If you’d told me in 2019 that I would spend spring of 2020 cooped up in our attic in sweltering heat, pulling 12-hour days to learn box modelling, I would have laughed in your face. If you’d mentioned that this would be between bouts of home-educating our three primary-age children, I think the laughter may have died in my throat!
But why was I up there? What did this mean for Viva la Zoom and how did we use the early lockdown phase to diversify and make our business stronger? This post charts our journey to developing Motion Graphics Video Production as a new service for our customers.
In our pre-COVID world, our team had a studio in town. My colleagues and I travelled worldwide, filming in Zurich, Copenhagen, Munich, New Jersey. My passion projects as a street photographer took me to Myanmar, Ethiopia and all over my native Spain, photographing festivals and experiencing life in all its vibrant diversity. And our children? Well, they most definitely went to school! In January and February, talk of a new, potentially deadly virus was scary, but far removed from our day-to-day experience. It seemed sensible to carry on as normal. We didn’t change any plans. We carried on renting our office, carried on travelling, carried on shooting. Even when shoots began to get cancelled, we thought of this as a short-term issue. Surely in a couple of months we’d be back to business as usual?

If we couldn’t get out and shoot on location, then why not use animation to create our own locations?

3D animation we created for BEP Surface Technologies

By mid-April, we began to rethink. Clients were asking us to edit interviews they had shot via webcam. It was the perfect solution for talking-heads style testimonial films or internal update videos, but for more complex projects, we missed having B roll; those precisely filmed shots that serve to illustrate the process or situation that’s being described. Then a customer asked us to produce a motion graphics-based video for a multinational cosmetics company. We turned the job around in less than three weeks, and the end client was delighted. It really made us think … motion graphics … we can do this!

A small, multi-skilled team can operate in chaos.

If we couldn’t get out and shoot on location, then why not use animation to create our own locations? We had produced a wide range of motion graphics projects for customers in the past, from simple presentations made with Adobe After Effects to more complex animations. We had experience behind us, but we felt it was time to up our game.
“A small, multi-skilled team can operate in chaos,” so said a former boss of mine and I’ve always seen this as the great strength of an SME. The necessity of using our available skills means we find pragmatic solutions and action them quickly. No chain-of-command, no human resources, just our own knowledge, experience and ingenuity. As the COVID chaos raged, we got agile! We focused our efforts on learning everything we could about motion graphics. We did all the training we could lay our hands and eyes upon, from Linkedin Learning to Youtube tutorials. We ingested vast amounts of knowledge and expertise, but still we felt we needed more.

To experience once more that feeling of freedom, that I could create literally anything!

In May I enrolled on a MoGraph Mentor Course in Art Direction. At the same time, we decided to leave our rented studio in the centre of Manchester and build a home office in our basement. Which takes me back to box modelling in the attic! Throughout the scorching spring, there I was, fleeing the building noise, grafting away to complete my coursework on top of the work I was producing for clients.

Fantasy Style Frames for 3D Animation Projects on my Mograph Mentor Course

Creating style frames for the course took me back to the excitement of my first forays into 3D in the early 90s. The thrill of creating spheres (or the traditional teacup) in 3DMAX and moving them around! It was ground-breaking at the time. Since then, I have always had a relationship with the 3D world, from doing a SoftImage XSI master course in the noughties to introducing 3D into my first few short films back at film school. It was so cool to reconnect with this formative passion of mine, and to experience once more that feeling of freedom, that I could create literally anything!

The video has proved hugely successful for BEP.

The first test of our newfound skills came when BEP Surface Technologies asked us to produce a video as a pitching tool for an important project. We worked as a team to deliver BEP’s complex concepts in a simple, digestible format. Jo’s script put their case clearly and concisely, while David, and I, both working from our own homes, collaborated to produce the visuals. I created bespoke 3D graphic assets, opting for a “cartoony” rather than a photo-realistic style while David sourced stock-footage, designed the onscreen text and crafted the transitions between the real-world footage and the virtual world I had created. The video has proved hugely successful for BEP.

Stills from BEP’s 3D Motion Graphics Video Production

During the creation of this project, it became clear that I needed to invest in a more powerful computer. Renders were taking hours to complete, and it was frustrating when I should be cracking on with the next stage. Of course, there was plenty for me to do while my projects were baking. What with home-schooling and collaborating with the builders on our basement conversion, I was never idle! It was exciting when the parcel arrived from Overclockers. Even the kids were thrilled, though I think that was more to do with the fact that all three of them could hide in the enormous box!

Pursuing my personal interests allowed me to push the boundaries of my creativity.

The new PC was a game-changer. Having a far quicker render time allowed me to work faster and go deeper into my new obsession. I experimented with many different styles, from a pastel-bright children’s TV ident to photorealistic scenes in various “real world” settings. Pursuing my personal interests to create a variety of style frames allowed me to hone my skills and push the boundaries of my creativity.

Ident for childrens’ TV show that I created as part of my Mograph Mentor Course

How would the market react?

Before we knew it, the building work was complete, and it was time to move into Viva’s new home. We were starting over, with a shiny new office and fresh skills that we were ready to market. We firmly believed that both during the pandemic and looking to the future, having a more motion graphics-based approach could benefit many of our established and future customers. But how would the market react? In August, it was the classic situation. I was panicking that we had so few enquiries and Jo, our producer was like, “Chill, it’s August, everyone is on holiday!” Fortunately, she was right. Since September, with the kids thankfully back at school, we’ve suddenly become mad busy and many clients, new and returning, are opting for a motion graphics-based approach.

In many cases motion graphics can enhance your project by offering complete control over the visuals produced.

A recent example is a video we produced for one of our oldest customers, Leaders in Sport. An acclaimed and successful worldwide events company, Leaders hosts a yearly summit in London, which due to COVID 19 restrictions, had to become an online streamed event. We would usually film and produce highlights videos and promos before and after the event. However, moving online means the only way we can deliver material for them is through motion graphics video production and this is what we came up with:

It was an eye-opener for us to tackle a familiar project with 3D instead of footage. 3D offers the flexibility of expressing your marketing message without the need to always have a camera operator on location. In many cases it can enhance your project by offering complete control over the visuals produced, rather than being at the mercy of real-world considerations such as the weather.

Our future as a business lies in offering a combination of filmed footage with 2D and 3D animation and motion graphics.

As COVID 19 restrictions come and go, we’ve been cautiously venturing out on some shoots once more. And we are working on some fascinating projects that combine both filmed footage and motion graphics video production. We firmly believe that our future as a business lies in offering a combination of filmed footage with 2D and 3D animation and motion graphics. Using these complementary media can take a project to the next level of interest and impact. The versatility and creative options offered by the software and techniques we are using, mean that the real winner is always the customer, as we can produce more variety in-house and offer a more complete product for them to use.

The power to shape our future starts with an idea.

From modelling condiment bottles in 3D to placing them in context in a virtual greasy spoon cafe!  
Playing with different textures is one of the most exciting things about 3D! A brass door handle is modelled to bear the patina of age, and then joins a matching doorbell!

The COVID crisis has led us to rethink our business strategy and diversify our offering and has shown us that when it comes to investing in office space, there’s no place like home! The road ahead may be bumpy, but it brings a certain optimism to know that with motion graphics video production we can build whole new worlds onscreen. As I learned from box modelling, the power to shape our future starts with an idea. The only limit is our imagination.

We’d love to work with you on your next project!