If you’ll forgive me a bit of self-indulgence I’m going to outline the process that went into making that tiny little bit of video. The reason I want to go through it is twofold: I learn a lot by reflecting on it and writing it all down, and there’s a chance that someone else might find it either helpful or interesting. I’m going to start off kinda goofy and self-deprecating in an attempt at constructing an engaging narrative out of a dry technical subject, but at some point I’ll probably give up with the effort that takes and drift into the dry technical details.
I mean, let’s face it, the origin story of a production logo isn’t terribly funny or interesting. In fact it’s the opposite. Doubly so in this case because the whole thing is quite possibly the most mundane origin possible. With the recently launched Chez Apocalypse it was suggested that we should have a production logo to attach to our videos. Everyone agreed it was a good idea, no one got stabbed.
Really it’s a story about people behaving like rational adults with common goals.
Rather than getting into a yelling match with my superior officer about my reckless ways wherein he demands my badge and I vow to find my brother’s killer on my own, I spent a couple hours watching online videos just for their production logos so I could make notes. There’s a reason Briggs doesn’t do research.
Styles are all over the map, but by and large there’s a lot of Maya-drafted 3D spinning/evolving logos, a lot of straight After Effects digital animation, and a lot of marginally-animated straight cards. Rock and techno stingers are the most common soundtracks, often with a processed or synthesized verbal ident of the company or channel.
These aren’t bad, many of them are actually very good (which is why they’re copied so prolifically), but for my purposes they formed the baseline that I wanted to distinguish from. From the broad observations I broke things down into a list of generalized attributes by asking what defines all of these, what do they have in common. The key attributes: computer generated, crisp, clean, and resonant (lots of power chords). Alright, simple enough, take that and go the opposite direction: practical effects, messy, and dissonant. This is all in my favor since the brand being worked on is Chez Apocalypse; the apocalypse gives you an awful lot of conceptual room to work with, especially if you’re looking to get messy.
The first idea revolved around fire. I actually wanted to build a big rig with glass plates and mirrors and flame paste and create an actual Chez Apocalypse logo out of craft foam or plexi and burn it to the ground in slow motion with the flaming wreckage dripping towards the camera, or the flames rising up towards the camera, or something like that, so I wrote up a pitch to the other Chez Apocalypse producers that basically went like this:
HEY GUIZE, IM AWESOME N GONNA BURN STUFF K THX BAI
No one stopped me, so I threw together a quick proof of concept using a black cloth, pane of glass, some lighter fluid, and a bathroom mirror to get some nice flames.
That went okay, but not great, so I worked on scaling it up and getting an actual logo in there within my budget of negative 15$. The tests just never quite seemed to work right, mostly because all I had for making the logo itself was various kinds of paper which all burnt way, way too fast, even recording at 60 FPS. The shot needed to be 4 to 6 seconds long, but in that time the entire logo would incinerate beyond redemption instead of just slowly burning around the edges.
In the end, just to have something to show, I threw the site’s logo over a bunch of the flames and sent it off for feedback.
People liked it, more or less, and I got a slightly more official thumbs up to keep working on the idea. The one main piece of feedback: add some more texture. This was specifically in reference to what I had done here and was, I agreed, needed in some form or another to keep the whole thing from looking too flat.
This feedback starts the chaos phase.
The chaos phase, for me, is when I start working on rapid iterations without regard for proper documentation or fracturing. The result is usually a mess of okay ideas so poorly implemented that the good ones typically need to be rebuilt from scratch because they’re, otherwise, a horrific layering of broken Illustrator, After Effects, and Premiere files, poorly named, many adjusted dramatically before saving over the original (breaking any versions downstream), so on and so forth. Mostly the fragments involved a lot of After Effects animation and various blending methods, but some involved lighting even more stuff on fire.
The After Effects stuff I was generally displeased with, largely because it went against one of my core goals, but also because it was never quite meshing right. It was too flat, too plastic, too Baby’s First After Effects Project.
Then I discovered Vine. There’s no huge epiphany here, I just saw Weird Al using it, decided to check it out, and spent an afternoon dicking around with my camera phone. At the same time I happened to be playing around with various online drum machines and, in a moment of “why not” I put my camera against my computer monitor and recorded this:
This was accidentally what I was looking for, some foundational chaos to build off, so I jumped back into my pit of slush and crap and created Sequence 05 (because I’m lazy and re-naming things takes energy that could be spent on breaking workflow.)
Something in my pile of footage that had grabbed my attention at one point was from an attempt at getting a nice burn-through-paper effect. Unfortunately there were scale problems and the actual burn effect didn’t work, but there was a bit, right before everything actually ignited, where the lighter fluid underneath the paper created some interesting patterns.
The rest was a fairly straightforward exploration process. I had a version of the logo with a subtle glow effect on the radioactive ‘O’ that I liked, so I sandwiched them all together and started playing with blending modes and different layer orders. The fire needed to have its curves absolutely demolished in order to get any proper readability out of it at all. If input levels mean anything to you at all, here’s the crime I had to commit:
The one remaining problem was that the drum kit video was too fast, too epileptic, so I dropped the speed waaaaaay down to 25%. Normally this kind of slowdown will make your video look like ass due to the number of duplicated frames, but the negative effects aren’t really noticeable when the video itself is little more than abstract noise already.
This resulted in a happy accident. With the slowdown the audio went from a fairly plain drum loop to an ominous and brooding clanging. I was very much okay with that. I sent the audio over to Audition to smooth out the peaks and clean up the noise, but otherwise left it alone. Plus it was already in perfect sync with all the various colour changes, no need to build a rhythm around it.
Somewhere in there I added a 24 Hz “shake” to the logo just to create a sort of “projected on a crappy 16mm projector with a broken gate” effect and settled on the following layer order:
Sequence 1 is the fire with the abused levels and the blend mode set to screen. Comp 4/CA tag is the logo, set to Difference. Difference is good for this scenario because the logo won’t ever get lost to the background colours. IMG 0394.MOV is the video recorded for Vine,dropped down to 25% playback speed. The audio tracks are irrelevant and empty except for IMG 0394 Audio Extracted, which is the track returned from Audition.
In the end I’m reasonably happy with the results. Having seen it out in the wild I feel like it does its job pretty well as it manages to be both chaotic and readable at the same time and is aesthetically quite distinct from the others.
Now I just need to remember to attach it to my videos.
Thanks, again, for all the great conversations.
I’ve been informed that “seele” is the German word for soul.
tbok1992 asked: So, what advice would you give on how not to write a male protagonist like Sam Witwicky? I ask because I’m writing a paranormal romance between a man and a roachwoman, and running into that problem myself.
This question is beautiful for many reasons, the first and last of which revolve around the phrase “paranormal romance between a man and a roachwoman.” Truly a classic pillar of literature. It’s also a really valid question.
In my mind the answer to this revolves around character agency.
At a basic level (unless they’re an Observer-Narrator like Ishmael in Moby Dick) make sure your protagonists are active agents in the story, meaning that they come up with plans and try to execute them. Even if their plans don’t always work (which they shouldn’t, no such thing as a free lunch, after all) they should have some value to the plot. Since it’s a romance this goes for both characters, the explicit protagonist and the love interest.
One thing to check for is how big a role “fate” plays in the story. If you do a read through and find that the biggest moments, the major plot points, all the exciting crap, happens “just because” then you probably haven’t given your characters enough agency. This is what we see over and over with Sam: very little of what happens has anything to do with his actions, choices, decisions, plans, or efforts. Things just happen around him and he’s carried along for the ride. A lot of the rest of the problems, the entitlement, the whining, the immaturity, ultimately stem from this because he is, effectively, rewarded for nothing.
Incidentally a great example of characters with agency comes from the second and third Matrix films, because you have all the secondary characters imbued with agency in direct contrast with the primary characters who have little, if any. Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus spend a lot of time talking about fate and destiny, and most of what they do is driven by this. They are almost purely reactionary characters. Link, Zee, Kid, Captain Mifune, and the other defenders of Zion, on the other hand, have a goal and in pursuit of that goal they come up with ideas, attempt to execute those ideas, and adapt to the circumstances as they change. In a grand irony Commander Locke – the character who’s the most sensible and pragmatic, insisting that they should be active agents in their own destiny and, you know, defend themselves – is cast as a villain opposite Morpheus because he refuses to accept “just believe” as an effective strategy in the face of total destruction. It’s worth noting that while defending Zion is, at its core, a reactionary position, the characters aren’t confined to purely reactionary actions. A lot of the tension and drama comes from the push/pull as they move back and forth from acting to reacting.
Back to Sam, insecurity is a perfectly valid character trait. With Sam, however, it’s essentially the only character trait that he has, but his arc (which doesn’t exist because he has no agency) doesn’t address this trait at all. This, in the end, falls back on some really basic techniques of character building and story construction.
All this said I wouldn’t go out of your way to try and write the “anti-Witwicky.” It’s not a bad idea to be critical of your own writing to ensure that you’re not creating horrible, unlikeable, weak characters, but an overly specific agenda has a habit of overwhelming the character in its own way, usually creating characters with few, if any, flaws.
All that said, I don’t know how you can go wrong with a paranormal romance between a man and a roachwoman.
I feel a little remiss that I didn’t mention Akira anywhere in here, but that’s really a whole discussion of its own.
After eight viewings the concepts and themes at the core of End of Eva have really started to grow on me, though listening to Shinji scream for minutes on end still gets old fast. I could have talked about a lot more, but then it would have taken another month to finish. I didn’t even get into how the film brutally demolishes Asuka.