I love being part of the film production scene in Manchester. Of course at the moment the world of video and film production has been severely affected all over the world. It’s impossible to go out and film most corporate and commercial gigs safely. However, there are lots of film production jobs that can continue during lockdown. This virus will pass and film production in Manchester and elsewhere will make a full recovery and thrive once again. There are already glimmers of hope. Shoots are being pencilled for the autumn. Logistics are already being considered. Concepts and ideas are being discussed in order to get film production up and running later in the year. So how has life been for film producers during this time?
VFX Film Production Manchester
Visual Effects (VFX) fortunately is virus proof. VFX can be worked on from home. Our latest commercial shoots were filmed early this year. This means during the pandemic VFX can be applied remotely. Which means our video production process, or more specifically the post-production work can continue.
Animation, like VFX is often done remotely so during this COVID-19 lockdown animated corporate or commercial videos are probably the best form of film production. Every stage of the animation process can be done by individuals safely working alone. More importantly it would not be detrimental to the overall animation. Maybe the postproduction side of film production will have a boom in 2020 for this exact reason.
Finding Film Locations
Big commercials, particularly live-action shoots have been put on ice over the last few months for obvious reasons. Perhaps this is the hardest hit part of film production. Fortunately, this gives location scouts a great deal of time to source potential film production locations using the vast array of film production location websites. These can be local, and there are some great lists covering Greater Manchester, to worldwide lists. This can keep the most relentless location scout, director or location manager busy. Of course, eventually a visit to these locations will be necessary before shooting but this extra preparation could save time in the future.
Scripting and Storyboarding
Another part of film production that is perfect for remote working is the scripting and storyboarding process. All that is required is a skilled script writer and a laptop or a talented storyboard artist with pencil and paper/tablet and the magic can happen. Some aspects of film production are actually better when isolated. The peace and quiet of your own home or garden here in sunny Manchester can be great for creativity. And with the internet it’s easy to share your progress at every stage with producers and client for feedback and development.
Editing as part of the post-production process is certainly not affected by any kind of lockdown. An editor would often be sat with a producer or director. However, it isn’t uncommon for an editor to sit on their own in the dark for long shifts. Some editors work better when simply left to their own devices. The very best editors I’ve worked with prefer to collaborate with the director by showing them what they’ve been cutting at the end of each day and receiving feedback rather than having them lean over their shoulder during the entire edit and distracting them.
Sound design and sound mixing is another part of the film production process that is perfectly suited to a solitary talented technician immersing themselves in a project. They’ll more often than not be wearing noise reduction headphones which shows that isolation is ideal.
Survival of Film Production
People might think, perhaps understandably so, that if you can’t shoot then film production would grind to a halt and wouldn’t survive. Yes, film production has been slowed down but there are many parts of the film production process that involve individuals working alone as single cogs in a big machine.
Film Production in 2020
There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon that the film production scene in Manchester, London and across the UK is slowly starting to gather momentum as the lock down eases. It’s important to not rush things as lives are more important than creating film. However, with careful and meticulous planning it shouldn’t be too long before big shoots are possible once again. The rules have changed, and the processes will be altered to ensure the safest possible environment for cast, crew and clients are adhered to. However, there is undoubtably a light at the end of the tunnel.
At Groundbreak we’re all really looking forward to a bit of normality. Once it is safe to do so we look forward to collaborating with you on your next film production. If you’d like to start planning now for a film production later in the year it’s never too early to start pre-production. Contact the Groundbreak team to start the process.
Our Manchester animation production studio is my favourite place to visit if I’m in need of a ‘shot in the arm’ of all things creative. Our animation production team never ceases to amaze me in their darkened Manchester post-production suite. It’s all well and good having highly talented creatives, producers and directors who can conceptualise incredible animation and visual effects. However, it’s a totally different thing realising these often far-fetched and visually breath-taking animation concepts. I’m rarely surprised when I walk into our animation production studio in Manchester. But I’m always blown away with how they take an idea previously discussed in an idea-shaping session and bring it to life. Not only delivering, creating and setting free the idea, but giving it wings to transcend what was previously envisaged and taking it to the next level.
The Magic of Our Animation Production Team in Manchester
In work, as in life, it’s always a great thing when you can trust someone. Even better when you can trust a group of people. This can be trust in a friend, a partner, or a colleague. It doesn’t matter which, but trust is a magical thing. It brings happiness and peace of mind. Trust removes worry and anxiety. It’s one less thing to stress about. Trustworthy animators take care of themselves. You trust them and their actions. This trust is something I have in all of the team at Groundbreak in our Manchester HQ and London offices. It extends to the many freelancers we collaborate with. Trust is exactly what I have in our animation production team in Manchester. They have all earned my trust over the years by excelling in what they do. I know our animation producers and directors can sit down with the animation production team, give them a storyboard and they will execute it perfectly. It’s a great feeling.
It is actually a difficult thing to trust people with something you love so much. Either on an animation, visual effects or video production, Groundbreak means the world to me. It has been a hard slog at times but incredibly rewarding most of the time. For myself to let others create our animation productions, in Manchester or further afield, it’s hard for me to let go and to trust others with the reputation of Groundbreak. This is because it takes a long time to build a strong reputation and I care deeply about all of our animations, VFX and video productions. What makes this especially difficult when it comes to animation is that it’s not as simple as a retake in live-action video production. Once you are deep into an animation or VFX gig it’s not as straight forward as stopping and starting again. They’re often very time consuming, so they need to be executed properly the first time. So, to let our animators free on big animation projects takes a lot of trust. Luckily for me my trust in our animation production team has paid off with some outstanding video animations.
Reputable Animation Production
At Groundbreak we have an incredible love for what we do. We care that our clients get exactly what they want each and every time. This is a core part of our thinking. We care as much about the animation or VFX gig as our clients do. Our clients can trust us to execute their briefs and collaborate with us, because time and time again we deliver exactly what they need and are looking for. Trust goes both ways, of course. And it is earned. It is a satisfying and rewarding feeling when you know your clients trust your judgement and expertise. It’s very fulfilling. We’ve worked hard over the years to get to this stage and it’s definitely worth it.
Do You Need An Animation For Your Business?
If you are looking for an animation production team of original thinkers who always aim to push the creative boundaries then please get in touch with us to collaborate on your next animation or VFX project. We love what we do and you can trust us to perfectly execute your video.
Our video animation team in Manchester is normally busy creating every type of animation you could imagine. However, with the world currently flipped upside down we thought we’d take the time to discuss the different types of animation and how they could be beneficial for your business once everything goes back to relative normality. After all, video animation be it in Manchester, London, New York or anywhere in the world isn’t affected by the strictest of lockdowns because it can be done remotely. The concept for an animated promo video can be part of a video-conference brainstorm session. A script can be written remotely anywhere in the world. The storyboard and assets can be illustrated and created in the far corners of the globe, and the actual video animation can be created in our Manchester studio or frankly anywhere with a highly powerful computer and a talented animator.
Video Animation in Manchester
We create our video animations in Manchester because that is where our Groundbreak HQ is located. However, we often bring specialists into our Manchester studio for certain aspects of a video animation or visual effects project. An animation or VFX gig can be highly complex and time consuming, so bringing the best people together to collaborate always results in the best possible video animation. Whether this means bringing people together via video conferencing or in person the end result is always one of excellence.
What Video Animation Works For You?
If you can’t shoot a video production at the moment (and might not be able to for a while) maybe video animation is something you should consider. It’s important to continue marketing your business or product and video animations can certainly help with that. In fact, one of the huge advantages with video animations is that literally anything can be created. There are no limits. Well, apart from budget. And this is something our video animation producers in Manchester can help you with. We’re well versed in getting the absolute maximum from any budget. There are always many ways to achieve the same animation. It is all about what is right for you as a business. To ensure you get the most out of the project.
Different Animation Styles
Things to consider: What type of animation is most likely going to engage with your target audience? Maybe the charm of a 2d hand-drawn traditional type of animation will interest your customers? This type of animation is best suited for a gentle flow and story arc with an emotive subliminal message. Maybe an all action 3D CGI animation will do the job. Literally grabbing the viewer and refusing to let them look away. Or maybe a beautifully crafted stop-motion animation will garner the best results with its incredible production values? Even the simplest of motion graphics in an explainer video is sometimes the best way to display your company information.
We’re Here to Help
Whichever route you prefer for your animated corporate video, the options are endless. There’s a myriad of styles and options, all with the potential to powerfully promote your business and put you on the map. Showcasing your product and its many uses and benefits is often easiest and most effective with video advertising. With so many options available in the world of video animations, this can seem daunting. Don’t worry though because the team at Groundbreak will happily advise and help guide you through the process. Our team of producers, animators and directors have been creating absorbing and engaging video animations in Manchester for many years and we absolutely love what we do.
If you’d simply like a bit of advice about your next (or first) video animation then please don’t pop into our Manchester studio because it will unfortunately be empty. Drop us a line instead and we’ll be happy to help.
Why do we find animation so memorable? Animation is a video art form that captivates us from our earliest memories. It caters to an innate appetite for visually pleasing stories within us all. A modern revision of ancient tableau; illustrations sketch out the bones of a tale and our imagination fleshes out the rest. Animation is also perhaps more aptly compared to the antiquarian art form of puppetry, moving models given voice to tell their tale. I recognise the wonder on my daughter’s face as she stands watching a blockbuster Hollywood animation. It’s one that I correlate within my adult life with my own expression on first seeing Vietnamese water puppetry. Accompanied by a visible and magnificent orchestra the puppets played out scene after scene of melodrama and farcical comedy that, while surreal, was lent an impressive pathos and drama by the indelible presence of incredible human skill beyond the stage curtain. And that for me is what maintains the sense of wonder of animation in adulthood. More than the unnaturally vivid palette, the rich music, the anticipation of the unexpected, the truly original story telling for me is the appreciation of the skilled craftspeople executing an awe-inspiring craft.
Animation – Technical and Artistic
An animation whether a feature film, commercial or a promotional video sees a great deal of technical skill meet artistic skill to create a piece of work that could not exist without both. This can be a great source of wonder, particularly with a VFX sequence, as we watch and consider “how did they do that?” With live-action film we can more easily reckon how moments are achieved. How did that car flip over? Presumably they flipped the car over. How did that kung-fu fighter jump on to that tree? Wirework. How did she time that wry smile so perfectly? She’s a skilled actress who embodied a character within a moment and let her subsequent impulses deliver a performance. Or more likely someone shouted a cue for her to do that smile, then repeatedly told her “bigger” or “smaller” or “split the difference” until one looked ok and they cut it in later. Either way it’s easily reasoned if you set your mind to it and this reasoning can allow for some loss of the magic of film. With animation there are so many forms and techniques that create films, in their entirety, from nothing that the magic of the execution remains strong for those of the audience who are not animators.
There is also a purity to animation. The limitless capabilities for an animation company to tell a story means that the imagined and the realised can very easily be in harmony in a way that the limitations of live-action filming can sometimes stifle or at least compromise. The character you write does not need to be played by an actor who looks quite a lot like what you imagined. It is the very character that you imagined, right down to the tiniest detail. The shot that you envisioned reaches the screen, changed only by your whims and decisions, not by how well your location scout or DoP or colourist executed it. Animation is a medium in which control is concentrated.
One animator, or animation team, can be artistically and technically responsible for every movement of every character. Every object and every camera move in the entire animation is by design. Not just how and when they move but what they are and what they look like to begin with. Not only is that wry smile perfectly timed but the whole character was entirely created by the same person/people who timed that smile. They also timed the pulling away of the train that she was smiling out of. And designed the train itself. They designed and gave motion to every other person on that train and the trees passing by through the far window. Guess who designed the camera move that frames a man who looks back at her pleadingly as the train pulls away? They created him and his pleading look as well.
Animation Agency Vs Live Action
In live-action this scene would be the work of actors, production designers, wardrobe supervisors, makeup artists, directors, assistant directors, DoPs, camera assistants, lighting technicians and countless other people. All of these creative and technical roles can be concentrated to a small team or one individual and their animation technique. Naturally this brings a wealth of creative and technical control that ensures a definitive and recognisable style throughout the film. In my mind this must be part of the enduring allure of animation. Animations are necessarily more likely to be an entirely stylised work of art with a signature look and feel than live-action pieces are. Art cannot be wrong, it either resonates with an audience or it does not. Arguably, the more concentrated and focused the execution of the art is, the more it will resonate when it does find its audience. That resonance between artist and audience is where magic lives.
There are many forms of animation, and each has different principles, skills and techniques that are applied to create truly magical video. Each technique is an art form of its own with innumerable styles and applications in the world of marketing and commercials.
Traditional Hand – Drawn Animation (2D Cel)
There is a certain charm to traditional hand drawn 2d animation. The static backgrounds, the stuttering movement and the looping of talking mouths are features that drag me back to childhood and transfix me to this day. While it may seem a laborious process to hand-draw and colour each frame, that process obviously has fewer restrictions as to what one can create. You don’t need a team of people pulling together the necessary elements and technical specifications to capture your story. You just need a pencil. This is the true charm of 2d hand-drawn animation, it is absolutely an skill that lends itself to the auteur.
Pure Form Animation
Traditional 2D hand-drawn animation is a video production method that allows the creator to produce a film exactly how it is in their head. Without ever having to source, collate or shoot any of the actual component parts. It is a very pure form of film with no creative compromise whatsoever. As long as the hand can draw what the mind can see.
The animator will have likely been working from a storyboard with a Director. But the animator physically produces each frame by hand. There is a raw directness to that process that is very captivating. There is a sense of craftsmanship that is present in all types of animation, but it feels artisan or even folksy in hand-drawn animation. It feels like the mother language of the medium of animation. The form from which all others are derived.
Animating Each Frame By Hand
In 2D hand-drawn animation the animator draws each frame by hand. This is not quite as labour-intensive as it may seem. Each drawing is held for 2 frames. This already halves the workload in comparison to what one would imagine it to be. Another early advancement that saved aching hands across the globe was drawing animations using cels. Cels are the name of clear acetate sheets the initial hand-drawn animations are transferred to before being coloured. Another use for cels is creating physical drawn layers that can be stacked to create the composite image of the animation. This is a huge time saver. You can draw a cel background of a shot and as long as the shot is static that background never has to be re-drawn for each new frame. You could draw a cel of an outer space background. That cel can be the bottom most layer of each new frame composition until the camera angle or scene changes. All you’d have to re-draw is anything that is moving in the scene.
If you have two astronauts holding their position in mid-air while one talks to the other. All you would have to re-draw for each new frame is the moving mouth of the talker. Obviously moving facial expressions, a shooting star, gesticulations would lift the production value of the animation. But this demonstrates how layering 2D cels works to more efficiently create animations. As anyone who has taken English exams can tell you, anything that minimises hand cramp is a very welcome technological advancement.
3D Animation (CGI computer animation)
The animation form that we are all most accustomed to in contemporary cinema comes from a technological advancement that made animation not only more efficient but much more powerful in terms of what can be created. With 3D CGI animation an animator can create a digital model of a character or object and use this to create scenes digitally, rather than draw every frame.
An Animated Character
A 3D character is modelled to create a digital sculpture of the character or object. This can then be animated to create any motion without having to create the character or object again. After modelling, the animator will rig the character. This is creating a digital rig of points in its design that dictate what can be moved on the character and how it will move in relation to the other points of the rig. It is essentially a skeleton and the points are the joints.
The animator will pose the character to create a frame within the sequence. The animator can then use keyframes to move the character further along in the pose or movement and the animation software can digitally create the motion between the two points. Imagine placing a car on a road. Then move ahead in the sequence and place the car where you’d like it to be at that point, the software can digitally create the movement of the car between the two points and you have an animation of a car moving along the street, from A to B.
Different Type of Craft
This may sound like creating a 3D animation is all too easy. Particularly in comparison to hand-drawn 2D animation, but it is no lesser of a craft, just different. Consider the car that we’ve just animated to move along the street. In the example I’ve described only the image of the car has moved, wholesale, along the road. However, in reality we need a lot more to happen. To begin with the obvious, we need its wheels to spin.
So, the wheels need a rig of their own so they can be moved independently. The animator now needs to set a starting point for the wheels at the same starting point as the car. They also need to design the spinning motion of the wheels and set an end point for the motion, the same as the end point of the car. That all seems relatively straightforward (I know it doesn’t) but the computer-generated motion will only create one fluid motion between the start point and the end point. Cars don’t work like that.
Frame by Frame
Your car moves off with a little jerking motion. Depending on how kind you are to your clutch, and it gathers pace. It then decelerates smoothly to a halt. So, the animator then needs to manipulate the computer-generated motion at each frame. Aiming to create a realistic trajectory of motion rather than a smooth and constant pace. As this is already becoming a lot more complex than one might have imagined we should now consider that there may be a character driving the car, tapping their hands on the steering wheel, a traffic light goes from green to red via amber before the car stops, a bird flies by, the trees in the background shiver in the breeze and all of this might be happening as the camera passes from the side of the car and rotates around the back of it. It takes a skilled animation agency to create such a complex scene.
Drawn From Scratch
In a 2-D hand-drawn animation every composition is drawn anew. The animator can see where the bird was in the previous image and decide where to move it along to within the next image. In 3D CGI the animation is happening within the world of the animation. There is no blank page once the layers of the scene are created. Rather than drawing the next image the animator is designing characters, objects and their motion then fine tuning until the motion between frames is just right. I’m sure there are just as many achy hands as before, if not more.
3D Animation Models
Another additional consideration in 3D animation is that once the 3D models are created and placed in a scene the entire 3D model remains within that scene. Even when we can only see a portion of it.
If our car is driving down the road in a profile view, we can only see the side of it. But the whole model is present. The animator must be aware of the entire model even when it is not in view. This also means that with the camera rotation I described earlier the animator would design the motion of the objects and then subsequently create the motion of the “camera” to rotate around the models which will have been present all along without being seen.
This is a direct contrast to 2D animation where the animator would have to move each object along its projected route of motion a little each frame but also draw from an incrementally new angle of perspective to create the rotation.
Animated Elements in Live Action Footage and Digital 2D
3D CGI animation can also be used to insert 3D animated elements or characters into live action footage. The lines are further blurred as digital animation can be used to create 2D animations. With similar modelling and rigging techniques to create motion as 3D CGI. Most adult cartoon comedies are digital 2D animation. The technique used to create 2D digital animation allows for the creation of computer-generated motion in the same way as the 3D CGI animation described above and also allows for hand drawn elements to be incorporated also. In the simplest terms the key difference between 2D animation and 3D is the exact difference that you would most readily expect. 3D animation purveys an image that appears to have 3 dimensions, height, width and depth whereas 2D animation has 2 dimensions, height and width.
Motion Graphics, Animated Logos, Typography
You will see animation a lot more than you think. It is used in most forms of video production. Almost every commercial, corporate, promo video you watch will have some animation. Most films will begin with a series of animations. You might not even notice that you’re watching animation but many of the same animation principles I’ve mentioned above are being put to use in some form or another in almost everything you watch – in the form of Motion Graphics.
Using the principles of designing elements – shapes or words and their movement, short animated sequences make up the moving logos that you see on screen as well as any moving text that you see.
Motion Graphics at its core is the art of animating images, shapes and text to create video. As well as creating animated logos or typography to lay over other video forms. Motion Graphics is often used to create videos wholesale. A lot of explainer videos or presentation videos are entirely motion graphics. It is a simple and clear form of animation that allows information to be visually represented in interesting, abstract and engaging ways.
Stop Motion Animation
Perhaps the most complete combination of all of the above forms of animation and the skills and techniques applied for each, is contemporary stop-motion animation. There are many forms of stop-motion animation, but the principles are largely the same. Frames are created in live action model form and captured in camera. The frames are then played back in sequence to create video.
Stop motion characters are literally and physically modelled in the same way that 3D CGI animations are, only in reality. The characters and objects are built around a skeletal structure to allow them to be moved and positioned for each frame. In much the same way rigging is digitally constructed in 3D CGI animation but once again it is a real and physical build that is placed on a real and physical set rather than digital.
The models are moved physically by hand for each frame which gives the hands-on artisan feel of the 2D hand drawn animation. Every element of the scene that is in motion must be physically moved for each frame. In the same way using cel animation with acetate layers works in 2D. However, in this instance these changes are made within the physical 3D world of the animation rather than with a blank frame each time like in 3D CGI animation.
Anything is Possible
The key difference between stop-motion animation and other forms is the reason why it is most like creating a live-action video production. The elements of the production must be physically acquired and created. Teams of producers, designers, modellers, riggers and many other crew members of wildly varying titular skills work together to design, construct and gather all of the elements of each shot and put it in front of a camera. Just like anything is possible that can be drawn with 2D animation and anything is possible that can be digitally designed in CGI animation, with stop-motion anything is possible that can be physically created, rigged and put in front of a camera.
When you combine the illustration and hands-on craftsmanship of 2D animation to create puppets and rigs, use the digital speed and computer processing power of 3D animation in post-production and the physical, in camera, live action of stop-motion then there truly is absolutely no limit to what can be created.
Having drawn back the curtain a little to allow us to have a more advantageous starting point when considering “how did they do that?” the next time you see an incredible piece of animation I feel that no magic will have been lost whatsoever. Understanding the craft of animation a little more should only stir further awe not dampen it. Gaining an understanding of the craft of animation is akin to taking a look inside a mechanical watch. A thing of simplicity with a base function that we understand so deeply as to take it for granted becomes complex and mesmerising when its workings are revealed. Truer still would be to say that animated film is an intoxicatingly impressive craft that becomes more impressive still when we see the intricate workings and loving labour that produces it.
As an owner of a video production company and animation studio, like any other business owner the thought of losing everything you’ve battled so hard for over the years is a sobering thought to say the least. Losing a business or livelihood is not life or death but it would be a bitter blow. This is currently a reality for many business owners, employees and freelancers around the world due to Covid-19. Like every type of business out there, a video production company or animation studio takes many years to build. Over time a reputation is forged.
Video Production Teammates
Unearthing the right people that you want to share your working life with is incredibly difficult and often takes years. Fortunately, I got the hang of recruitment over the years and only collaborate with decent human beings. People that I would happily spend time with socially. Folk who not only care about the next video production or animation gig, but more importantly are decent people who care about others and stand by their morals. Respectful and considerate people. The kind of team you’d look forward to sharing a brew with after a long day on set or in the animation studio. You know you can be upfront and straight down the line with them. My kind of people. Our video production company is more than a business. It’s a small family. We often share the stresses and strains that come our way in life and always know we have support. During these challenging times it reminds me of how lucky I am for this.
When running a full-service video production company and animation studio, just like in life there will always be ups and downs. This is inevitable and unavoidable. You can’t fully revel in the most fantastic times if there aren’t a few rough rides along the way. Comparisons are essential. That overwhelming sense of achievement and contentedness can only be reached and truly appreciated by the occasional bleak reminder of darker times. It’s this binary opposite that can have the power to make life magnificent and full of joy. If you’ve been tainted by challenging circumstances in your life, then happy times have an additional lift. A sense of feel good and well-being is often magnified after a grim encounter. Maybe, after this pandemic has been ground to a halt positivity will be hard to contain. Once we’ve all got our lives back on track that sense of relief will turn into an unbridled sense of positivity, I hope.
Out of Control
You can plan for the future and ensure things are in place to deal with problems or the tougher times you come to expect in business life. That could mean detailed cashflow forecasts, purchasing the best insurance for your latest advertising shoot or mitigating potential workflow issues before an animation or VFX gig develops past the storyboard phase. However, there really isn’t much successful planning you can do regarding a pandemic that surreptitiously creeps up on you. It’s not something our video production company was expecting or planning for. Yes, we did make significant changes starting in February once the warning signs had begun. Searching for a niche survival offering and making changes on the hoof. As we witnessed projects pushed back, put on pause or cancelled for at least a few months. This instigated a feeling of helplessness. It is rare that something is out of your control in such an absolute way. It truly puts everything into perspective and reminds you that everyone’s health is all that matters.
The problem is we didn’t know and still don’t know how long this will go on for and salaries, bills and overheads still need to be paid. That’s a dark place for any business owner be it video production company, animation studio or any other. Looking at a cashflow that looked positive at the start of the year to suddenly the prospect of no new business and repeat jobs being cancelled or indefinitely on pause is alarming. If we knew it was going to be a specific amount of time, then it would still be difficult but at least a structured plan could be in place with a definitive ending. Unfortunately, this is a story that has a beginning, the middle looks like it is fast approaching and there is no tangible end in sight.
The World Order
My intention for this blog isn’t to be negative. I can’t hide the fact that the world has been turned upside down by a virus that hitherto nobody had even heard of. I’m shocked by how much of a grip this virus has on the world order. Often in the west we are reminded of the baddies around the world and the potential for World War Three. However, I don’t think anyone thought this would be the battle the world faces. When you consider how advanced the human race is with science and technology. You’d never have thought (unless you’re in the know of course) that a virus would be able to cripple us, our way of life and our facilities this quickly.
Keeping Positive During a Crisis
There are positives to take from this. There always are positives. As daft as that may sound right now, I think it’s important to search for anything uplifting that can give even the briefest moment of peace and happiness.
One thing I’ve noticed is an overwhelming amount of people who are prepared to help others. This might be the front-line workers in the NHS, emergency services and supermarkets who are putting their own health and lives on the line for the good of everyone else. Or to a lesser extent everyone who is selflessly offering to get food, medication and essential items for others. And I don’t mean for friends and family. I’m talking about neighbours who have never really met but are happy to help their local community in any way they can. There is something intrinsically British and also human in this regard. To help others. To appreciate that we’re all in this together. We are undoubtably stronger together.
In it Together
There are vulnerable people we share this world with. Young and old people who need our support. These are our people. We share our lives with them without having met. We are all one and the same and possess that indefatigable human spirit that will eventually persevere and shine through. I have no doubt. Yes, I’ve heard the negative stories of selfishness, but they bounce off me and are repressed. The stories that stick are the ones of friendship, camaraderie and kindness. The stories that touch your soul with a message of positivity transcending everything else.
We are going to be in for a rough ride, but we are in it together. You may be isolated, but you are not alone. Please remember that.
As a full-scale video production agency, we work on every type of live action, VFX (visual effects, CGI) and animation production that you can imagine. We are a video production agency that develop and produce films from our Manchester and London hubs. From a challenging documentary filmed overseas to styling the narrative beats of a high-end advertisement commercial shot in studio in Manchester. The development stage of the production is where a video production agency sets itself apart from a video production company. Our clients range from small businesses who know that they need video, but don’t know what it should be or how it should function, to huge brands with vast internal creative teams that need help crafting an animation that will be the flagship of a wider campaign. Either way, as a video production agency we develop the creative that the video will showcase. Developing creative is where any video production agency becomes unique among its peers. After all, strong ideas and concepts trump everything else in creative and marketing industries.
Video Production – Infinite Possibilities
There are an almost innumerable number of routes that can be taken when producing a live action video or animation. One idea can be executed so many ways that it can be difficult to know which route is most appropriate or which will be most effective. Moreover, the possibilities increase when considering animation and VFX videos because imagination is the only limit. There are so many forks in the road of commercial video production that the final film will be one of a huge variety of different potential films. Each decision that is made throughout the production stops the film being one thing and causes it to be another. It is like a huge game of Guess Who? where each creative decision sees a swathe of potential final cuts drop and the remaining stand tall. Eventually one film emerges as the final piece, the sum total of each creative turn along the path of its creation. A great video production company can ingest the concept of a piece and advise the client on what would be the wisest production route. However, we are a video production agency meaning that we are a video production company and a creative agency. So, a good production company can advise a client on production decisions along the way to ensure that the concept of the video or animation is delivered effectively. However, we are the production company making those decisions while we are also the creative team that developed the concepts with you from the earliest inception. So, we not only help to make the decisions that ensure that your commercial is the perfect Guess Who? card that stands proud at the end of the production, we are the ones who put all of the cards up in the first place. Who better to run your production?
Developing a Brand with Video
At Groundbreak we are a video production agency awash with people who have a history of developing marketing and advertising creative as well as producing film and animation. This means that, as a video production agency, when we receive a brief, we are not thinking solely about how to produce a video. We are working on how to develop a brand. We know that video is strongest when it is one integral part of a wider campaign. So we work with clients, advertising agencies and as a creative agency ourselves to develop creative that pushes the brand, not just the video. This holistic approach means that our clients not only get a brilliant video production, but they also get an instant and organic extension to their creative and marketing teams.
Some clients have a very clear vision for their live action or animation project and need us to facilitate and produce their vision. Others visit us in our Manchester HQ knowing only that they want a video. In either eventuality we get to create something great. With the projects that we develop the creative for we get the fun of working on a whole campaign, developing a cross-platform brand while knowing that we then get to be the video production agency that produces the centrepiece film that launches the whole thing. With so many different avenues a production can go down based on the many production or creative decisions along the route it can be invaluable to have developed the creative concept and marketing strategy that the video sits within as we produce a film.
Decisions That Affect a Video Production
Any one creative decision by a video production agency can change the whole commercial. The entire production could be executed in exactly the same way save just one creative decision and the film may be unrecognisable. There are obvious examples. If you cast a different lead actor in your commercial, then the whole thing is different immediately. Casting is an exercise in fine tuning a marketing message. Choosing a person to embody your brand, resonate with your audience and deliver your message. Naturally choosing one actor over another has huge implications to the final piece. Take your favourite commercial and change the music. You may hate it. In fact, you wouldn’t recognise it, it wouldn’t exist. If you change the music you change the pace, change the cut, change the beats of the narrative, you have a whole new commercial. Just one change. The same can be said for animation. You might only adjust the colour palette and it looks and feels like a different video production agency created it.
There are less obvious examples. Choosing one Production Designer over another, for example. You may have an incredibly in-depth brief for the Production Designer that outlines the exact look and feel of the mis-en-scene, and why every decision therein reflects the essence of the piece. But if one Production Designer prefers linear, geometric shapes and designs and another prefers abstract curves and soft lines then they can each deliver work that delivers perfectly on brief but is also diametrically opposed to the other. A video production agency can give the exact same raw footage to ten different editors with the exact same post production brief and be given back ten distinctly different films. Send those ten cuts to ten different colourists and the possibilities multiply further.
Understanding the Bigger Picture
When you work with a video production company that does not develop creative, doesn’t write scripts, doesn’t devise marketing strategy and only produces video based on your creative then you put every one of those integral production decisions in their hands with the hope that they have understood your brief well enough to knock down the right Guess Who? cards and carve out the commercial that can stand proudly front and centre of your advertising campaign. When you work with a video production agency like us, that writes concepts, writes scripts, designs artwork and has a holistic understanding of advertising then you are safe in the knowledge that every production decision is being made with the whole brand, the whole message and the whole strategy in mind. Either because we have developed those concepts with you or, when we are simply producing your creative vision, because we deeply understand the position and function of a commercial film within a broader campaign.
There are almost innumerable ways to produce a video. But there are literally innumerable concepts, stories, marketing messages or campaign strategies for a video to take form around. Choosing a video production agency like Groundbreak with a strong history of developing powerful advertising creative means that your video production is certain to be the absolute epitome of your campaign message as a full-scale video production agency will have developed that message and campaign with you. Having a video production agency that is instrumental in developing your brand with you as well as producing your commercial ensures that it will be that perfect signature marketing piece that embeds your brand and boldly announces your entire campaign.
If you’d like more information about how we develop commercial video concepts from scratch, see the pre-production section of our video production blog. If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help you develop your brand and produce your commercial film, or if you’d like a game of Guess Who? contact me or pop into Groundbreak’s Manchester HQ.
The video production scene in Manchester is our home. Our passion and our vocation. If you’re fortunate enough to have worked on a video production, whether it’s a huge commercial, a creative corporate or a moving documentary, you’ll know it is an experience that you never forget. It is special. We do it every day here in Manchester and often the far corners of the world and it’s no less exciting to us than it ever was. There is something about the process of video production, documenting moments, lives or stories that feels worthwhile, even enthralling.
Life Before Video Production
On a red shutter over a large window of a small primary school in Northern England there is an inscription. In silver spray paint there is daubed “SW”. My initials. Every single time I went by that school in the approximately 17-year period between when I vandalised it and when my mum moved to a different area, I would check that my initials were still there. And occasionally after that period I would make a special trip to be sure.
I Did That!
As of late 2018 they are still there. The feeling I had each time that I saw my work is echoed now only when I see a film or video production that I’ve worked on. There is a bashful “I did that” pride. You can hear an actor saying lines that you wrote, a camera move that you suggested or a piece of music that you found, and you have something tangible that you can point to and think “that was me”.
Video Production Nostalgia
There is also a feeling of transportation back to the time at which you completed the work. In the case of the vandalism I instantly feel my face and arms awash in the fiery lavender sky of a summer dusk, lungs buoyed by the scent of a rival school’s greener grass. And presumably paint fumes.
I’m able to look at a commercial and remember that my daughter had just been born when I worked on it. She was tucked away in the car with me scouting for that location. Moreover, I often watch a video production I worked on and remember that the actor I am looking at was not originally cast and was drafted in at the last minute after the original actor pulled out. I can remember how apoplectic I became at that hiccough and reflect that now I am much more zen in my approach to problem solving.
Record Of Our Lives
In this way our work in video production becomes more than a brilliantly successful commercial or a mesmerising music video. It becomes a record of our lives. That was me. That was my work and that is who I was. For me that is why video production is so special. You give a little part of yourself to each piece of work, a script that came from a new place that you found in your psyche, an angry re-casting or a boyhood mischief. You are giving not only to the work but also giving it to be preserved for your future self. To learn from and to point to. That was me.
The Many Forms Of Video Production
I love all forms of video production. I love 6 second vines and I love Seven Samurai. Glossy commercials, stylized music videos, animated explainer videos, brand films, promotional video productions, beauty and fashion promos, corporate videos, your out-of-focus, hand-held, portrait video of your dog having a shower, you name it, I love almost all of it. I’ve worked with some of the biggest and best video production companies in Manchester and beyond and time after time I’ve heard that “corporate videos pay the bills”. I’ve never understood this apathy or, worse still, disdain. It’s almost cool to not particularly enjoy doing corporate videos. I unashamedly love corporate video production whether it’s live action or animation.
Wide Variety Of Content
Corporate video is a strange term as it refers to such a wide variety of content. Varied budgets aims and styles. Broadly speaking a corporate video is any video production that isn’t a traditional commercial advertising a product or service. You might want to make a video to welcome new staff to your business and teach them about their role. Or maybe you have a huge event that you’re delivering, and you want a highlight video for your website or social. You may want a hero video masterpiece to sit on your landing page to wow people. Whatever the production may be, corporate video makes up a big portion of the video content produced in Manchester. So, learning to love it should be high on the to do list of any good video production company.
Corporate Video Production
All of our corporate and promotional video productions kick off with a pre-production meeting at our Manchester HQ. In this meeting we get to know a client, their brand and what they want to achieve with the production. This gives us a brilliant opportunity to learn about their business and start to collaborate with the client about the look and feel of their video. There are also generally snacks and hot drinks provided which I find sufficient motivation to get out of bed on even the most frigid of Manchester mornings.
After the pre-production meeting we aim to set a shoot date as soon as possible. (Assuming this is not an animation which is a different process I’ll delve into later). This means we can start to schedule our crew, any cast and any specialist equipment we may need for the shoot. If the corporate video production has a voice over or scripted pieces, then we also work with our client to draft the script after the initial pre-production meeting. If you scroll down a little to see quite how far this page goes down, you’ll see that I like to write. Collaborating with clients on scripts is one of the highlights of my job which I’ll write more about later.
At every step of the production stage we check in with our client. To ensure key decisions such as casting of actors or VO artists signed off. So that our client has a great idea of where the production is up to and exactly what they’ll be getting. By the time the shoot day comes both us and our client have a great idea of how the finished video will come together. This helps us draw up a shooting schedule for the day to plan how we’ll get the shots that we need. Communication is vital during this stage. Our schedule will be designed for us to shoot exactly what we need as efficiently as possible and have time left over to gather beautiful bonus shots that could be used or saved for future video productions. Drinks and snacks will also feature heavily in the schedule.
Corporate shoot days are brilliant. They are usually a very early start which personally I find invigorating and not at all awful. I like driving to new places and particularly enjoy flashing and waving at crew members’ cars on the motorway only to discover that it was just a similar vehicle with an altogether different driver. We arrive on location, find the place that we’re storing our kit and start setting up. While the crew are setting up, I’ll usually take a little tour with our client and scope out the shooting locations that we’ve scheduled in for the day. The shoot day then consists largely of us consulting the schedule a lot, showing our client how good that last shot was a lot, packing and unpacking lights a lot and laughing a lot. Drinks. Snacks.
In post-production on a corporate video we will cut the first draft, mix the sound, and grade the video. We then ask our client if they have any notes or amends and begin the second cut. We don’t generally limit the amount of amend rounds that our client can request before signing the video off. Which means they can make suggestions and ask for changes confident in the knowledge that the finished film will be exactly what they imagined. I love seeing the film come together in the edit. It’s a highly rewarding part of the video production process. It’s very satisfying to see the planning and scripting and meeting and brainstorming come to a fruitful conclusion. While I do love pre-production meetings in our Manchester HQ, and shoot days and the edit. None of them are my favourite thing about corporate video production.
My favourite thing about corporate video production whether it’s an office tour, meet the team, event video or a massive VFX project to showcase a new brand is that corporate video gives me access that I would never normally have. I get to learn about a whole new business or industry and the people within it. I get to be an intrepid tourist in other people’s lives.
When I started working on video productions, I realised quite quickly that if you have a camera and a few gear bags or cases you can walk into most places. I’ve readied myself to show ID or to be searched at; Anfield, Old Trafford, Wimbledon and Twickenham all unnecessarily as I was given the “you’re alright mate” nod from security staff. I’ve walked on stage and backstage at countless events from rap concerts to barista competitions without anybody seeming to even notice.
Want to crash a wedding? Put a camera around your neck and carry a tripod. I’m reasonably certain I could get into the cockpit of a jet if I had a big enough crew. This is because you become part of the mechanics of the business or event. You’re behind the curtain. You’re invisible. There’s an innate understanding between the person with the camera and the people in front of it. You act like I’m not there and I’ll act like you’re not really excited that I have a camera. It’s a touching union of minds found only on corporate video shoots. Biologists have observed and endeavoured to study the phenomenon on research expeditions to Milton Keynes but alas not all magic can be bottled.
Eye Opening Corporate Shoots
With corporate video you get to see jobs, events and experiences without actually living them. It’s a lot of fun. To become a crane engineer who works on top of the o2 Arena I’d have to put aside quite a lot of time, mental application and skill before achieving that goal. Plus, I’m scared of heights. However, I do know exactly what it’s like to be a crane engineer. A specific crane engineer, named Matyáš. I know how many steps he climbs to his crane; I know he occasionally gets nervous when it’s windy and I know that he can only climb up and down to and from his crane twice a day. So, if there are health and safety meetings or nature calls too many times he gets to go home early. I know all of this because I made a video about it.
I’ve literally been involved in video productions of most topics. I will outshine the lay person in a pub conversation about any of the following subjects; dairy farming, Australian politics, raw denim, molasses, virtual reality, boxer briefs, Matyáš and many more. All because I made videos about them. Learning is exciting.
Know Your Subject
To make a great corporate video you have to learn about your subject in pre-production. You have to know who your client is, what they do and how they do it. Next time you’re in a meeting and somebody is giving you background information about their organisation or their job so that you can have a productive meeting, watch them closely. They gesticulate more. Consider their words with more care. Begin to emphasise and pause and intonate and study your reaction. They glow a little more brightly. Teaching is just as much fun as learning is.
Always An Interesting Angle
One of my favourite things about corporate video production is when a client begins almost apologetically that their job or business “isn’t the most exciting”. Then as they explain it to me realise that what they do is actually very interesting and we’re going to make a great video about it. This is because every business and especially the people behind it have a fascinating story to tell. Each corporate video production sets me off on a cycle of learning and teaching that I merrily carousel. I get to learn about a brand-new subject from a perfectly placed teacher. I then get to create a video that re-invigorates that teacher’s passion for their subject but also helps them communicate and glow brighter still to a much bigger audience. To me that is very cool, and that’s why I love corporate videos. Plus, the drinks and snacks.
Commercial Video Production
A love of learning is invaluable in all creative pursuits. And this certainly rings true in the world of video production. The ability to immerse oneself in a subject, to be enveloped by it and enriched by it is a huge advantage, particularly when writing and producing TV commercials. At any given time, I can be living 5 or 6 different lives in my mind. No, I am not a serial bigamist anymore, but I do cycle through different relationships in my head. My relationships with a product. The beginning of a commercial video production is like meeting a new friend. You meet a product, or a brand and you spend time getting to know them and learning about them. We first meet the product when Groundbreak receives a brief.
Receiving a new TV commercial brief is genuinely very exciting. Briefs vary wildly in terms of what information is contained in them. Maybe more so than any other genre of video production. Some clients come to us with a brief that is complete with a concept and image references of who they’d like to cast, maybe even a script and a good idea of what the finished video will be already formed in their mind, whether it’s live action, animation, visual effects or a hybrid.
We’ll always give a creative steer where we can see somewhere that the production can be enhanced. However, sometimes a client needs us to simply make their idea a reality. At the other end of the scale some briefs come to us with very little information. We can be presented with a product and a run time (not always) and nothing more. At both ends of this scale and everywhere in between, the first thing we do when we receive a new brief is share it with our creative and production teams, and an internal clock starts ticking.
We each start to mull the brief over ready for a meeting to discuss concepts and our proposal. This is the point at which the product starts to become a part of your life. In preparation for an idea shaping session I like to think about the story of the product. Not the story of how the product came to be but rather the story of how the product changes the life of the person who buys it. That is always my starting point and often the most absorbing part of the video production process. I want to feel what it is like to be made happier by this product.
Next I start to think about how a video can evoke that exact feeling. It’s like day dreaming about having a relationship with someone. Then endeavouring to explain how great your imagined relationship is, so convincingly that they want to make it a reality. The product becomes your best friend, your bed fellow, your gym buddy, your everything. There is something meditative about focusing all of your energy on one object and ruminating on all of its valuable attributes, it instils a positivity into your thinking that is refreshing.
Idea Shaping Sessions
When we get together for idea shaping sessions some of this poetry can be lost. Lost in a sea of puns. I am told that it is verifiably proven that the path to the purest creative expression can only be forged through a dense forest of puns. It’s an instinct that must be both exercised and exorcised before any truly great work can be produced. Once we’ve cleansed ourselves of punnery we begin to pick apart the brief.
When I first started putting pitches together for commercials I would lament the restrictions of the brief. My brilliant, expansive and, I’m certain, seminal concepts would be dashed for being; too expensive, requiring too much lead time or not at all what the client actually wanted. What I used to see as petty objections that restrained my genius I now realise are the real opportunity for us to show creative skill and flair.
Anybody can come up with a great idea. It takes very specific and not at all common skill to devise a genuinely great idea that also hits every single specification of the brief. The biggest challenge in video production. That is the game. Winning the game by ignoring the rules is much easier and nowhere near as satisfying as using your creativity to turn the rules to your advantage. The brief is the finite laws within an otherwise malleable universe of imagination.
Often, we have each had an idea or two about a route we could take for the commercial. The great thing about our creative team is that we all think quite differently. Moreover, we have different areas of video production that we particularly love. This means that we are guaranteed to have a variety of different approaches to the brief brought to the table. One thing is for sure – whatever your idea is when you enter that session, it will be better when you leave.
We discuss many concepts, even half-ideas or images and quite quickly we will land on a frontrunner. As with all things, it’s usually a simple idea that gets our attention and gets us excited. We’ll then turn our efforts to that concept and start to shape it. We may take aspects of another idea that work for a particular part of the brief and consider how we can incorporate it into our favourite concept.
With each of our individual personalities and approaches ideas form fully, as in our mind’s eyes. One of us might start to see specific shots, one of us begins to design VFX and one of us hears the beginnings of a script. Chipping away at an idea, refining it, adding to it and simplifying it is incredibly satisfying. Creativity in its many forms and harmonious collaboration. This is why we love video production. Especially when a concept emerges and evolves into something that will be visually stunning and exceeds the specifications of the brief. That’s when we start to get very excited about sharing the concept with our client. That is a whole other skill in itself. Writing a proposal.
Our proposal to a client is sometimes our only opportunity to communicate exactly what we’ve envisioned for the commercial. Oftentimes we will pitch in person or have meetings to discuss our proposal but even in those circumstances a proposal will often be what is sent on to other stakeholders in the commercial video production. Sometimes the key stakeholder who needs to sign off on the project will only see our proposal. As with the production itself our ideas can only ever be as good as our ability to communicate them.
We tailor each proposal to the specific client so every one is different – a marketing director will want to see different information than a sales director will want to see. We’ll write a treatment for our concept, this works like a prose version of a script, it’s like writing your commercial as a mini novella. The more vividly you can place your commercial into the imagination of the client the better.
Style & Mood
We’ll also include some style and mood references; this is some links to work we’ve produced before that might be in a similar production style (maybe an absorbing 3d animation we’ve previously created or live action commercial awash with awe inspiring visual effects) so the client can further visualise how our 30 second story will unfold.
Mood board images help the client to see the design styles and colours that will be in the commercial and why they have been chosen. We also include some information on how this particular commercial video production will impact their business in the short and long term. In essence we write a proposal with the intention of ensuring that the exact commercial that we have in our imagination becomes as close as possible to the exact commercial in the client’s mind. Then we know we have given our concept every chance of being signed off and produced.
The Green Light
When a proposal is green lit each stage of pre-production is essentially another step of ensuring that our creative team, production team and the client are in synchronicity of mind while planning the commercial video production. As we all carve away at one big rock, we do everything we can to ensure that we have each imagined the same end sculpture. This is the same process in all video productions but often stricter to form when creating a TV commercial. The blueprint for that sculpture starts with a script.
Love Of Scripting
Scripting is one of my favourite processes in TV commercial production. It makes no difference if it’s an animation or live action commercial. I simply love scripting. Taking everything from a brief, the concept you’ve devised to meet and exceed that brief and everything from a pitch deck – proposal, mood boards, style references – taking all of that and condensing it to a 30 second script is a beautiful challenge for your skills as a writer. More often than not your script needs to run around 25 seconds to at least accommodate a call to action at the end. Equally, the last thing we want is for an ad to feel rushed. Nobody wants to buy a product that makes you feel rushed. Unless it’s a Peloton.
The first draft of the script is nearly never the version that makes it to the final edit. The first draft script is the earliest opportunity that all parties have to give notes and suggest amends. And they do! It is their job to, after all. The first script should epitomise the essence and feel of the commercial and be very concept focused. This ensures that as we tweak and tinker we always stay strongly based in the original notion and idea that originally got everybody excited. The first draft of the script is the starting point of the video production so if that source material is the concept writ large then we can be assured that we have a strong foothold for the production.
The first draft of the script is a great place to take risks and be bold. The stakes are low. If there’s a risky, mischievous line of dialogue. Or a tricky overhead shot that we’d need additional resources to achieve then get it in to the first draft. Get it in to the first draft and add a note as to why it would work so well with the product and concept. If you save these suggestions until further down the line, then this specific video production will be too far along and wheels will have already been set irreversibly in motion. The worst that can happen is it gets taken out and nobody has lost anything. Best case scenario is that everybody loves it and you’ve just added a lot of value to a TV commercial production that you’ll be immersed in for months.
Tweaks and changes may be made to the script right up until the shoot day and even during the shoot day but that first draft sets our stall out and is an important opportunity to define the final edit. Commercial TV production is a landscape of hard deadlines, so even while the first draft is being written and reviewed, we will have already started to storyboard.
A storyboard is a shot by shot illustrated version of the final commercial. Storyboards are the perfect way to share with the client a visual version of the commercial. While still in the very early stages. You can pour over mood boards. Search and search for style references. And deliver the best treatment since Jesus’ for Lazarus. However, only when the storyboard is complete does everybody working on the project have a truly clear vision of the final product. We work with some very impressive storyboard artists and we are always excited to see our concept become a storyboard so that we can share it with our teams and our client. Storyboarding is a fundamental stage of most video productions. Storyboards are made up of illustrated shots complete with action icons showing the movements of the actors and set.
All In The Detail
Each shot also has notes for sound design, camera moves and script. Reading a storyboard is a lot like live editing the commercial in your mind. You have the shot which begins to move in your imagination in accordance with the direction. Your brain then layers in the atmosphere sound and sound effects. Now you’re in the place, you can see it and hear it. Then you read about the music and your brain presses play on your internal jukebox. Then as you read the script your voice morphs into the perfect voice over artist for this text and there you have it. The commercial is playing in your mind as you read it and cut it together internally as you go.
Frame By Frame
Once you have read and interpreted every frame of the storyboard everything about the commercial is more embedded in your psyche. You more readily remember exactly what happens in each shot, what is said, which actors are used and what camera moves are employed, because you’ve seen it. You remember the characters in each scene of a favourite film that you’ve seen, what they say, where they are and what scene comes next.
Storyboarding gives you that same embedded and visualised knowledge of your commercial. It allows you to see it before you’ve made it. It’s a powerful and integral part of any TV commercial production. Like the script it will be tweaked and perfected but will stay with us from the start of production right through to sign off. The storyboard will be at every pre-production meeting. Everybody will have a copy. It will be on set as the key source reference for literally everybody who is working on that shoot, with the exception of the single most important people working on any shoot, the caterers. It will be in the edit suite during post-production as the key reference guide for the post team. It’d be difficult to overstate how important a detailed storyboard is to a good TV commercial.
Creativity & Preparation
Good commercial production is about being creative and being prepared. A storyboard gives you the art of your commercial in the ultimate preview form which allows you to properly plan and prepare. Suffice to say storyboards and video production are a match made in heaven.
Another key area of pre-production where we have an opportunity to preview the final product is casting. Casting is not an easy gig. You have to find the people who perfectly represent the product and the brand. They must look and sound just right. And of course be able to act, which is not always a given. We work with a lot of very talented actors. I can tell you that if an actor has a good look that is versatile, will suit a lot of brands and they are a talented performer then they seldom struggle for work.
I may be underselling quite how much hard work and dedication it takes to have a successful career as an actor in commercial TV production. The key to my point is that an actor who looks great and performs well is gold dust in commercial video production. And we count ourselves lucky to work with so many brilliant actors. We find our actors through many sources, agents and casting networks. We write a casting call which can be very detailed. You can narrow your search right down to the eye colour. It is important to be detailed when casting as you are choosing someone to be the embodiment of a brand. A brand that has no doubt seen years, if not decades, of marketing expertise lovingly refining and evolving it. It’s a big responsibility.
The Perfect Talent
We put out a detailed casting call and shortlist the applicants and their self-tape auditions to be forwarded to the client for approval. This is another big leap of progression in video production process. When you see a self-tape audition that gets the delivery right, even if it’s only halfway to the performance you need, but it’s half-way in the right direction, you get rushes of excitement.
The director can push the performance to where it needs to be if the actor’s instincts with no direction already have the right feel. If the actor’s thought process is clearly in the right direction, then you’re on to a winner. And once you have a shortlisted cast that has great options for each role you start to see the commercial very vividly. You can now see and hear the performance exactly how they will be. The little live editor in your mind is whizzing and now you have real life characters to work with. You need somewhere to put them.
Whether you’re shooting in studio or on location, scouting for locations can be an arduous endeavour, but absolutely crucial in every live action video production. In studio you need to find the right technical specifications in terms of size, back drop, equipment available, access etc. You also need to find a studio that is available for your proposed shoot date, a pre-light, set-build and rigging day or days if necessary and enough time to paint the studio. The studio is home to a lot of people for a few long days of hard work during a shoot. Finding a studio that is well equipped and well-appointed for comfort can make a huge difference to morale on a shoot. A studio manager with a cheery disposition and “nothing is impossible” attitude can be a miraculous tonic on set too.
Shooting on location means scouting will take you further afield than the cosy comfort of studios. It also often means visiting breathtakingly beautiful places but only as often as you visit obscure places.
It means approaching people who have no experience and generally no interest in film making or commercial video production. Then requesting use of their land or facility. Often this request can mean upheaval that that person has no desire to welcome into their life. That’s all part of the fun of location scouting.
Location, Location, Location
The game is to find the perfect location for your shoot. The place that has been drawn in the storyboard, the place that you saw in your imagination when reading the script, the place that your mind placed those actors when they delivered their audition. That perfect place. That is no mean feat but that is, relatively speaking, the easy part.
Then all you have to do is convince the person whose permission we need that it will be the greatest thing that has ever happened to them. That they can simply not live without having 30 people carrying heavy and expensive equipment traipsing through their location, setting up lights, make up areas, generators, catering tables and needing countless things from them but also needing them to be perfectly silent on command when we say. Oh, and there’ll be about 15 cars and 3 vans to accommodate as well. Charm gets you so far in these negotiations, but I find it’s always good to budget for a handsome location fee. Once a location is scouted, negotiated and booked we’re ready to shoot.
The Night Before
Shoot days are incredible. I get a mini Christmas Eve excitement the night before a shoot day. Even after so long and so many it still has me exhilarated in anticipation. Part of the enduring thrill of video production. The start of a shoot is the culmination of a lot of hard work and collaboration manifesting itself ready to bear fruit. It’s harvest day. Weeks or months of writing and planning lead to a shoot. The opening of the studio doors or the arrival of crew on location marks the transition from pre-production to production. Those aren’t just arbitrary terms. That is a real and palpable shift of gears for our creative and production teams. We go from being writers and planners to being doers. We get to be hands on. This is where the creating starts in earnest. We get to perform.
The Big Video Shoot
Arriving on set and seeing the gear vans and set vans backed up to the studio or location with their doors open and crew members unloading with a calm, warm and focused air is something to behold. On a shoot day there is a sense that once the studio doors open or the second we gain access to the location an industrious machine that has lay coiled has been sprung and things start to happen. They start to happen quickly, deftly, cheerily and they don’t stop.
Film Crew Family
Working as part of a film crew has long been a great joy of my life. Film crew people always seem to be my favourite type of people. They are always confident but approachable, diligent but relaxed, focused but calm, fast but paced, talented but humble. I could wax lyrical for many more words about film crew people and how much I love being a part of that community in Manchester.
If you have collaborated with us on any video production whatsoever you will know that at Groundbreak we take great pride in putting together very talented, very impressive and very lovable crew. It’s remarkable to see how efficient and productive a team can be on a film set while having such a good time. I defy anyone to visit a set on one of our productions and not leave wishing that they did that every day for a living.
Appreciation Of One Another
The camaraderie on set is something that I have only seen rivalled as part of a theatre production or a Sunday league football team. The culture and repartee on set lies in the sweet spot firmly equidistant between the two.
The camaraderie on set, I believe, is born from each person or small team having a specialised job. Each person is focused on a specific task. Those roles are defined and, loosely, universal. This brings an appreciation of each other’s work that can be quite unique in a workplace. We each know what each other person’s role and specialism is and we each defer to that person in their area. Having clearly delineated roles and specialisms means that we all appreciate that without one of the people here we would not be able to perform as a team. This garners a culture of respect, acknowledgment and team spirit. That, despite there being a clear hierarchy when it comes to decision making, does create the feeling of a communal effort which requires every one person as much as the next.
Greater Good Of The Product
I may go as far as to say shoot days are a communist utopia. I also may not. If I were to use that analogy I would caveat it by saying that the communal labour of the workforce on set is for a greater good, but not the greater good of despot dictator but rather the greater good of the product.
It is quite sensational seeing a product, generally an object, becoming such a centre of attention on shoot days. There are tens of people contorting themselves to move lights. Position flags and bounce boards. Set up backdrops, build sets, operate jibs and countless other equally difficult tasks. All so that the product looks the best it can possibly look. It is someone’s job to watch a monitor for the whole day and make sure that not for one second does the product ever become slightly out of focus. That is an important TV commercial production job.
At The Ready
Somebody will be stood just out of shot ready to come on set at the drop of a hat or rather the drop of a speck of dust on the product. They must quickly clean it off and make sure the product is pristine before the next take. That is an important role in the world of high-end commercial video production.
Aiming For Perfection
It is a whole team of people’s job to make sure that the many lights trained on the product or pointed away from the product so as to bounce off it in the right way, look absolutely perfect at every second. That is an important commercial production job. Everybody’s job in one way or another on a commercial production is to make the product look perfect. The whole concept and exercise is to make the product look, feel and exude perfection. We are here to sell the product. Shoot days on a commercial are like the celebration of the product. No matter how big or small the cast is, the product is the star. It’s mesmerising to be a part of. We’re all partying but it’s the product’s prom.
Not all commercial productions have a shoot. Some are created entirely in a post-production studio in the form of 2d, 3d or stop motion animations.
It may seem dense to state this, but our Manchester based team of producers’ job is to produce. Produce whatever is needed for a project. If we need a rain machine, they will produce one. An airplane hangar is needed, they will produce one. If we need a helicopter, a re-write, 12 vegan meals, $100 million of insurance, a pelican, they will produce them. Like a band of magicians but with better people skills. Producers conjure up anything that is needed to bring a video production into reality. I think a good producer’s mentality can be neatly summed up in a quote from the inimitable Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter when he paraphrased a popular saying – “difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week.” However not all things are possible, even for a good producer.
For a world of truly boundless possibilities we don’t need a shoot, we need the magic of animation and VFX.
Animation opens up a world of opportunity for video creation that is limited only by the limit of one’s own imagination.
Think of something that does not, nor ever has, existed. Now think of another thing that doesn’t. Put those two things somewhere that can’t exist. Now have the two undisputedly impossible things whizz away from each other at inconceivable and entirely unfeasible speeds. While they whiz apart, expand your frame of view to keep these ferociously fast fictional things in your field of vision. Zoom and fly towards one of the objects. Catch up with it and circle around it as it flies. Orbit it once more then see the other object now flying directly towards you. Rise away from the objects and shoot up and away as they crash into each other and explode into a million pieces. Or 4 pieces, or no pieces. It’s completely up to you.
Anything Is Possible
Literally anything is possible in our Manchester animation studio. This may seem whimsical. Futilely fanciful. I’d never apologise for whimsy, but there are direct and incredibly impactful applications for being able to create absolutely anything in a TV commercial.
Service, Product Or App?
What if you’re selling a service rather than a product? Or you’re promoting an app? You could shoot people using your app or service. However, that isn’t really showing the audience the true value of what you’re selling. The true value is conceptual. A service or a software is likely to have a unique selling point. That is not physically tangible or aesthetically brilliant to represent with live action footage. It’s promoting saved time or a feeling or an interconnectivity. Using animation allows us to tell these stories and evoke these feelings in a very clear and very impressive way. From basic shapes simply and cleanly representing a process to vast intricate universes embodying a feeling. With a strong script and a great animation team, anything can be represented by anything. Animation is certainly the limitless creative hub of video production.
There are numerous forms of animation. Each type of animation is an art form in its own right, with different techniques and key principles.
Traditional animation (2D Cel, hand drawn) is a painstaking process. That always adds a layer of charm because it is hand drawn frame by frame. Another 2D form of animation is digital 2D animation which uses computer generated 2D vector graphics to create a digital animation. Next there is possibly the most known form which is 3D CGI animation which we often see in the cinema in Hollywood blockbuster animations. Stop Motion animation is another form of animation which is arguably the most time consuming but with wondrous results when executed perfectly. Finally, Motion graphics, animated logos and typography all come under the broad animation umbrella. There is undoubtably something captivating and magical about animation in all of its many forms. At Groundbreak we love animation and each member of the team has a different favourite form.
It’s a captivating enhancement of any video production to be able to use animation and VFX (visual effects) in commercials that are promoting physical products. We’re always selling a feeling or a concept.
All cars could be said to undertake largely the exact same function. They are carriages for transport. Practically speaking some have larger storage and seating capacities than others. Some have more advanced safety features than others. Some have more efficient methods for converting fuel into propulsion than others. But who cares? What we all really want to know is how does it make you feel? Does driving it make you feel like a cheetah? It does? Brilliant, so ideally, we’d like to see the car briefly then turn into a cheetah. Look at that cheetah so majestic and ferocious. I’d like the cheetah automobile please!
With animation and VFX we can sell a physical product or a service. While showcasing and evoking the true, resonant selling point. Which is the feeling and experience of the customer in a remarkably visceral, clear and transfixing way.
Art Meets Science
Video production has always fascinated me as the ultimate meeting of art and science. Artistic skill in video is entirely useless without technological skill to express it. Equally technological skill within video is an entirely apathetic and benign tool without artistic skill to utilise it as a craft. The art pushes the technology to evolve by demanding new ways to express itself. And the technology pushes the art to evolve by opening up new frontiers to be explored. For me the ultimate meeting of art and science in any video production is in VFX and animation. The skill of creating a world entirely from one’s mind using illustration and digital design is a thrashing, harmonious dance between art and technology.
The Long Game
Watching the progress of an animation production requires more patience than watching a shoot day progressing. Days can be spent perfecting a few frames. It’s magnificent to look at a storyboard and chart the progression from there to a completed animation or VFX sequence. In fact whether a video production is an animation or live action, the most satisfying thing about a shoot day or seeing a VFX project progress is seeing shot after shot go into the can. Knowing that the little editor in your head that has been building this commercial ever since the first idea-shaping session now has some real toys to play with in the edit.
All of the writing, preparation and planning in pre-production and all of the focus and hard work of the shoot would all mean nothing without the edit. This is where the story truly takes shape. I love working on a TV commercial edit. It can be a mammoth task, sometimes completed by a junior or assistant editor, to collate and organise all of the rushes before even starting the edit. If we’ve shot for a few 10 hour days there is a lot of footage to compile and cut together. Here again a good storyboard is a massive help.
Working with a great editor can leave you in awe. Some of the best editors I’ve worked with don’t ever touch the mouse of their computer in the edit suite. They have custom keyboard shortcuts for everything. I’ve seen an editor’s keyboard, it was a split keyboard, with keys missing where they’d prised away keys that they didn’t use. Working with a great editor makes putting a first cut together a lot of fun. Seeing the different options for each shot and how they will cut together in montage gives you a spike of joy and motivation. You can see exactly how great the ad is going to be and you can see the final stretch of the race to the final video on the horizon.
Usually on TV commercial shoots you may have a person on set whose job it is to make notes for the editor. To keep track of which takes were good and which take of each shot the Director particularly loved. This set of notes, the storyboard and an editor’s brief become the post-production bible. This wealth of information plus the Director and creative team sitting in on an edit ensure that the cut is a well-executed real life version of the commercial that has been bouncing around your collective heads since the brief first arrived on your desk.
A huge part of an edit being perfect is the music and sound design. I first started working in video production making music videos. And i’ve never stopped being moved by an edit that’s cut in complete harmony with a perfect piece of music. It feels like a dance between the shots and the sounds. When they perfectly synchronise it is very special. When one drives the other in pace and tone and the other pushes back and they ebb and flow and intertwine to a resounding crescendo there are few things in the world more captivating.
Sound design is the designing and mixing of all of the sounds in the commercial with the music and the edit to make a complete orchestral chorus of music, sound effects and cuts. Incredible sound design can be profound. You probably won’t even notice it. The next time a commercial gives you goosebumps go back and watch again focusing solely on the sounds. Now imagine the same video with just the dialogue, or just the dialogue and the music. It’s nowhere near as powerful.
It Sounds Great
Very few sounds that aren’t dialogue or atmosphere are captured on the shoot. They are designed, created wholesale, and mixed into the audio of the video along with the music. A truly great commercial can never be something that just looks great. It has to feel great. For that to happen it must sound as wonderful as it looks. As well as a lot of the sound not being captured on the shoot day. The full and vibrant colours you see in the final ad are not created on the shoot day either. They are created in the grade, which is the finishing touches of the video production process.
One of the final stages of post-production is colour correction and grading. Colour correction is fixing and balancing all of the colours so that they are all in harmony. With the intended look of the video and look true to life with no strange colours on the timeline. Colour grading is the skill of enhancing each shot by adjusting an almost innumerable number of different parameters to change the colours within the shot. It is quite wondrous how powerful a good grade is. There is a real science involved at this stage of video production. Footage does not come fresh out the camera looking like a Wes Anderson movie. Footage comes out of the camera flat. The camera captures an abundance of information in each shot that can then be drawn upon and explored in the grade.
Mood & Feel
Colour grading is not just to enhance the look of each shot. After all what looks “good” can be very subjective. It is another design tool to create a mood and feeling in the commercial. In pre-production we decide on a colour palette for the commercial. This can be a colour palette that compliments and embeds the brand palette of the product. Or a palette that evokes the emotion and sensation that we want the audience to associate with the product. Happily, it is sometimes both. The colour grade is where we can make this colour palette live and breathe. It is one of the final and most integral parts of the TV commercial production process. We have painted our picture, and this is the final shading.
And just like that, with the punnery and focus of the idea shaping session. The tailoring and storytelling of the proposal, the feeling and finding of the script. The visualisation of the storyboard, the hunt of the casting. Endeavour and persuasion of the location scouting, the electric, frenetic, granular focus and community of the shoot. The playing and searching of the edit. The dance and magic of the sound design. And the breath of life of the colour grade, there you have it. A masterpiece. A 30 second TV commercial. All that’s left to do now is getting it cleared for broadcast. Then delivered to the media agency and one final thing once it is all entirely signed off. Drinks and snacks.
I Played My Part
All of that hard work is worth it. For the drinks. And the snacks. And the knowledge that one day I will be able to watch the commercial and know that that was me. We made that and that’s who we were at that time. This blog is who we are right now. We are the joy of learning and the enticement and challenge of a new brief. We are the commitment to finding the perfect story to tell. The writers who take the perfect story and tell it to the perfect audience in the perfect way. We are the thrill of a storyboard jumping into life. We are the dedication to finding the exact people to be the heroes of your story. The skilled and driven family on set. The pride of the final cut. We are video production personified.
We are a team of passionate creatives and producers. All from different professional and personal backgrounds with different areas of video production that we each adore. A team of individuals whose unique strengths we appreciate, respect and embolden. Who come together every day to share and work with each other’s talents and passions. All for the singular shared goal of telling your story, selling your product and making your video masterpiece.