Storage, data, backups… oh my! At Paragon we back up everything. That one thing you asked us to do back in 2002? You know the one with the sweet flash splash page? Yep, we still got it.
The difficulty in keep that much data is finding where on Earth to put it so the announcement this month of the Amazon S3 price reduction sent a happy dance through my bones. We use S3 and Glacier for backups but the process has been manual and mind numbing. Sorting, zipping, uploading, waiting… while it is necessary it does mean that time passes before something hits the cloud.
In an effort to try and get things into S3 quickly for increased redundancy I set out to try to find a bit of software to keep archived work in sync with S3. I found plenty of software to mount S3 as a drive but wasn’t impressed with keeping local files backed up to S3. So, I thought, how hard could it be to write something?
What we now have chewing through our local archives is called “Python S3 Sync Helper.” Thank goodness I’m not in charge of branding around here. You can take a look on GitHub if you’d like to try it out. It has only been tested in Windows so, Mac peeps, give it a shot and let me know what breaks.
To get it working, you’ll need Python 2.7 and Boto installed. Next, edit the config file and add your S3 API credentials (Access, Secret) along with the bucket where you’d like to store your files, and the location of the folder on your local hard drive. Optionally add an S3 folder name if you’d like the files to upload in a specific directory of your bucket… I know S3 doesn’t really use folders but you know what I mean.
If everything is installed and configured, run the backup.py file to start uploading files. The program gets a list of all files in the local directory you provide, uploads them to S3, and gives you a rundown of what happened when it is done.
If you do give it a try, let me know how/if it works for you and what you think.
- Skipping vital stages of the process, especially storyboarding, doesn’t guarantee a quicker process, it might even make things take longer
Constantly challenge your assumptions on how to communicate ideas; consulting subject matter experts to ensure you’re delivering a focused, effective message.
Develop a parallel workflow so that by the time you reach the animation stage, all elements are approved.
Cigital SecureAssist is an IDE plugin that gives software developers the ability to find and fix security flaws in their code when it matters most; as they’re coding, rather than later on during the testing phase when it’ll cost more. With script in hand Cigital needed a video that perfectly explained how that technology worked and why it was such a game changer. Oh, and they needed it for a trade show they were attending in a matter of weeks. No pressure.
To add to the challenge, Cigital had already started the process with another studio, but weren’t happy. Not because the animation quality was poor, far from it, rather due to the fact that they weren’t visualizing the script. They were making graphic choices based on how “techy” they looked rather than translating the content of the script. They had also jumped to the animation stage without doing storyboards thinking it would speed up the process. To the contrary, it ended up causing project delays as the client wasn’t satisfied with how the studio was communicating key concepts and each round of revision took days to turn-around since they were spending time animating rather than simply adjusting static storyboards.
Once we took over the project and had an in-depth kickoff call with the client, we went back to the drawing board (literally). We began by sketching out some metaphors addressing the main points of the script. Paramount to the setup of the story was showing insecure code being created and subsequently attacked. As usual, we explored verbally before playing with visual representations.
which then lead to detailed storyboards
The initial storyboards involved using a developer’s monitor with scrolling code as a backdrop. Then a file folder spitting out tattered looking file icons appears, but as they land, they are attacked by red lasers revealing security holes indicated by shields with exclamation marks.
The feedback to the boards in general was positive:
“Overall, the visualizations you came up with are outstanding! Again, I am very impressed with the creativity and clarity in communicating ideas and concepts in the visualizations. Very happy to be working with you on this project!”
- Casey C, Cigital
“The technical co-workers I solicited feedback from were all confused by the folder at the bottom of storyboard #2 ’producing software.’ They said they think of software as something that is produced along a software development ‘assembly line’ from ‘technically fancy components’ whose internals are opaque and confusing…”
- Casey C, Cigital
This feedback was vital in helping us change our perspective on how we depict software development and subsequently improving the video. Files magically coming out of a file folder hid the work that goes into crafting code and it’s this hard work that SecureAssist is trying to help with. We initially took a more impersonal approach to the assembly line, using robotic arms as the assembling mechanisms.
Again the response was positive:
“So…this is really good. Very, very happy with what you have created and the additional modifications you have made based on earlier feedback.”
- Casey C, Cigital
“The way the application gets built is spot-on. The only issue my co-workers had was with the mechanical hands…they felt like it marginalizes software development as something a robot could do.”
- Casey C, Cigital
So we ended up with a more personal approach, using icons for developers as the ones adding blocks of code to the software
Another key idea they wanted to express was that other industries don’t wait until late in the manufacturing process to tack on security measures, so why do software developers? We originally chose to show examples of other products having security concerns dealt with early on in their production process as a way of contrasting it with the software process.
But eventually settled with demonstrating the hypothetically disastrous effects of trying to “bolt on” security at the end of various other product cycles.
One of the unique visualization challenges on this project was in illustrating the software development life cycle (SDLC), and differentiating it from the software development process so that the viewer wasn’t confused about which one was being discussed at the relevant times in the explainer video. So the SDLC was shown as a linear progression; going from coding to release, while the development process was depicted as a cycle; repeatedly going through coding, compiling and debugging stages.
In an effort to parallel process, we had sent voice-over and music samples for the client to review while working on the initial draft of the storyboards. So once the script was approved, we had the VO talent secured and music track purchased.
By the time the storyboards were approved, we had all the audio in hand and were ready to start animation.
In the end, we think the animation turned out well, and more importantly the client was pleased.
“This is awesome! Absolutely love the video. The animation is outstanding, the music is good, and Paul’s voice over is great!
- Casey C, Cigital
Ready to start your next explainer video project?
Give us a call for a free consultation: (912) 238-1991.
Wanna see some other examples of how we help brands say a mouthful in a moment? Of course you do.
Let’s say you don’t need any more convincing that you should get an explainer video produced. They are informative, convey ideas quickly and effectively, and are down-right awesome as all get out.But maybe you’re a bit apprehensive about the process and the time (and money) it‘ll take to get a final product. Having done quite a few of these, we’ve discovered a few things that you can do as the client to help keep both the production time and costs down.
These are our top 3:
1. Over plan
Sometimes the most obvious things get overlooked, so a kick-off meeting or phone call to generate a clear timeline with assigned roles and milestones is the first, and probably easiest, thing you can do to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. The plan should include deadlines for the delivery of each stage of the explainer video production process making sure to include time limits for your feedback as well. That last part is important because even though you don’t think that you’ll need to be reminded to give timely feedback, you’d be surprised. You’re busy, your team’s busy, your bosses are busy, so if you allocate that review time weeks in advance, you’re more likely to get it done without needing to extend the timeline.
2. Over share
The success of your video (whether you and your customers like it) depends on how well we know you/ your brand, your customers, your product / idea so don’t be afraid to over share. A few things we find helpful are:
Words – Use ‘em. Even if you don’t have a finalized script, an outline of your idea / product gives us a good sense of direction on how you’d like to talk about your brand / product. Feel free to be as verbose and awkward as you’d like, even if the visual descriptions you’re thinking of seem a bit silly to you, the more we understand what’s in your head, the better our translation will be.
Current brand collateral – These could be things like brochures, Powerpoint presentations, T-shirts and koozies. Anything that you’ve already used to represent you is helpful since it tells us about your aesthetic and tone of voice.
References – We’re all watching more videos online so I’m sure you’ve come across 1 or 2 that strike your fancy. Even if they’re not exactly in line with your particular needs, having a sense of character illustration style, voice over (VO) tone, use of typography etc will help narrow down the options presented during the styleframe or storyboard phase and minimize the amount of back and forth you’ll need during revisions.
Each phase of the explainer video production process doesn’t necessarily have to happen linearly. It could be more efficient to tackle certain stages at the same time. After a good kick-off meeting where everyone’s on the same page about the tone of the video, the VO talent and music selection process can happen while the script is being fleshed out. Then, once the script is finalized, the VO recording can take place without much delay since you’ve at least started narrowing down talent options. Similarly, once the script is finalized, both the storyboarding and VO recording can happen simultaneously, making the transition to the animation stage seamless. *NOTE: Make sure in an effort to cut down the time that your production company doesn’t skip any of the important steps, especially the storyboarding phase. Any professional worth their salt will insist on finalizing the sequence of events before starting animation.
Choosing to hire a professional to produce an animated explainer video instead of doing in yourself is a commitment, but by over planning, over sharing and overlapping you’ll get to the end of the process on deadline, within budget and with exactly what you wanted..
Feel free to check out some of our Explainer video work
I know we designers get picked on sometimes for being sticklers for kerning, but… come on!
As we go about our daily searches, site perusing, email (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, etc) and YouTube Russian dash cam videos we are refining who we are to all those that watch. But who is watching and what are they doing? “They” being Google, Bing, Yahoo, Facebook, pretty much any search engine you use and most sites that you visit.
Tracked/mined data is used to give users better search results, targeted ads, restaurant recommendations, map locations, directions and more. It is extremely useful and we trade our privacy for these convenient free tools.
If we don’t want to be tracked or data mined, we don’t have to use these services. Pay for an email address (Rackspace Email), calendar, or use a search engine that doesn’t keep tabs on you (DuckDuckGo). There are always options.
So no problem, right? Well there is something new that is happening with Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Google’s threat of bringing gigabit fiber to cities is forcing a change that is of some concern. Google fiber users will continue to have their Google services (Gmail, Docs, Calendars, etc) mined, however the rest of their traffic will now be open to data mining also. This data won’t be attached to specific users but will instead be demographics mining. So far, this isn’t a huge deal but it is a shift.
As a result of this competition one ISP now offers competitive internet speeds at reduced cost by having users opt-in to marketing plans. The opt-in allows the ISP to data mine ALL traffic from the user that is not secured end-to-end (SSL Encryption – https). Let me say that again. ALL your traffic, not secured, will be data mined. ALL. Amazon searches, emails, even incognito windows, any unsecured packet sent through your ISP is now fair game to learn and market to the user directly or via one of their third party advertisers.
Before you sign on the dotted line to get that reduced cost internet access or that sweet free tablet, read the fine print and research any parts you don’t understand. You might be getting more than you bargained for.
As we’re all aware, the emotional impact that a simple visual can unleash shouldn’t be taken lightly. Just compare the reaction you instinctively have to reading the words “child slavery” versus seeing a picture of an emaciated child wearing tattered clothes chained to a wall wearing a price tag around her neck. This power to elicit a passionate response, and hopefully a desired action, is why animated explainer videos are such a useful tool for non-profits and other causes. But heeding Uncle Ben Parker’s admonition about power, we found ourselves wrestling with two main concerns when tackling explainer videos for sensitive subjects:
1. Will this trivialize the topic?
Of course you want to be respectful of the gravity of the subject, but some, in the west particularly, view graphic representation as merely cartoons and therefore a child’s medium, not worthy of more serious subject matter. We recently experienced that reaction to an explainer video we created about Post 9/11 Veterans for the George W. Bush Institute.
The 2nd commenter obviously resonated with the message but seemed a bit skeptical about the medium.
2. Will this offend anyone?
Sensitive issues, by their very nature, make people uncomfortable and are hard to talk about, let alone illustrate. So choosing to take on that task means you’re walking into a minefield of potentially misinterpreted symbolism and unintentionally offensive metaphors.
So how do you navigate this tricky terrain without tripping any land mines? Well for us, we’ve found it useful to take a cue from the Master of Suspense.
Ask “What would Hitchcock do?”
Since we know how potent pictures can be, there’s a temptation to want to be overly descriptive with our depictions, when sometimes implications could be more effective. The master storyteller was well-known for his restraint in what he chose to show on the screen. Yet no-one would deny that the reactions to his shower scene or shadowy murders were any less visceral than if we saw every stab wound. Some might argue that they were even more powerful because of what we didn’t see. Having the viewer fill in the insinuated gaps can lead to a more effective emotional experience.
This idea of leaving something to the viewers’ imagination came into play when we were tasked with the challenge of depicting the practice of child prostitution. Considering the revulsion that it evokes, we had to approach it in a way that the audience’s disdain was focused on the reality that this is happening daily, not on how we chose to illustrate it. Being explicit, of course was not an option, but going too subtle could run the risk of having no emotional impact at all. So the challenge was finding that middle ground where the implication of a grotesque action is obvious without being grotesque itself.
We explored various ways of symbolizing sexual commerce and our choice in this case was suggestive ladies’ legs seductively dangling behind window shades. We felt that the juxtaposition of those icons of sexuality with our innocent child character created the right amount of tension without being too overt. Then, to further hint at the menace facing the child, we had a hand slowly lowering the shade of her window.
Soldiers returning from war is another potentially tricky subject we had to tackle recently. For the Post 9/11 Veterans video mentioned earlier we had to show the alienation some soldiers feel as they return to a public that doesn’t understand them. Our 1st stab at this involved the use of icons representing different spheres of civilian life (e.g. church, school, work etc.) and showed dots, representing people in those contexts, literally moving away from the soldier icon whenever it approached.
This overt approach evolved into a more subtle scenario of a parade for a lone soldier. The adoring, waving hands and confetti eventually fade away leaving the soldier alone as his head slowly lowers, he gets smaller and the background closes in on him.
In earlier drafts of storyboards for this same animation, we depicted the idea of the physical injuries of war as bullets tearing across the screen as if they were tearing flesh. Later this was revised to a less gruesome but more heroic depiction of soldiers carrying a wounded brother off the battlefield.
Restraint also came in handy on an explainer video we did for UNICEF, where child sexual abuse was again the topic. In early sketches we explored several different ways to illustrate a particularly unsettling scene; the most extreme of which involved showing the back of a man motioning as if he was unzipping his pants in front of a cowering girl. In the end we again borrowed from Hitchcock, deploying shadows as a device to suggest malice and used a creepy, menacing figure revealed as a shadow through a crack in the door.
It’s called graphic for a reason, right?
We know that the point of using motion graphics as an explanatory tool is to be as communicative as possible and in most cases that means being as symbolic as possible to get the message across quickly. However, as we learned in dealing with explaining some thorny issues, using motion graphics to insinuate rather than overtly depict can be just as efficient. It’s a tough job animating sensitive subjects but when it counts sometimes less is really more.
The full explainer videos I used in this post are below:
Worldvision: No Child for Sale
UNICEF: Adolescent Health
The Bush Institue: Post 9/11 Veterans
Opening an office in Austin has some obvious great perks, not the least of which is proximity to all the fun happening at SXSW. This year we were pleased to be involved with the state of Georgia’s plans to attract attention to all the cool things happening in our fair state. Dubbed Southern Fried SXSW, the shennanigans started at the Majestic and culminated in a great street parade complete with Georgia lanterns and 14 foot puppets. A fun time was had by all, (as you’ll soon see in the pics below) and no doubt there was a lot of great attention garnered for the region. Can’t wait to see what they get up for 2015.
Notice the classic SXSW seated pose to the right.
1st there was a bit of dancing…
Then when the lanterns came out, the party really started.
So of course we couldn’t be left out
To the streets!
We even got Wolfman Violinist in the mix.
We have one around here we call the Holiday Mailer. It’s our annual flexing of the collective brain for our brand. And while everything we do is really an exercise in branding, this end of the year project is one we look forward to. It’s a combination of highly enjoyable and maddeningly stressful, but the results are always worth it, we think.
It all begins, usually some time in October when Halloween still seems a way off, never mind the cluster of holidays in December. This year, it all started with a box. Several boxes, actually. Susan built one. So did Drew. And I’d totally show you one except you’d be deafened by the howls of these creatives wailing in agony that I posted something quite so… Rough.
Anyway – we all tested them thoughtfully and though we had been sure it was where we would begin, we ended up launching in another direction and in the end we decided to combine some rather old technology with something much, much newer.
A book, with a hidden tale behind the familiar Holiday story which would be revealed in a series of animated shorts. And in order to watch those, you’d have to whip out your phone and scan the QR code on each of the spreads in the book.
Speaking of… Ta-dah! Books.
(And speaking of process, three sets of parents were polled on exactly what the BEST shape for the book might be. Baby head circumference and parental arm length turned out to be the critical axes in the geometry calculations. I think that would make a valuable infographic, you know.)
And there were a bunch of other steps and decisions and discussions in between. Of course.
Like – we needed a hero for our hidden tale, a sort of a regular guy, but with some additional qualities…Like his own Twitter Account.
And we needed a villain, but not too much of a bad guy. Here are a few iterations for the coveted cameo.
See what we did there? Who could risk an homage to that internet super-celeb? Not us. Oh-my-goodness-no. (And she was thrilled!)
And because we can’t resist an Easter Egg, or three we hid some familiar (well, familiar to us artifacts in a couple of the spreads.) Which is a nice segue into, well, some of the spreads.
On the bedroom wall is our 2010 Holiday Mailer, the Jingle Bells Letterpress Poster .
Parents everywhere agree, you can try but you can’t keep the kid’s toys from taking over. On the side table is a View-Master, aka the 2011 Holiday Movie View-O-Rama.
Is that a set of Matryoshka dolls there on the mantle? No! Close. It’s just us reaching back in time to the 2008 Holiday Mailer.
Final spread just for fun.
And if you’d like to watch the tale within the tale – here you go!
Of course, just getting the animations completed and a website built and a book published were not the full list of steps from concept to completion. Oh no.
The final step of the Holiday Mailer Decathalon is… The assembly and mailing!
Always a mad dash to the finish. We started out with an accompaniment of Christmas Carols, but around the half-way mark we needed Bob crooning “Everything’s gonna be all right” to help us hold it together.
And we made kids everywhere proud with our level of commitment to the packaging process, neatness be damned.
Stop in the name of love? Sorry – there’s no time.
So. Many. Glue. Dots. Did I really cut those out individually when a strip of three would have been more humane? I did. It’s a long story. Not quite as long as the amount of time it took to peel off all those little squares of paper though. It was a mistake. I apologized. A lot.
And one final Easter Egg for you for making it the whole way through this long blog post – and it comes with a warning – Brace! Your! Ears! And test your reflexes!
Someone at the office has the high score – but it sure as heck isn’t me.
I woke early on the morning of April 27, 1994. I’d been up late with friends, celebrating the life of photojournalist Ken Oosterbroek who had been shot just 9 days before in Thokoza. I was tired, and hung over, but I meant to vote in South Africa’s first democratic election, and I figured I should probably get there early.
I knew the polling station was near to the garden cottage I rented, a church. I wasn’t sure of the exact location, but I didn’t bother with my contact lenses, just grabbed my green ID book, and walked down the street until I found the back of the line.
I was sure I’d be done in a few hours and I’d get back to bed It was around 5am. But there we stood. Shuffling slowly forward. In front of me, a black woman, a live-in maid, dressed in the uniform so many wore, a neatly pressed pastel-colored house dress, with matching head scarf and a white apron over the top.
We stood for a long time. A very long time. Turned out we were miles from the church, or kilometres, we did things metric, you know. She kept my place when I went home midmorning to get sunglasses and contacts. I kept hers when she home to serve lunch.
By late afternoon, we were finally snaking around the building. And we could see people coming out, many having voted for the first time in their lives, singing, dancing.
Eleven hours in a line to vote. Many waited longer, had to come back the next day, the day after that. Close to 90% of the population showed up to cast their ballot over those three days in April.
I was at an event last night, and as the lone South African in the room, I had a lot of conversations about Mandela. Mostly I told people how it felt that he had pulled off an absolute miracle at the time. For all of us. That it still does. A largely peaceful transition of power from oppressor to oppressed. Amazing.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Indeed. Words to live by. This extraordinary man will be deeply missed I do not think the world shall see his like for many, many years.
Hamba kakuhle, Madiba. Go well.