From Biro To Screen And Then Back Again
From biro to screen and back again sums up the process of our latest project for The Sheffield College, which allowed us to combine design, film and animation. If you are the type of person who finds behind-the-scenes project development fascinating, then this journal entry is for you. If not, I hope the bit about biro's helps to hold your interest.
To contextualise this journal post we produced a suite of eleven instructional animations explaining The Sheffield College’s offer to school leavers and existing students wishing to study higher education. The project led with the literal concept of “preparing yourself for college life, a hands on approach”.
We received a set of lovely biro-inspired minimalist storyboards (see image 1) outlining key information of each animation, accompanied by a good selection of peripheral contextualised documentation. The first round of digital storyboarding shared the resemblance of its biro-brother, but at such an early stage of production it was important that the storyboard offered up the key messages with vague stylised imagery, although enough to show narrative and flow (See image 2).
As soon as this first round of storyboarding was given the green light treatment, we made the necessary adjustments and saved these storyboards for a second round of development as the time came for designing the props for each animation.
I'm fascinated by design minimalism. Minimal use of colour, shape and space helped to strip back the design complexity to be replaced by simplicity and harmony. Simplicity of design and harmony achieved through colour and shape. There is a fine line and you have to balance simplicity with harmony — Too simple and the overall sense of playfulness becomes sterile, too exaggerated and it all becomes a bit too silly.
The props we designed had to be exaggerated in size, shape and colour and had to fit together with a flexible visual language that would spread over a suite of 11 animations. Lucky for us TSC had just completed a rebrand which took flat colour and pattern as a brand theme — So we were able to echo the idea of pattern, shape, colour and grid based design in the design of our props.
We relied on paper colour, thick outlines and patterns to be able to style the props and then we dropped in on our printer-friend, Wayne, to order quite a lot of coloured stock. Fast forward a few days and we had enough prop print-outs to build a shed with. Each prop was carefully cut down (some ham-fisted versions made it to the bin!) and grafted onto foam board to give depth and stability.
Images 3 and 4 show the transition between illustration and physical prop.
So it was the time that we came back to our biro-inspired storyboards and their digital brethren to began the refinement stage. We visualised the story structure as soon as the props were at an acceptable size, scale and colour whilst also looking good on screen, which then led us to our final set of static digital storyboards along with Gif based storyboards.
Upon consulting the digital storyboards and their biro-brethren we took test footage using our mobile phones (see 12. test video below) — thinking about it, using mobile phones to capture footage sounds ridiculous but it helped immeasurably with framing, composition and timing.
After evaluating our mobile phone footage we set up the real thing — live action animation driven by a static first person perspective, captured whilst mounted on a rostrum (see image 11. below). The majority of the content was captured through live action filming although there was the need to shoot specific selections in a stop motion style.
Post production is and always will be time consuming and editing each animation down to 30 seconds from 5 minutes of footage is tough. The last thing you don't want to lose are central themes, set-ups, shots or sections that are central to the concept and message.
We had to be ruthlessly focused on the message of each animation and if we had to sacrifice certain visuals to keep the animations at a sensible running time we had to have multiple solutions in place along with a contingency plan.
Careful compromises had to be made between the filming and editing process but was often resolved 'on the go' — regardless of how much testing and storyboarding you do if something is not correct during the editing phase, it would need to be resolved and quickly.
What started out as a 'nice idea' turned out to be one of the most enjoyable projects that I have been involved with to date. To be able to track the progress from the first biro-inspired minimalist storyboards through to the application of simplicity and harmony of colour and narrative have shown that minimalist design sensibilities can transfer effectively to work with a suite of animations.
We are extremely proud that our animated content sits confidently on The Sheffield College's online platforms and we are delighted that something we've created will be used to empower prospective students to take a hands on approach to understanding their own education.
To cap off this journal post we've added the University Level Study animation below so you can see the aforementioned process in action.
To watch more videos from the collection, you can by clicking here.