The Making of an Animated Video: Hager Sharp Holiday Edition

Every winter, communications firms all over struggle with the same thing: what are we going to do for the agency holiday card?

In 2016 we created an animated video to share with family, friends and clients. It gave us the chance to put some of our creative skills to use, and support a good cause in the process. The script is lyrical, the characters a bit quirky, the final message uplifting. We also thought this would be a great opportunity to document and share the process of creating an animated video.

Step 1: Concept

Before there can be a video, there needs to be an idea. In consideration of the vitriol that’s existed the past few months, we decided to develop something that reflected the spirit of the holiday and what Hager Sharp is all about: Ideas that make a difference. It isn’t just a tagline, it’s our mission. Working with clients dedicated to helping others is what we do.

Generation Hope is a non-profit dedicated to helping teen parents achieve a college education. (For more details, see Darcy’s blog post). This year we embraced the spirit of the holidays by supporting their efforts on behalf of our friends and clients. Thus ‘Gift of Hope’ became the theme of our holiday video card. The script begins by recognizing the variety of gifts that can be exchanged during the holidays, and concludes with the recognition that some gifts are more important than others.

Step 2: Storyboard

When developing a piece of linear communication, like a video, the storyboard shows how specific visual scenes align with parts of the script. It establishes timing and a rough flow for the final product. We opted for the thumbnail illustration approach for the video to allow the focus to be more on the story and the timing rather than the details of the execution.

Step 3: Character sketches

This is how the executional details get determined. As we saw in Step 2, our story revolves around two characters exchanging gifts. But who are these characters? Are they live action or animated? In this instance, we felt a stop-motion animated style would work best, with an elf and a cuddly abominable snowperson as our ‘heroes.’ But only after a lot of sketching and re-sketching did we determine the basics of who our gift-exchangers would be.

Step 4: Developing artwork

What visual style should the video take to best embrace the story? What’s the color palette? And how do the rest of the elements in the video align with this style? With the right vision and paper stock our characters and their props came to life through painstaking cutting, shaping and layering. This step is when we figured out exactly how the fur of a stop-motion cuddly abominable snowperson should look, along with all of the other artistic details. Interesting fact: Our abominable snowperson consists of more than 170 pieces, each cut and glued together in layers, all by hand.

Step 5: Stop-motion filming

Just as it sounds. Our lights and camera equipment were linked to a large monitor. A neutral canvas set the stage for the cut-out characters, gifts, fruitcake and basket of cats. Then we placed the various elements in the appropriate poses, shot them, moved them, shot them, moved them, shot them, moved them, shot them (Time saving tip: when working with kooky cut-out characters, a handmade jump-cut animation approach significantly reduces the number of movements needed). In our case, 40 seconds of stop-motion filming took just 4 hours. Some other interesting facts:

  • 14 different character arms were used in the video.
  • A tiny 2mm harness was crafted out of a trimmed staple during the shoot to keep the arm of the cuckoo clock retracted.
  • The eyes of the moose on the sweater and the faces of the elf and abominable snowperson were actually added and animated in post-production.

Step 6: Voice-over, music bed & sound effects

The voice-over used in a video helps determine its personality, while the music carries the emotion. We wanted a voice that was warm and inviting, but could also match the quirky fringe of the artwork. So we tapped our friend Don Hagen to deliver a Burl Ives-meets-Dr. Suess read. To maintain universal appeal, we went with a playful, classical music mix, instead of something more typically holiday. And the sound effects were homemade (where else can you find just the right sfx for a re-gifted basket of cats).

Step 7: Animate & finish

Images complete, voice-over in hand, music selected and sound effects ready, it was time to pull it all together. Adobe Premiere, After Effects and our precision creative team brought it to life – from an elf eating a tie to the ubiquitous fruitcake to the introduction of Generation Hope and the gift they received in honor of our friends and clients. It was a labor of love, indeed. To see the final video, take a look at our Happy Holidays blog post.

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