Creating a Catastrophe

One of our major practice areas at The Iona Group is producing video.  We produce a wide variety of types of video – high energy marketing, training, corporate, museum interpretation, etc.  Some of these productions require professional actors and many feature celebrities.  We have shot Jeff Gordon, George Lucas, Albert Pujols and many others.  We have also shot others less gifted on camera . . . scene 1, take 32.  In working with actors there are always budget limits that have to be considered in casting, talent fees, set design, location selection, length of shoots, etc.  No matter what the budget, our goal is to try to create an end product that is as great as possible.

While YouTube video has certainly changed the perception of what level of production value people consider acceptable, there are still several projects that require a higher level of talent, lighting, audio, editing, etc. to convey the right messages to the target audiences.

Recently we had a training project that needed to really make the audience squirm in their seats.  The client’s goal was to create a catastrophe scenario that would be used to train response coordinators.  While the training incident selected is truly “catastrophic,” it also is something that could happen tomorrow.  To convey this in a credible manner, the client elected to have us build a series of five newscast clips that would show how the situation evolved over a 6 month period.

The budget was such that we needed to keep the production local and use a green screen rather than buy or rent numerous props to create a news set. We purchased graphics that allowed us to build a virtual news set that looked quite real.  The next challenge was to find someone who could be a believable news person but also act well enough to convey the emotion behind this once-in -a- lifetime story.  We went to local theater departments, social media sites and contacted actors we had used in the past to see if they had any suggestions.  After the usual screening, we came down to a candidate who looked and sounded like a broadcaster but would need some direction to convey the emotion of the scenes in question.

We furnished the final script to the actor in plenty of time for him to become familiar with it and identify any awkward wording or questions on pronunciation in advance.  We also planned the wardrobe needed for all scenes and checked to make sure that camera friendly options would be available. On the day of the shoot, we had one person direct the acting while another followed the script and made sure that the dialogue was correct. In a training video, it is important to follow the script.

The set had been put together the day before and all lighting and audio equipment was ready to go first thing in the morning.  We used experienced staff in all production roles so there were no mistakes and adjustments were quickly made. If at all possible, start as early as you can in case problems come up.  Our actor did a good job of responding to direction and we were able to get him on the right path for every scene quickly.  Using a teleprompter helped matters but since it was a newscast, it was believable.

The shoot went well we were done ahead of schedule.  Several graphics had been planned in advance and when they were added, they helped create newscast credibility.  Adding “shaky cam” augmented video from the scene of the catastrophe added great realism without incurring the cost of high end animation.

After editing and adding all of the special effects, we wound up with a product that was on time, on budget and our battle hardened staff squirmed in their seats when we aired “the catastrophe” at a production meeting.

Sad to See Them Go

From left – Alex Miner, Aaron Ingles, Leigh Null, Adam Bockler and Matt Vroman

We had a great group of interns this year at The Iona Group.  I’ve worked at some places where the interns were basically ignored and had to hunt around for things to do.  That wasn’t the case for this crew.  Every one of them got thrown directly in to real projects and were asked to do things they had never done before.  To a man (and woman) they all responded by digging right in, figuring out what needed to be done and making a strong contribution.

Suspect that many of these smiles are from the prospect of getting a chance to relax by getting back to just school. This picture was taken at the Iona Bistro in front of our building and I’m proud of that fact that I can barely see B.J. Aberle in the reflection over Leigh’s right shoulder as he was taking this shot.

links for 2011-07-29


links for 2011-07-22


D2WC 2011 – Second Time, Twice as Nice!

I just got back from D2WC, the Design and Development Workflow Conference. It’s hosted in Kansas City by Dee Sadler. This was the second time around for the conference and it didn’t fail to impress me yet again. Dee puts together a well executed conference with a great assortment of speakers. The venue was the Crowne Plaza hotel, conveniently located by the Power and Light District, a virtual cornucopia of bars, restaurants and nightlife spots.

D2WC Logo

I got in to town on Thursday, just before dinnertime. I drove with my friend Matt Forcum, and a new friend, Mark DuBois. Mark is a very knowledgeable web designer and instructor. He is heavily involved with the local community of web designers, and also the community at large. It was great to finally meet him in person.

The first day of the event was kicked off by Adobe’s Paul Trani, Steve Withington from Mura and Mark Drew from Railo. All are good speakers and had good content, but I have to admit I was expecting something less about tools and products and more about state of the industry or a broader topic. Not a slam on any of them per se at all, just a minor programming nit, IMHO. I spoke immediately following the keynote and presented my topic, “Is Mobile for Me, What Skills Do I Need?”, I’m sharing the presentation here, along with some more information on it. I think the reception overall was pretty good and got quite a few questions at the end, so that was great!

Next up was “Developers – The Most Critical Designers on Your Project” by David Ortinau. David’s presentation was well organized and loaded with useful anecdotes anchored around some very well researched quotes and stats. Great content overall and full of useful tips for developers as to why design truly matters and how to begin integrating design practices into your development workflow. I had a chance to talk quite a bit with David at the conference. I’m looking forward to seeing more of his work in the future.

We then broke for lunch, with the groups, Mobile, Designers and Developers hitting the road to do a Birds of a Feather talk off site. First event I’ve been to that did that, but I have to admit, I kind of liked it. It was cool to get out of the space for a bit and even though it was hot, stretch our legs. Good conversation, and food, too. Tough to beat.

I had a phone call to make, so, I missed a bit of JP Revel’s talk on JQuery, but when I walked in, it was clear he had hit a nerve…He was getting a lot of questions and there was a conversation going on about what he had presented. Engagement is a good thing in presenting, and it looked like he had it.

Paul Trani, Ben Stucki and Jesse Freeman were some highlights from the rest of the day… All in all a solid way to start off the conference! Since we were in Kansas City, I went to visit one of my favorite breweries, Boulevard Brewing Co. The tour was fantastic, and the tasting room was really nice! They had a test beer there that I hope they add to the Smokestack series, a nice caramel-y Belgian Dubbel called Nommo. After sharing dinner with some of the best and brightest in the Flash and Flex world at Jack Stack, I called it a day. We had a lot to cover the next day after all.

The second day, I started out in Jim Babbage‘s session on Prototyping using Fireworks. Fireworks is one of those tools that I know I should use, but I just can’t seem to get into it. Jim obviously knows it pretty well, so it was cool to see a bit more about what you can do with it. That said, I was looking for a bit more on actual prototyping tips, rather than a how to use Fireworks session. Overall though, good content!

After Jim’s session, it was off tot he 28th floor to see Chris Griffith talk on “Developing Compelling User Interfaces”. He provided a wealth of tips, tricks and user interface conventions you should consider in your next mobile app. Nice rounding out of the concept overall, and the crowd seemed to agree by an large as well.  Chris has been building quite a little app catalog for himself, creating a lot of conference apps for multiple platforms. Very cool work, by the way.

Then, it was back to the LL, developer track to see Aaron Pederson and James Polanco present “Jumping Alligators: The Pitfalls of Project Planning”. This was a great presentation, focusing on the nuts and bolts on how to put together the early planning stages of a medium to large scale development effort. Their deck was awesome by the way, with images taken straight from the Activision classic dash and grab, Pitfall. These two are amongst my favorite presenters to see, I just love their chemistry. Funny, smart guys who really know their stuff. Great topic, shown by people who know what they are talking about. I didn’t get a chance to talk to them about their presentation that much afterward, so I didn’t get to ask them about if they’ve had success in setting up a “discovery phase” project to iron out technical or prototyping issues and get paid for it, rather than cramming it into the estimating portion of selling the work. We got a chance to talk a bit of Drupal, though, so that was cool.

Lunch followed at the Raglan Road Irish pub, with some great conversation about enterprise level Flash and Flex development. It’s conversations like that that make conferences so worthwhile to me. Talking shop in an informal setting, just being open and having a real connection with the others you are with.

Post lunch, I re-caffeinated and headed back to see Seb Lee-Delisle present al-fresco, basically with no deck. He interacted with the crowd, taking a lot of questions and using his twitter stream as a conversation starter. Seb is known by most as a top-notch Flash designer, building games, visualizations and wicked cool particle effects. Seb was mostly talking about his recent forays into HTML5 and JS, so this is a new forum for him and a new creative coding outlet. His work in that space is impressive, and he’s been touring to teach others how to use particles and WebGL in their web design work. Things got a little hot in the room due to the passion about the HTML vs. Flash debate, but overall things stayed very civil and full of insight.

After the Seb show, it it was time to go see Dave Hogue offer his “It’s OK to Throw It Away: Prototypes as a Collaboration Tool” presentation up. Dave is a super sharp user experience designer and project lead, and his expertise is so clear in the way he speaks. He offered up real world examples on how to successfully prototype, not just some canned prefab examples. This was a nice change from a lot of the other presenters showing non-descript tutorial like samples. Good show Dave!

I have to admit it was getting to be a long day, so but I managed to troop on… Headed back up the elevator to go see Rob Rusher present on “Simple and Usable”. He provided some no-nonsense tips on how to remove the non-essentials from your mobile design. No major revelations here, just solid advice from a veteran. Good stuff overall and well worth the time.

That was the final concurrent session, with the finale of the conference taking place downstairs. Tom Green and Jim Babbage hammed it up with plenty of jokes and loud shirts, showing how to take a design from one end of the Creative Suite to the other. Good demo from some peeps that definitely know how to use the products.

The conference closed with some great giveaways and Leif Wells and Mike Labriola just cracking everyone up. All in all another fantastic community created event, all made possible be Dee. Thanks Dee for a great event, you really are a vital part of this community. Thanks for letting me be a part of it!


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