Develop CENTS "Building Your Community" (with BTS)

Video produced and animated for Develop CENTS
Read below about the process behind this video.

Jargon Becomes Simple with Develop CENTS
Process and behind the scenes with “Building Your Community with Develop CENTS”
 
As with any project, I like to start at the very core of what the video is trying to communicate. This means often asking simple questions to the client like “What is our message?” but also more difficult questions like “Who are we trying to say our message to, and how best are they going to hear that?”
 
With Develop CENTS, a company that works for both non-profit and for-profit companies solving IT problems, the answers we came up with to this core question really helped clarify the message we were communicating and how we were going to communicate that in animated form.
 
The simplest form of the the answer is - We’re telling people, who maybe don’t know much or anything about technology, that we can solve their technology problems so they can continue doing the things that make their business successful. So right here, before a single frame was animated, we see the core of the project, and this is so incredibly helpful in order to determine everything else. I read that Francis Ford Coppola, when he makes a film, likes to boil that film down to a single word or sentence, and he looks at every scene through that word. If he starts to stray too far away from that theme, word, or sentence, he would question its need to be in the film, or re-work the scene to fit better. I think this is an excellent way to view projects, and over the years I’ve done this more and more to combat scope drift and other things that can distract from the overall message.
 
Simplicity in Design brings Clarity
 
Since we have our focus, we need a design that complements that focus. When I would pull out my notebook and doodle around the concept, I would always draw these simple shapes.
What are the simplest form of shapes? Circles, squares, and rectangles.
 
I wanted the audience to be represented somehow by a soft, curved figure, the simplest form of that being a non-humanoid circle. But the figure needed something to work on, so I started thinking about how it would interact with the world around it. Bouncing, hitting, etc. From there, this idea was born to build these buildings.
 
Now we were getting towards a story. A ball builds these buildings (rectangles). At some point, something happens to that ball that makes it more difficult to build the buildings. Then, through some sort of saving entity (the client!) the ball is able to build buildings. But better! Taller! More efficiently!
 
What’s the conflict? I thought about the ball getting bogged down, or mired down, which could have also worked, but would have taken a lot more animation time to get this sort of sticky liquid drawn out (this is how budgeting affects story).
 
Again, we go back to the audience. What do they feel like when their email goes down? When the server crashes? Helpless. Hopeless. They have no idea what to do. It’s as if the ground has fallen out from under them.  Now here is where we emphasize brand. What ground is solid? Develop CENTS. So we get this idea that they provide this firm foundation on which the audience can build their company (better! stronger! more efficiently!).  
 
The ground also needs to be the brand color here to emphasize the brand and show them as the solution to the breaking floor problem...strength (no breakage) to represent firm foundation, then we also have the ball sort of purposefully TRY to break the floor (it flexes around him), to emphasize flexibility in their services. You can try to break Develop CENTS and it will not work. This is all comforting to parts of the audience who is scared of technology or afraid they will break something. All of these things need to feed into the overall narrative: we solve your technology problems, we make things simple, we put your mind at ease.
 
Simple Stories in Words
 
In conjunction with the drawings and story development, there’s the script. Again, we could highlight the features of Develop CENTS (DNS hosting, cPanel access, NAS solutions), or we could look at who we are talking to. Do they know what DNS is? Do I? Eh...kinda?
 
Simple language. We use a voiceover to tell a story (that the animation follows), we give some brief, simplified examples, and then the audience is able to see the story play out, see the conflict represented by the shapes, and see the solution at the end. We want to lead them on a journey so that at the end they can say “If I ever have problems with technology - I know where to go.”
 
Even the person doing the voiceover we need to fit in with brand. They are a company based in a medium-sized, southern US town. We chose a male VO to provide a bit of weight - not that females can’t provide weight! - it’s that deeper bass voice that helps you to trust the voice. We also chose someone who could do what I called a “dailed back” southern accent. We don’t want to go all hic, but we do want a bit of that southern cadence to help sell it to local businesses. Emphasizing who the brand is - they are local. They are one of you. Why go with an outside vendor when you can get someone to help you from your own backyard?

Moving Shapes to Make a Story
(Warning: Tech speak ahead: Skip to last section if you aren’t interested!)
 
I had known from the start that I wanted to use more traditional techniques to animate this, though not completely drawn frame-for-frame. After Effects simplifies the frame-by-frame animation with keyframes of course, but getting them to interpolate and time correctly can be tricky. The end result was a mix of doing most of the heavy lifting manually in terms of moving the ball, getting the bounces correct, getting the buildings to move correctly, and also doing some automated things to make my life easier.
I didn’t want much motion blur, so the traditional animator ‘squash and stretch’ was used, and I used sort of a modified version of a squash and stretch rig that the good people over at School of Motion have. The building rig is also one of their rigs for cubes, though I tied the bending a bit differently so it would work correctly when it was tall or short.
 
The ball shadow is an example of a semi-automated workflow. Once the animation was mostly locked in place, I made a shadow that not only tied to the movement of the ball, but changed size, transparency, and blur based on the Y position of the ball in space. This was a “mostly” automated approach with some simple AE expressions to tie everything together and work the way I wanted it to, but there were some things that I had to change manually. For example, I had it sticking to a “floor” level, but that floor level would change when it would go up on the boxes. So I tied that particular portion of the expression to a slider control, that I would then animate manually in those parts.
 
The floor breaking up was another issue. The floor was a simple shape layer with two lines to look sort of shelf-like. In order to break it I precomp’d sections of it, and then used the very handy Voronoi Shatter script - it created broken pieces, but that were all mask layers. Then I just manually animated those falling to my liking. Towards the end, I added a few more masks to give the appearance of a broken shelf in 3D, though the pieces that fall are all 2D segments with no depth like real debris.
When the ball hits downward onto the red “Develop CENTS” floor - those were pretty simple shape layer manipulation with points, the speed graph was used to help those flex and move correctly (ugh, I hate the speed graph).

At the very end, I had the ball launch itself towards the camera. This was an idea I had based on those GIFS that look 3D when you put two lines in them.
I was hoping the buildings would provide those two lines. It didn't really work...I think it's a combination of the ball moving too quickly and that the buildings are too close together. I want to use this effect more fully on a future project, as I think this could make some really interesting animated elements, if the lines could be hidden in frame with existing elements. 
The final tagline was animated on, and I realized at the last moment that the period is another way to enhance this animation and tie it in with what came before, leading us straight to the logo. After animating the ball for the rest, the period was pretty simple!
 
Stories That Draw Customers
 
Now that the video is in the wild (mostly on Facebook ad campaigns), we’re doing analytic data research to find out who is watching, how long they are watching for, and if it turned into measurable clients or business for Develop CENTS. Still too early to tell, but we’re continuing to develop some extra content (using that analytic data we collect to help guide us as to what that should be!), and the end result so far has been well received by the client and their customers.
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