In wrapping up a three month project to to rebrand and design new identities for all eight, yes I said eight, of the regular programs produced by the American College of Cardiology, I’ve decided to break down the process into a detailed case study to provide you with a glimpse into my creative process. I’ll discuss the goals of the identities, creative approach, design phase, and finally animation and production of the elements into one cohesive package. I had never done a project of this size before. Sure I had put together numerous graphics packages for this client, or a show identity for that client, but never multiple identities for concurrent shows for the same client all at once. The project challenged me to look at the ACC brand holistically and develop a dynamic package that worked across multiple platforms.
This task really was an enormous undertaking and there was a lot of pressure riding on it. ACC’s Creative Director had a vision for several years to give all of the regular programming some type of cohesive look that went beyond just slapping the ACC logo on completely different graphics packages. He wanted each of the shows to be “siblings in the same family” so that when members would watch any one of the shows, they would feel that it’s coming from the same place and at comparable quality to each of the other programs. Also, the identities had to be modern, slick, and feel dynamic to medical professionals and other consumers to whom the content was focused. So yeah…no pressure right? Boiled down, the objectives really came down to the following points:
In small corporate environments, motion designers usually don’t have much of a staff or a budget to work with. It was no different in this case. I also had only the summer to put the project together at the same time I produced several smaller pieces for other clients within the ACC. That’s just part of the creative challenge: How do I create something from almost nothing with no assistance? How do I work within the professional boundaries I’ve been given but still push the creative boundaries? When it comes down to it, I’ll let you in on a little secret. My toughest client…is me. Usually, my standards for my own work are well above anyone else’s expectations. If I set my mind to design something that when I look at it, I say “I like that. That looks good.” I’ll then have the confidence to pitch it as a concept. I can take the limitations and the expectations, and somewhere in between the two, concepts start to form.
With the objectives laid out, it was up to me to start putting some ideas together.
The branding and design group who handles the still and print design work at the ACC had worked with the Creative Director to design all new logos for each of the shows. Following from the idea of keeping them together in the same family, the designers put together a logo incorporating the ACC seal and a unifying solid element, which I will refer to as “the bar”, and a unique solid color to represent each show.
The previous ACC shows had a very network/broadcast news feel to them. They were very organic with lots of gloss, glows and curved edges. These logos, in turn, were the exact opposite: hard-edged, solid colors, and vibrant. I followed suit in my conceptual designs because I liked the idea of each of our shows having a very modern look along the lines of Piers Morgan Tonight or HLN. I looked to HGTV, TLC, Discovery, and Bravo for inspiration.
Remember, whatever concept was picked had to work across each show…all eight of them. I wasn’t designing eight unique graphics packages, I was designing a universal package that could work with only slight variations (color, type, etc.) to each specific identity. That was really the biggest challenge to each concept. My first assumption was that the unique identifying factor to each show was the color. With that in mind, I was able to develop a concept where the main color could be changed for each show, thus having it’s own flavor. I felt strongly that a minimalist design would fit across shows with vastly different topics. Always keep it simple.
So why didn’t each show get its own identity? Two reasons. One: the Creative Director wanted visual unity and similarity between all ACC shows, as shown in the show logos. And two: Time and budget. ACC simply doesn’t have the resources to hire additional artists or take a single designer like myself offline for an entire year to develop eight unique show packages.
Though our shows were technically “news,” I felt the broadcast news look didn’t fit the modern corporate vibe ACC was trying to promote. I wanted the identities to be solid, have hard edges, and based on simple, flat geometries. The shows needed to see a fresh, revitalized look to help reinvigorate the programs and draw attention. So from that point, I started to put some style frames of the opens together. I like to start with the opens because all of the designs for the other elements flow from the opens. Here’s a sampling of the various concepts. In total, I put together about seven concepts, more than I was expecting. The following were the top three:
Using the Heart Minute show as a base, this design represents an approach using bold colors mixed with some muted hues. The objects were to slide around with trackmattes revealing digital images pertaining to the show. A slight grain texture was added to give a slight illusion of depth.
You’re probably thinking, “Hey, this looks very broadcast news, that’s not what he was talking about before!” After seeing the initial concept, there was some hesitation with the direction I was going because it was so radically different from the existing show packages. I was asked to create one that was more along the lines of traditional news identity. Ultimately, this one did not get picked, however we realized it would be a good fit for a rebrand of our news coverage of the annual meetings of the various cardiovascular societies.
Initially, I was hesitant to even pitch this idea because it involved some budget and studio production time. After thinking about it, I figured what the heck. This concept revolved around the idea of looking at the show from an iPad’s point of view, where the video frame was the screen with which a person interacted. The design followed closely from an iOS/Android like user interface. After careful examination, it was determined this concept was the winner. The team really liked the idea of adding a live human element to the opens and having the elements look very much like a modern interface since so much of ACC’s media is consumed on a computer or mobile device. I have to admit, this was my favorite concept and I’m glad I pitched it. Plus, the ACC even kicked in the money to actually shoot needed elements in the studio. More on that later.
With the concept determined, it was now time to start designing some elements. I won’t go into the specific details of each element, but rather give a general overview of the process. Working with my team, we developed a detailed elements list for each show. We determined which of the elements needed to be animated, which needed to be animated but have a Photoshop template, and which were just Photoshop templates. At this point, the last major piece not found in the open concepts was developing a secondary color that would complement each show’s unique color. After thinking about it, the answer was obvious: Gray! The gray complement works across the board and gave nice contrast to the text.
Most of the elements needed some type of background. I wanted to contrast the solid objects with shallow-focus/macro still photography of medical objects or professionals to match the moving elements I would use in the opens. Thinkstockphotos.com was my best friend for several weeks as I scoured for just the right images. One thing that was apparent from early on was that the images and backgrounds needed to have lots of white to contrast with the design elements. White worked perfectly because the medical community has lots of white objects in it. Even photos that weren’t white, I was able to adjust and tint them to lighten them up. It started to give the elements this very clean and clinical look. Perfect!
In terms of workflow, I like to play it safe when it comes to making elements since I know from experience that changes can be made at the last minute. I have what many designers might call a “reverse workflow” in that I actually design all of my still elements in After Effects, then export the layers to a Photoshop document. I like working this way because it gives me the ability to animate the element if necessary down the line. I’ve found its saves me lots of time rather than creating it once in Photoshop, then having to bring that document into After Effects. It works for me.
Here’s a sampling of the various elements from across the eight shows. You can begin to see the unity of design and how the color becomes the defining element of the show.
In preparing to shoot the opens, I was actually able to construct a significant portion of the animation first. How was this possible? Well, in order to have the actors interact with these interfaces, I had to design, build, and animate the opens in their entirety. For directing the actors, I needed to know exactly where all of the actions were happening in the frame. By animating the opens first, I could match the actor’s hand positions to an overlay of the open in a studio monitor. Since the budget wasn’t big enough to bring in actors, I just pulled some ACC staff members for a few hours. It worked out great because I was able to show them how the animations would work and demonstrate the effect. I wouldn’t have been able to do that and have them understand it with only storyboards and style frames.
Let me break it down for you:
I picked one show to animate the full open. Since each of the opens was going to have the same look and movement, I just needed one to use as reference. I worked on the animation in After Effects until it was the correct length and everything was timed.
Even though I had the ability to playback the animation with alpha on the DDR in our studio’s Tricaster, that didn’t help because I needed to see a timeline with keyframes so I could anticipate when to give direction to the actors. So I’m sitting at my desk trying to figure out how to solve this problem. Then it dawned on me: I could just take iPhone video of my computer monitor showing the composition and timeline playing back in real-time! Perfect! Problem solved. Genius points for the day.
Having the actors touch air to simulate a surface just never looks right. Giving the actors an actual surface to touch added the realism I needed. I purchased a large sheet of Lexan to hang in the studio. My team drilled a few holes in the glass for mounting. A few c-stands, some clamps, and we were good to go. The hardest part about shoot with a piece of glass is keeping it free of smudges, fingerprints, and dust. We had to spray down and wipe the glass every two or three takes.
It was important to have a shallow depth-of-field so that the glass surface and the actor’s fingers were in focus with their body just slightly soft. I used the Panasonic AF-100 with a 50mm Zeiss prime at f/4. I dropped a white backdrop behind the talent lit the setup with some soft fluorescent light.
The shoot was a success. I did several variations in the actor’s timing for safety. Everything worked out great. Here’s some pics from the set:
Once all the animation was completed for the opens, I moved on to selecting music tracks and working on the sound design. With each open having its own unique visual cue (its color), it was decided that the music for each show would be unique as well. Again, I didn’t want it to have a broadcast/network news feel. I felt strongly that the music should complement the visual style. I looked for tracks that were soft, minimalist, and “airy.” In instrument terms, for me, that meant acoustic guitars and light pianos. ACC’s 615 Music library did the trick. Once the music was selected, it was onto the effects.
I needed to have some beeps and swishes when components moved across the screen or actions occurred. In a real iOS-like environment, objects usually don’t make a sound for every action or else it would get really annoying. On screen, however, it just feels empty without any effects. The trick is to find a happy medium between being too sparse or cramming too many effects into the piece.
I know enough about sound design to do the basics. I know what I like and what I don’t like and can usually figure out a way to make it happen. The biggest challenge for me seems to be actually locating the correct base effects. Many of the free libraries, the tech or electronic effects have a very 1980s computer feel to them where it sounds like designer gets a little crazy with the synthesizer. ACC has a subscription to Soundsnap which is where I found most of the effects. It’s really just a matter of setting aside a large portion of time to search for and audition different effects. Soundsnap has thousands of effects and they aren’t always labeled in the manner I might label them, so it can take longer to find just the right sound. After a day or two of searching and dropping in different effects, I assembled a soundscape that really worked with the opens.
Once all of the elements and the opens were created and rendered with sound design, it was my job to create an Adobe Premiere Pro template project for each show with all of the elements imported and setup in the project for the editor. This process meant organizing all of the elements into separate folders on the shared graphics drive and then replicating that folder structure within Premiere Pro. In my workflow, it’s important that bins correspond to folders with the same name on the share drive so it’s easier for an editor to find files if he/she needs to import additional assets or relink media.
Having never done an identity package this big before, I was initially intimidated because the hardest part of the process is wrapping your head around just how to turn the objectives into several concrete ideas, then develop a single concept that meets and fulfills those objectives. ACC took somewhat of a risk with this identity because it was a radical departure from their previous identities and it was a move away from a news look to a modern corporate style. I believe they made the right choice and I’m happy to have been given the opportunity to take their shows to the next level. The responses from the members and ACC staff has been overwhelmingly positive and they are really excited. Nailed it.