This is a project where we had in a group of 4 to 5 people create short movie/animation to tell the story of Glasgow high-rises using different types of media and animation in After Effect.
We launched the project by overviewing the brief and looking at different references. We then had a small workshop on the After Effects basics (simple animation with keyframes, the whole software workflow and differences from Premiere, etc).
As I said we had multiple workshops on After Effect. It was new software for some of us and just a refreshment for the others. We covered some nice tips and tricks to animate objects on the canvas. Even though I have worked with AE before it was nice to dive into again with these workshops.
After the workshops, we met with our group to discuss the direction and idea we wanted to work with for the project. On Monday we discussed our perception of this subject and as nobody was really concerned directly by the high rises (none of us lived in Glasgow at this time) we couldn't really relate to anything. Though we shared our views on the issue and compared with more familiar issues: for example, I compared how the dynamic of high rises is in France and here is different.
As the discussion carried on, we thought it would be better to do some personal research over the next days and meet back on Wednesday and/or Thursday to work on this concept and idea.
We had to think about what we wanted to cover in this movie, how we wanted to it (technically and visually) and which type of narratives we want to uses. Something classic or more abstract.
Some notes, taken during our first meeting. As the brief had a lot of parameters we thought it would be better to lay down on paper everything we had to consider for the project (subject focus, type of narrative, media, language, music, animation, aesthetics, etc..).
IDEAS / RESEARCH / REFERENCES
I started my personal research on the subject at the beginning of the week by watching some small documentaries about Glasgow around the 60s-80s. One really struck my attention, "Glasgow 1980" by Oscar Marzaroli. It shows the whole transformation and modernization of Glasgow. Though while watching, I thought it sounded almost like a sort of Propaganda movie rather than a documentary. A lot of things shown in it advertise a better and almost utopian way of living.
I read some articles and looked through Google Street view some timelines of different places and how they evolved. In fact, Google street view has this new feature where you can actually see all the pictures taken by them throughout time.
I then started to explore more the visual aesthetics of some of these high rises. Starting from the Gallowgate twin towers which architecture is quite brutalist, I searched for similar kind of architecture around the UK. I thought I could maybe find some interesting things?
I remember hearing about St Peter's seminary which isn't far from Glasgow and I could immediately link it up to some Berlin post-war architecture. And I realized this type of architecture is actually becoming more and more trendy in the arts (especially cinema and music clips).
These brutalist flat buildings are a key element of Britain's cultural heritage and are actually used quite a lot in movies, video clips, etc.
In the Scottish movie "Beats". (I don't have any visual available as I don't have a copy of the movie, but it features some of the housing conditions in the 80-90s.
In the Black Mirror movie Bandersnatch (some high rise flat yet completely refurbished, but still present to enhance the "dark" & dramatic feeling of this scene)
In this Mura Masa music video
I thought it could be interesting to explore and tell the story about Glasgow's High Rises via the arts. But I couldn't get any data on actual film being shot in Glasgow high rises. Maybe it wasn't a good idea as covering this subject would have taken way more time than 2min30.
After really trying hard to find an interesting take on the subject I realized it wasn't the right way of doing this. I should just focus on telling the simple story of those flat buildings and maybe find an original visual and aesthetic take.
So I started to do some visual research on motion graphics. I looked up for things from designers I know on Vimeo, on Instagram and some of the references in the brief overview.
And then I found something really interesting.
This animation by DIA Studio.
DIA Studio is a design studio based in New York and Geneva which is focusing on animations of text to support any type of messages etc. I thought it could be really interesting to focus our aesthetics for this project around text, embrace it and play with it.
We all came back to the studio to have a group meeting and discuss our research. We all one by one discuss our ideas and take for the project. We all kinda had read and seen the same things about Glasgow high rises. So I thought it could be nice to tell my group about the text-based aesthetics we could potentially use for this project. They all liked it and we decided quite rapidly to stick with this and develop it.
The discussion led quite quickly to an almost final concept. We decided to stick to the Gallowgate twin towers as they were quite an icon in Glasgow as pictures in Chris Leslie's documentary and also for their very recognizable design. We started to work on the storyline and what we wanted to tell with this project.
I guess while discussing altogether we agreed to adopt an abstract approach as the text visual concept is quite abstract. While talking we figured out we wanted to illustrate the cycle of the construction and demolition of buildings. So it would be separated in 3 acts, the house before the twin towers, the towers and the new housing buildings today.
some picture inspiration for the old housing
the new building replacing the actual twin tower landscape
We wrote and sketched a storyboard ahead of our tutorial so we could explain our concept with visuals. Though we had some uncertainty about the narrative parameters. Should we use full sentences, or maybe just keywords. Should we have a voice-over? or some cuts of interviews?
Some bits of research and sketches
TUTORIAL 1 (group)
We had our group tutorial with Gillian on Friday morning. We pitched the concept idea and our storyboard. We then explained the concept into more detail how we're thinking the visuals are going to be, the tower out of words etc. We showed some experiments on the perspective layout of the text. And then we asked Gillian for advice and feedback on it as well as some direction with the type of narrative we should adopt.
We discussed altogether whether or not we should put keywords or full sentences and voice over or not. We concluded we should keep a simple narrative as a lot of things will be screened. So just keywords, and no voice-over.
After the tutorial, we sat down and wrote down all the feedback from the tutorial. We cleared everything to build up our final concept, narrative type and story.
The idea was to tell the story of the Gallowgate towers with a text-based animation. These animations consisted to recreate building shapes with special alignment. Letters and words will take the shape of the building. Those text buildings will be built out of keywords telling some facts about the towers but also some quotes from people that used to live in there.
The storyline will be split into 3 acts, one focuses on the housing situation before the towers, the second part is the most important and focuses on the twin tower and the last one on the current buildings that replaced the towers.
The direction we took is very abstract as the narrative isn't really obvious and classic I guess. We're not using voice nor full sentences. We wanted to focus on strong visual animations and adapted sound score to tell the story. The 3 acts have different colors. The twin towers have a white background and the before and after have a black background. It helps to mark new eras and slightly tell the story of a utopian project supposed to be good for the population. Then the light-dark deterioration marks the start of a transition back to low buildings.
The story is quite simple. We start by showing Glasgow's typical tenement housing in the 60-70s. We animate the sequence with a demolition. The screen is emptied and is ready to welcome the next sequence. The screen turns white to mark a new era that is supposed to be utopian, the building is being animated to show the construction. Then a pause, then a sequence of loud rumble sound effects and some visual deterioration. After that, the twin towers are demolished and leave the screen. The current building replaces it and marks a new era. The idea is to show a cycling story.
We kicked off week two by meeting again to plan our production. We attributed tasks for the week in the most efficient and rewarding way we could. We tried to get everyone involved for each step of the production so everyone could learn new stuff.
Over the weekend we all looked for different stories, articles, interviews about the Gallowgate tower so we could extract some keywords. From there we split the first 2 days into curating all the keywords and getting a system of animation to work on After Effect.
Some research and prototyping for the drawing of the different buildings.
We also realized that it would be better to incorporate some photographs of the actual buildings to let the viewer know what kind of building we are illustrating. The issue having only text is that is was very subjective especially for the little house and current buildings. The tower is quite simple to draw with words but the others are way more tricky.
supporting visual for the tower
So we decided to have supporting visual next to our text illustration. We did for the towers first. The concept here is to have half of the building component in text and the other a photograph of it.
So for the first house act, we pictured a typical 1960s Glasgow house street. The first house in the foreground was the picture and we took the rest of the street perspective lines to create text lines.
Half of the house component was a picture the other was text.
We did the same with the twin towers, one was a picture the other was text. And again the same with the current building component. Half of it was the photograph and the rest was the text completing the structure of the building.
We really wanted to keep this system have visual and logical coherence throughout the movie. This visual duality is what linked everything up.
We created a Google Doc (Available here) to work on the keywords and check everything. This took 2 days to finalize. We also shared different wordings for each part.
▪built cheaply and quickly
▪accommodating the city’s growing population of industrial workers
▪conditions were appalling
▪up to eight family members sharing a room
▪thirty residents sharing a toilet
▪a place where disease thrived
▪overcrowding was standard
▪sewage and water facilities were inadequate
▪however slums were known in Glasgow for their community spirit and togetherness
▪rainwater on the floor of their home
▪rats ran freely around their beds
▪‘castles in the sky’
▪‘the new homes for the working class families of the slum clearances’
▪109 Bluevale Street
▪51 Whitevale Street
▪square plan shape
▪powerful and photogenic form
▪symbol of the post war social housing revolution
▪square identical rings stacked one upon the other
▪harsh unrelenting use of concrete, rigid geometry and uncompromising repetitive forms demonstrate that the buildings are pure examples of brutalism
▪out of date
▪source of nostalgia
▪‘stood over the East End like Samurai’
▪loved by many architects and photographers
▪loathed by residents and Glasgow City Council
▪‘as soon as one dealer moved in, that was the start of the end’
▪‘they were shooting up on the stairs, the families living here all wanted out and when other dealers moved in, it was beyond anyones control’
▪‘a scary place at night and a freezing place in the winter’
▪camlachie twin towers
Area Now? (Camlachie Region)
▪a jumbled mess of ‘nice streets and areas’ with run down post industrial landscapes.
▪large scale very cheap abundant land
▪Commonwealth Games had promised a utopia
▪‘if you let an area run down for over 30 years then people will be happy with any proposed changes rather than the current state it is in.’
▪ the area has been earmarked as a priority for regeneration
We then curated the keyword we felt relevant and interesting to put into the animation.
CREATING A SYSTEM
In parallel, we starting to create the easiest system to be able to animation our buildings with text.
I ran some experiments on after effect and photoshop and looked up the different ways I could animate this.
After a while, I realized the only way would be to have each letter as a layer. The only way of doing efficiently was in photoshop. So I created a photoshop file where I draw perspectives lines of the building and put strings of letters. I tried to animate it and it went fine.
We then had to replace each letter with the letter of the keyword we wanted to put in the animation. This was a very long process that took almost a full day.
Some prototyping of the system we created to draw and animate the buildings
While I was on the tower creation with Katie, JingJing made the first house and the current building part.
Rayhan focused solely on the sound score as it was a huge and important task only he could do. Though we discussed altogether which direction we wanted to go with the score. We had to communicate a lot towards the end of the week as the animation wasn't finished and he couldn't compose the sound with the final movie. I had to give him timings of each sequence so he could have a rough idea of the duration of each part.
After finally having our photoshop files ready with all our buildings and texts I could start to animation everything. The animation is in two parts, the build-up, and the demolition. We decided to animate the build-up by floors going upward. The demolition was more like a collapsing animation. As I referenced earlier, I really liked the letter gravity animation by DIA Studio. This is made using Newton 3 plug-in. I specially bought a student license for the plug-in.
Newton 3 plug in
There some slight issues with the render. On the tower animation, the plugin had to keyframe 800 letter layers which is apparently a huge load for it. Instead of trying indefinitely to make it work on the day and loose time I decided to render this overnight and work on other stuff during the day.
After having all the animation ready, we had to edit everything in the same sequence. I combined the 3 animation compositions into the same one and started to add the titles and some little transitions to make everything a bit smoother. When everything was put together I gave the export to Rayhan so he could adjust the sound score to the edit.
3 acts of the movie
The work we presented featured some little edit errors and typos. This was negligence from us as we rushed everything as the animation took us a lot of time. We encountered some difficulties while making the movie and it really impacted our production time. We might have been too ambitious to pursue these texts animations in such a short project but I think it wasn't too bad as we managed to tell the story of Glasgow's twin towers.
Here's the full movie.
I think the submission was indeed rushed towards the end. We didn't manage to get enough time to check everything and the way our animations were created really slowed us down sadly. So I think there's room for improvement here. Maybe a better phrasing and alignment of text in some bits as well as some transitions improvements. Also, it can be interesting to consider to make it 2m30 as requested in the brief. Yet we will have to figure out how to use these 2m30 and not make it too long.
This project was interesting as the brief was very specific. As we had to tell a specific story in our work there wasn't actually room for a lot of directions storywise. I think I really wanted to think outside of the box and didn't understand at first that we didn't really have the choice to focus solely on a rather unique story. I realized after that the way of being creative here was to find a visual concept, so we did.
It really reminded me of a potential assignment you would have in an agency. So we really focused on the concept and the visual aspect of the movie not really the subject as it was the brief itself.
I think it was also very interesting to reflect on artistic choices as a group, we had some disagreement sometimes, but overall they were all resolved in some ways and the final result was coherent.
I was quite skeptical about it at first but then as the multiple discussion went I felt there was room for something potentially interesting and good looking.
The project brief was slightly different from what we were used to, but I guess it was interesting to work with this. Though I felt quite unattached to this brief as it covered something really anchored to Glasgow's heritage. Sadly being from abroad I couldn't really identify to it, which was harder for me to really find a nice story to tell. Though it was really to know a bit more about it. We were a group for this project which was welcome on such a workload heavy and short project. Though the group size felt a bit too big. At some point of the project, not everyone had a task so they would be a bit left out.
To counter that though we tried to be as inclusive as we could and show how some stuff was made for specific tasks. Rayhan showed us the sound-making, I showed the animation making.
Despite these small challenges, we were happy with our submission!