People are used to consuming creative products in all their different forms: be they Instagram photos, music or the latest Netflix binge-fest. What isn’t put under the spotlight in quite the same way is the creative process behind those things. At Simply Thrilled, we’re wicked into creative thinking and in this series we dig into the creative processes and techniques which help a bunch of entrepreneurs and creatives of all backgrounds do what they do best. All images © Digital Finch
Hey Victoria, thank you for your time...Whatever you create, how do you create it?
We do have a methodology in place that we always stick to. It sounds boring for creative projects, but going through a process helps you, otherwise, you'll just end up floundering for ages or coming up with things that aren't realistic. For client projects we like to think of cool ideas even if it's a boring company on the surface. We think of a cool idea and then we think about how it could be quite different here or there. We have to think about what’s different but still reasonable to put in the video. We generally start from a script to get out a decent story, so that we know what’s happening, and it’s only when you’ve got the script for the story super bottomed out that we rationally rethink about the visuals. Generally, I'm trying to think of that as a secondary part.
Also, if the script tells us how long it's going to be it can give us an idea. For example, if something is cool and conceptual, it's not going to last for 4 minutes unless you have all the time in the world. With a 30-second idea you can make it quite mad if you want to because it's only 30 seconds and most people will probably watch till the end. If it’s too crazy and 4 minutes long then nobody’s going to watch that till the end. There’s no point in creating a video that no one wants to watch.
How does that work materialise?
Well, after we get the script we do quite a lot of research, even if it’s for a personal project. You have to think what's the kind of look I want? What do I want the person to feel? That's the big one. Do you want them to feel excited? Or do you want them to feel very calm? Because all this can dictate the drawing style as well.
Another good place to start is a mind map. It seems old school but doing a mind map exploring keywords or keyphrases can help give you ideas. Generally, I will look at it on a sentence by sentence, granular level and ask what exactly am I going to see at this point? And then in the next sentence, what exactly are we going to say at this point? How is the first scene connected to the next scene? Are we going to have a cool transition because there's a journey, or is it more filmic where you would just want to cut? Sometimes, a client might want it to be more emotional and filmic and that’s where you’d end up with a video with more realistic scenes, more gentle pans or cuts. So the actual animation would be super refined, as there’s not loads of twirling and crazy stuff going on or big figures or things because that would completely take you out of it. Often that’s the way adverts do it, whereas business videos are different. They often have a cool transition to help guide you through the story and they don’t want everyone to be super-emotional. They just want to explain what they’re doing, so there’s quite a big difference. No one even thinks about the transitions but if they're done well you don't even notice them. It potentially takes a lot to plan but if the audience doesn't notice then that's the best thing.
Say Netflix got in touch and wanted six animated feature films, but you’ve only got an hour to pitch them and it’s at 9 am tomorrow, how would you kick off that process?
That’s an interesting brief. It’s something you should always do with another person, for example, me and Harry Finch. Our roles are separate; I illustrate, and he does animation, and we’ll call each other for advice in those sections, but we can work independently. However, for this kind of project we would come up with written treatments and ideation, so we would need to do it together. To be honest, I would have a bigger team for that. I often ask my mum as she is very creative, or I’d ask other people. If I’m having a crisis or if I’m stuck I’ll ask around because having input from other people helps.
Also, having a broad conversation and again making a mind map is useful. If this Netflix show was about a mouse, then I would start thinking, okay, well, what does the mouse usually do? What would be unusual for it to do? What kind of spaces does it live in? What kind of food does it eat? Could it meet someone else? Then you just keep being stupid, and eventually, something will stick, and you’ll decide to explore it a bit more and do some sketches.
My main thing would be to not to do it all by yourself. You can start by yourself, but get people's input because what you think is cool might not be universally seen as a good idea, and other people can take your idea and add a little bit more. We’re getting rid of any negatives but also adding positives by getting just a bit more feedback. We are both always looking and are interested in other designs or other ideas. If I ever have a little idea or something I just write it down on post-it notes. If I see designs that I like, or I just see something nice in the street, like I'm always taking photos as well. I’m always on the lookout for inspiration.
I always find myself walking in a circle counterclockwise. What patterns of behaviour do you do to promote creative thinking?
Harry and I tend to get quite animated. Both of us are quite dynamic when we’re talking, and we’re usually just sitting on the sofa together or in the studio. Harry gets up, but I’ll stay on the sofa or at the desk, I’m not that active. Although, we do keep handy notebooks everywhere.
What’s the last creative problem you solved?
Well, there’s this client project and it’s quite a tough one, but to be honest, this happens regularly. In a nutshell, it’s a technology company which sells some really ugly looking software and just showing the software isn't going to sell it. We also have to explain what the software does and figure out what's going to sell it. Often, they’re targeting random business people who just want to get the job done. So, we had the idea of creating an animation, which is like a complex sale, but also a complex sale with nothing to see. You have to use metaphors and bold and unusual imagery, and if it works right and it’s animated well then you understand what you’re looking at. If you just saw a frame of it you’d be like how is that a software video? We used the metaphor of squares as negatives and the hero shape as a triangle. We also used heroic colours and what you deem to be the negative colour of the video. There’s a lot of contrast between the shapes and colours. It doesn't have any character animation in it, it's just a story of shapes. Essentially, you receive very few real scenes, but the viewer knows exactly what they’re looking at when you input the message the way the message needs to be interoperated. I love character videos, though some can be expensive because to make a nice one you have to spend a lot of time on it, and sometimes people don't want that character emotion, they just want a more business-forward message.
In terms of inspiration, do you look in the usual places such as reference videos or animation on Netflix, or do you look elsewhere?
I have an arty background from university and that’s all I’ve ever done. There’s a lot of stuff throughout the whole 20th century that can be helpful. It doesn’t have to be the latest, though we definitely both follow the latest. Vimeo is one of my favourite places if I need a good quick reference. So, there’s stuff like that and a lot of older stuff too. There are all kinds of different print art or geometric art, and from the 30s, when it kind of started, to the 60s, the video was once quite geometric. I like the 60’s and 70’s so if I can stick that in any potential way then I will.
Cheers for your time Victoria! Why not check out some of Digital Finch's work at:
[Edited for clarity and brevity by Esme Johnson.]