Hovering Lights

001_000 – Intro Breakdown.

April 30, 2015

Since Hovering Lights is kind of an episodic story, with scenes taking place across several different dates and times, I wanted to make them clear to the audience while avoiding “one week later” letterings. Each clip’s length is limited to 15 seconds, so cards between them aren’t that bad. For these timestamp cards I wanted something sci-fi looking but not full-blown sci-fi otherwise it wouldn’t match the amateur side of shooting with a phone. All the work was done in After Effects without any third-party plugins.

Good references were the beginning and ending of Cloverfield, where we can see some classified-looking cards, as the tape was collected and archived for future research.

Luckily for me, on the week I had to create these I started watching Knights of Sidonia on Netflix and its colorless palette caught my attention. Everything is kind of black or white – not many grey midtones – while not too white-clean. I can’t explain the look very well, so just check the trailer below. It’s futuristic, has to do with aliens and space and at the same time tells a very personal story instead of just focusing on combat.

And the luck I mentioned is related to how they present the episode’s number and title.

Looks and feels sci-fi, not heavy handed as Plexus, and yet very mundane, like Black Mirror‘s title card (which I absolutely love).

If something works, mix it up and test it out. I liked Black Mirror’s blinking, while the crosses and general shape from Knights of Sidonia were a good layout, the result was this, where almost every single element was hand-keyframed since it’s so fast. On the final design I’ll have a dirty glass overlay on top of some areas and background that isn’t 100% black or static, looks good, but not totally done yet, and I didn’t want to spoil it completely by posting here (the GIF turned out pretty heavy, as an even stronger reason towards the simplified version below).

For the other text elements (intro and credits), I still wanted to keep that feeling, so no other colors, while adding the whole redacted-state-secret idea. Cloverfield was one of the starting points, but Watch Dogs had some pretty neat motion graphics that relate to the same idea, in more of a techy and dynamic way (one of my other reel pitches was strongly based on Watch Dogs, since we mentioned it).

There are several tutorials and templates on how to achieve that effect, but I had a lot more text than those examples and I didn’t want the whole flickering nor that much glitching on the text since it’s gonna be very quick on the screen and people still have to read it.

The idea around the white blocks over a black background – instead of the traditional black lines over white paper, from printed media and real redacted documents – comes from the thought that the audience might not want to be completely blind by staring at a full-white screen with blinking stuff on it. Also, the movement to reveal and cover the names is like peaking briefly into that information, unlike Watch Dogs where the information is being revealed for good.

I still kept some of Black Mirror’s blinkiness to switch the the words on, combined with expressions to randomize the intensity and characters that blink on each frame. The white lines are masks and mattes combined with the text. Doing these animated titles instead of simple cards was only possible because of my After Effects and motion graphics background back in Brazil. Each section (intro, timestamps and ending credits) took me about a day to set up, and a couple more days to fine tune, organize and adjust everything in a way that changes and fixes can be made quickly and in a civilized manner.