeys scene, and stuck with only the minimal to make a story FULL. Our main goal was to FINISH a complete story, no matter what. Later on we discovered that that wasn’t the right strategy to win.

The last final 30 minutes were incredibly intensive. I was surprised myself how quickly we’ve managed to actually finish the story. Sadly we had the elements for the sound design, but we didn’t have the time to edit them on the video. And there we knew that were were pretty much out of the race. Sound design in an animation project is paramount, without it, the motion loses a lot of grace and fluidness.

Another sad mistake was to pick the wrong frequency on the movement of the monkeys. The resulting animation was to quirky, and it would have sufficed 30 extra seconds to tweak it right, and to make it more fluent. But stress was too high to take a step back and preview properly the animation. We were already behind with the rendering time.

Fortunately, our animation was indeed render-efficient. It didn’t take much time to render it, it was probably harder for the CPU to encode the h264 than to actually render the motion and assets.

This is the resulting animation.

The aftermath

After all that stress, it was the time for the voting. We pitched our project and watched our colleagues’ creations. Then we had to vote for their projects. We chose to be fair and not strategic with the voting. There were very good projects and very different ideas.
In the end, an incomplete project won. They took a different strategy than us. They balanced their project towards much more complex design, and much more simple animation. But also they ran short of time and their project was more sleek but incomplete.

The return

Even not winning, we were very happy to finish the project. Altough we wanted to take it easy, our spirit was stronger than us, and we ended up taking it really seriously. And we prioritized finishing the narrative over making a “beautiful”, yet incomplete piece.
We were happy indeed, but I was not satisfied at all. After all, art directors also have their pride. That’s how the next day on our train back to Trieste I decided to use that time to see what went wrong, and push the project forward until I felt happy enough to “show” it.

This is the final project, with only two more hours of work.

The second version took two hours, but of course this time I took it really easy. I think that in the Jam situation, and still working in two we could have met the goal faster. The first jams actually lasted four hours, it was a pity that we didn’t count with that extra hour. But of course, it’s easy to be Captain Hindisght. The main goal was accomplished: to have fun and create something in Milan.

Overall, the Creative jam was a wonderful experience. Both challenging and intense, it made us reason a lot about workflow and it will definitely help us to grow into making better pieces in the future.
In your opinion, what could have we done better?

Check the story of our trip in our Storify article


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