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Random House Worlds

JANUARY 23, 2012

Last spring I was contacted by Paolo Pepe and Dave Stevenson at Random House to see if I would be willing to try to design a new motion logo for Random House Worlds, a new division of Random House focused on multimedia and transmedia (ie "new media"  publishing and entertainment.
Of course I said yes. I have to admit I wasn't really aware of what a monumental amount of work this would entail. I had done the artwork for motion logos before, but in those cases (Dreamworks, and an unused logo for Universal) the art was composited together by animators at ILM. This time I was going to do the whole thing myself.
The original "legacy" static logo

Random House has had the same "static" logo for a long time, though it has gone through countless versions, it is always essentially the same little house. My original direction was to try to do something cool incorporating the house...
an early storyboard, starting inside the house

another storyboard

I started by doing storyboards. I developed several directions, most of which entailed a journey either beginning or ending in the house. These ideas were pretty complicated, but I decided to deal with the technical problems after a sequence was approved.
Because there was no logo for the new division yet, my ideas were having trouble getting approved-because they focused on the house and there was a desire for the new division's identity to be less centered on the old "house" logo- though it needed to be incorporated into the new art.  Eventually the decision was made to design a logotype in house, in part so that I would have a clearer idea of where to take the video. Once I had that in hand, my brief changed- I had to make something that ended with the new logo.
The new logo of Random House Worlds. This logo was designed in-house at Random House and I now had to incorporate it into the new motion logo.

A painting intended to ba a background plate for an anamatic. I did this in my class as a demo. In the end, I wound up using the planet from this demo as the base of the final animation. The curvature of the planet is not a mathematical curve, but was drawn with a string and a pencil...while lending a rustic touch to the video, this off-axis curve caused all kinds of problems to animate. It's the results that count.

Once I began working on the final film, I started to deal with the technical problems of making the movie. I created many of these problems myself, so I had to make my own solutions- because I did not want the final product to look computer generated. I decided to make all the visual components in analog form- paintings and models- and to film and composite it all digitally.
I  started by building a model of the original Random Hose "house" logo-- complete with lights - out of gatorboard.
a little random house. About 20 inches high.

I painted a background sky in oil and photographed it. I made a 600 layer (at cinema quality) photoshop file of still frames of the house. I shot one photo of the house, composited it in front of the sky,  and then adjusted the color tempreature and the background frame by frame going upward.
background sky painting behind house model.

frame-by-frame adjusting the sky and house in photoshop

The planet created many technical challenges. I painted the surface of the planet onto a 40x40 inch plexiglass skylight in acrylics. I then scratched away the places where I wanted lights to show through. I then mounted the skylight onto a base into which I cut a hole and mounted a light. which could make the cities light up.
Planet painting being photographed

I then shot numerous hd video tests where I rotated the entire assembly on a fluid head tripod...kind of a primitive reverse motion control. It didnt work as well as I hoped because of the depth of field issue which I had trouble overcoming. In retrospect I needed to do this with a higher level of light, but I couldnt get enough light through the pinholes to overcome the amount of light I needed to get the lens down to f16, which I needed to get 25 inches of depth of field. Slowly I learned how to do it. ( I think the depth of field issues in photography are relevant to illustrators who work with photography- I hope to make a follow up article on Drawger about how to make a simple test  to determine the depth of field which one's camera can achive at differnnt settings-it's useful information when shooting reference or video, especially since many cameras today lack a mechanical depth of field preview feature.)
planet surface detail, unlit

Shooting the lit planet surface. Notice the hommade follow-focus ring on the lens.

planet surface lit

at this point I made an "anamatic" video that shgowed a shorthand animation with all the elements more or less in place.

a frame of video

I worked for weeks compositing the video and got more and more frustrated, and as the deadline approached, I began to get extrememly stressed. At this point I asked my student and video autuer Grant Kolton to come over and help me out. Grant gave me some invaluable suggestions to organize the "workflow" which had become a bit crazy. Grant also suggested wrapping a still image on a shpere in after effects. We did this (in a session that was supposed to take 2 hours but took 9) and at first I thought it looked good, and at 15 minutes to midnight the day of the deadline, I sent the mixed down file (3gb with placeholder music) to the client.
I woke up in the middle of  that night in a cold sweat. I went out to the studio and watched the video and ....well,  it now looked way too smooth and CGI, and the planet moved too fast. I wrote an email to the client asking them to please not so much as look at the video, unless they had to, while I revised it. Thankfully, I got the time.
I undid much of the actual work I did with Grant on the video, but thanks to him I now had learned enough to get it to look the way I wanted. That took me another few days...but in the end it turned out right.
after effects. What does this have to do with art?

I composited the photoshop files, video and paintings in after effects.
Mixing and editing done in premiere

One reason I was excited about this project was that it gave me an opportunity to work with my son William. He composed and recorded the music for 23, 16 and 8 second versions of the logo (Though he is a cellist, here working using primarily guitar with e-bow ) . I then used Premiere to edit the music and video together.
If you double click the vimeo links the video will open larger on your browser.
This project was  a lot of work, mainly because I was on a steep learning curve- but all along had the excitement of doing something new.  In the end I think it looks pretty good...and now on to the next thing. Thanks to Paolo and Dave at Random House for thinking of me for this and for giving me the time to get it right.   I am actually now working  (again with William) on a far more complex motion logo for a different client. It's not something I want to spend all my time doing, but it's a real challenge- and I like challenges.
Technical notes: For anyone who is interested:
Software and equipment:
Adobe Photoshop cs5.51 extended
Adobe After effects cs5.5
Adobe Premiere cs5.5
Music software: Logic Pro, Eastwest sound libraries, ProTools (for eq mastering) , Adobe Audition
Camera: Canon eos5d mark2 w/ series L 104 mm lens
Plexiglass skylight: Home Depot