(L-R) Joshua Tan, Willie Lee, Daniel Martin.


Daniel
: It’s trending right here on CNA938, I’m Daniel Martin and thank you for joining in today.

How many of you are fans of the animated world? I love seeing those commercials which just blow you away with some of those crazy graphics and of course production value. We’re learning more about what goes into the seamless storytelling of things like visual effects, 3D animation and more.

CraveFX was started from a “want to achieve the impossible” attitude. The goal of the studio? Creating and fulfilling every desire, world, character, object and reality that the mind can summon. Want to learn more about this idea of storytelling with visual effects? Join me on today’s edition with Joshua Tan and Willie Lee.

Willie is the Founder and Managing Director of Big 3 Group and Joshua is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of CraveFX. Gentlemen, welcome and thank you for being here. You guys have worked on campaigns, advertisements, animated shorts, and things like that. You must have a very different definition of storytelling compared to “traditional filmmakers”.

Willie: I think the definition of storytelling isn’t too different for animators or filmmakers, as it’s still the process of trying to tell a story, right? And I think the kinds of mediums you use, whether it’s animation, film, the whole goal is to really be able to communicate the activity, or the characters within an event and of course having an arch – I think that’s the whole premise of storytelling. There’s not much of a difference, I suppose.

Maybe it could be the interest in the medium, that could be something different.  For example, some people like animation, some people like fantasy, some people like reality. I think that’s really up to the taste of the audience. But the mechanisms and processes of storytelling is actually the same.

Daniel: So the fundamentals must stay the same, but you may have more tools in your belt that you can play with and it allows you to do different things.

Joshua, tell me about that. I mean, how does storytelling work, from an FX point of view?

Joshua: Basically, when we tell a story, we need to take a lot of things into account. We need to think about what the story needs to achieve so usually when we create a video, we think about three things: first, we need to engage the audience, we need to educate them, and last but most importantly, we need to entertain them. Because when you’re talking about creating short videos for clients, be it explainer videos, product videos etc., nowadays we’re being bombarded by so many videos on social media, you need to capture their attention on a very short span.

For example, for a 15 second or 30 second ad roll, you need to be able to tell a story within a shorter time span. And if you talk about using animation, visual effects to support and supplement that, the goal is usually to be able to tell a story that’s compelling and stands out. And the reason we use visual effects is to create things that you can’t actually film or shoot in real life. So, that gives us the leeway to create any visuals that is possibly engaging for the audience to absorb.

Daniel: That’s a good point about the time and situation. How do you have the fundamentals of storytelling in 5 seconds? It still comes through, though being challenging as well, so I wanted to follow up on this idea – HOW do you tell a story? I noticed particularly when it comes to social videos, the idea that there tends to be a copy and paste method to it. There was one point where everybody was doing a hand-drawn version of their videos – they would draw a storyline and that became a 5 second video. How many ways are there to tell a story?

Joshua: if you’re talking about animated videos, there are actually possibilities that are pretty much infinite. Because you can do 2D animation, 3D animation, create motion graphics and even use visual effects.  In today’s day and age, we have immersive experiences such as VR, AR, as well as 360 videos. So, I wouldn’t say there’s a specific number of possibilities. At the end of the day, the possibilities are only growing as technology grows more advanced.  The goal is still the same – to capture the audience’s attention, to tell them a story, and for companies to sell their brand or products.

Daniel: So speaking of that actually, Willie, do you think there is a copy and paste attitude? Do clients sometimes say, “Oh I want it just like that one – it garnered so many views, so I want mine to look like that.”

Willie: Definitely. I suppose sometimes people have no idea how they want to communicate a message and they really need inspiration, so definitely they would refer to what already exists out there, and they’ll say – “Ah, I like this style. I like this taste.”

Daniel: That’s fine, to draw inspiration or reference from something, right? It gives you, the producers, the animators maybe, a sharper view of what you want.

Willie: Of course. I think it’s more on the risk-taking nature of society as well if you’re willing to explore something new. If you’re willing to take the risk of being able to attract your audience, or being a total flop. I think this is something that people are trying to weigh, and with the successful familiar formats, it’s something that people are able to consume much easier, so I suppose people will definitely gravitate towards those kinds of mediums as well.

One thing that was commonly pointed out are listicles. Everyone’s going “10 types of people” and believe it or not, there’s still such kinds of content online!

The mechanisms of that is to prime the audience that you are going to be committing to that specific medium over a period of time. Because you’re telling them, “I’ve only got 10 points to share, essentially, after these 10 points, that’s it. This is how much you’re going to consume.” and we can kind of predict the number of times you’re spending on that medium.

Daniel: That’s interesting – there’s some kind of psychology behind it. “All I can afford to commit is that amount of time, guys, I don’t want anything more than that.” So the audience is more likely to click on your video and watch it.

Willie: Speaking for example, short videos – how do you tell stories? And more importantly, how do I get people to watch it? Well, commit to the medium. Because in Facebook you’re just going to be scrolling up so quickly, how do I know if I want to invest my time to look at your content? And sometimes what people are doing right now are having interesting copywriting at the front, and then in the first three seconds of the video, it’s going to be that full payoff. And now these intros are actually much, much shorter. They’re almost only three seconds long!

Daniel: This is worrying to me because does it also mean attention spans are shorter. “Because I need the info up front, don’t try and give me any kind of creative storytelling.”

Willie: You’re absolutely right. I think as we go along, people are actually compartmentalising the time they’ll be consuming media. For example, some people don’t mind a very long intro, but they all consume media like Netflix and Toggle. These mediums have longer intros. But for social media platforms like Facebook or YouTube, the content is condensed into 3 minutes or sometimes even 5 to 10 seconds. People just want to know really quickly, “Am I going to invest my time watching this?”

Daniel: Joshua, is this frustrating for the creative?

Joshua: Yes. One thing that really irks me is the client coming to us and saying, “I want a viral video”. Basically what they really want is to be able to capture a specific number of views to make sure that their KPIs are met.

At the end of the day, they’re not creating a video out of creative passion, they’re creating videos because they believe that these videos will be able to help them market what they need to sell. Unfortunately, filmmaking and animation aren’t pure science, they aren’t engineering. It doesn’t mean that if you pay a certain amount of money, you’ll get a certain result.

Daniel: You were saying that there is no blueprint to create a viral video, but having said that, is there something happening today in terms of what tends to go viral? Have we put our finger on that today?

Willie: That’s a really tough question, but we do have the usual suspects. People want the extreme. People want something that’s either really extreme to escape reality, or people want something very, very familiar to them. I think these are the two contrasts that sometimes make things go viral. For example, the extreme would be something shocking or grotesque. People usually don’t see that kind of content as it’s not really accessible, and those tend to go really viral! Another extreme form that isn’t grotesque would be something really cute – cat videos do really well online.

People easily binge watch those videos and try to emulate those cutesy videos, like Baby Shark. But exactly how something becomes viral, sometimes it’s a little difficult to tell. But you can sort of get clues to the kinds of content that have the potential to go viral.

Daniel: Because it’s about what’s popular right now, right? You have to know what people are responding to right now. And the truth of the matter is, especially in the world of social, it could be passé in two months. So, is it a “doing it while it’s hot” kind of situation?

Willie: There are two ways – either you are the trend, or you follow the trend and ride on what is happening right now. For example, Gangnam style, where people started to make various versions of it – people tried to ride on that trend. But you could actually be that Gangnam style! But of course it depends if you’re willing to take that risk to put yourself out there. And I think that is a product of a person’s character and society. It’s all about taking that kind of risk to invest into something fresh, and putting yourself out there to be responsible for that kind of content.

Daniel: And whether it makes sense to their brand as well, right? They can’t step outside the box too much.

Willie: It’s something we have to deal with within the constraints of their brand. Sometimes clients provide references and ask us, “can you make this kind of video?” and that hesitation could be due to the fact that they don’t want to deviate too much from their brand or they want to know whether the video or media is able to reach a certain level of effectiveness.

And because of that, they would therefore go for something that’s already proven to work. But what really happens is that sometimes investing in something risky gives you a far better pay off in return.

Daniel: That’s a lesson that sometimes is a bit hard for people to learn, especially marketeers. But I think it’s a good message to put out there.

Joshua, what is hyperrealism and why are people looking for it today?

Joshua: The goal of hyperrealism is to create believable content together with visuals. Both of them actually go hand in hand. So when you talk about creating believable visuals using visual effects, the goal is to blur the line between fantasy and reality, so you don’t know where fantasy ends and where reality starts.

An example would be this advertisement we previously did with Big 3 Media to promote a condominium. The goal was to show a happy family stepping out onto the balcony to be able to see a beautiful view in front of them. But the thing is before you can sell a condominium, you need to market it first before the actual building is built. All we had was a showroom, and the “balcony” was just facing a white wall! So, this is where we put in the visual effects and magic to create a landscape in front of it. What we staged photographs, shot the talent in front of a green screen, staged them on the balcony and created visuals for the audience to see. So what we’re doing is actually recreating reality, although it was something that didn’t exist at the time. And this was something that had to be believable because there was an audience that would be buying.

Daniel: So what were the factors that went in to make it more believable?

Joshua: Mostly technical factors. It boiled down to camera positioning, lighting, and whatever you put into the background should match the lighting within the scene itself. And also, the way you compose a scene and edit your video is also very important.

Willie: Speaking of that project, I remember I was directing that! And there were indeed special considerations. What Joshua was saying was on the area of visual believability.

We also needed to make sure the context and content was believable as well. For instance, you can’t just insert a random peacock in there… even for the actors, we had to make the family look believable as they were playing. As much as visuals need to be believable, I think context and content is equally as important as well.

Daniel: That’s true! I have another question I’ve been meaning to ask you guys as well. What is gamification of film and animation all about?

Willie: What we’re seeing is that people want to be more invested into the media and people want to make choices within it. So, games allow an audience to actually participate in a story. For example, there’s a zombie game called “The Last of Us” where people had moral dilemmas when it came to making choices. The game also shows you statistics of the results, as people are curious to know whether they fall into the same statistics as the average person.

Joshua: On Netflix, there’s this show called Bandersnatch, part of this series called Black Mirror, where viewers are allowed to make decisions for the protagonist. Sometimes it even falls all the way down to mundane actions to what kind of cereal the protagonist chooses – which impacts the way the story goes. So there’s a social aspect to it as well, because people want to find out the kinds of choices others have made and the kinds of endings there are.

Daniel: Is this a trend that you guys are going to incorporate?

Joshua: Yes, in fact we have done a “choose your adventure” game for MOE. What we did up was a video that would educate children about museum etiquette on their learning platform.

Daniel: So fascinating! For the average layperson, we actually have no idea what you guys do. So to hear more about it and how it’s done, gives us a greater understanding. This has been Willie Lee, Founder of Big 3 Media, and Joshua Tan, Co-founder of CraveFX, with us today.