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Watch Party: How Memes Inspired a Newsela Campaign for Teachers

newsela animated video production companies ad

Watch Party is a Q&A style interview series where we discuss a recent Demo Duck video production with the team that brought it to life.

Meet the Team

Cody Benefiel is a Senior Producer, Chris Reynolds is a Senior Writer, Ossian Mendoza is a Senior Art Director and Nick Roth is an Editor/Director here at Demo Duck. We gathered 'round to watch the Newsela video series, and chat about how it all came together.

Let's begin.

Is it true that this concept was born out of some super relatable internet-famous memes?

Cody: Our client, Newsela, wanted to create a digital video production series for the start of the school year. They came to us with the idea of using existing internet-famous memes that communicate the overwhelming feeling of being a teacher. We knew licensing those memes would be outside the budget, but we immediately loved the idea, and thought, okay, we can do this same kind of expressiveness with custom work of our own, using these memes as inspiration.

Ossian: Yeah, so the concept we came back to them with was called Doodle Characters. I was thinking about some kind of way that we could translate these memes into our medium. And obviously, doodle animations was one of the first things that came to mind. They're pretty popular on social media. There’s a whole subreddit called r/reallifedoodles. I'm sure we’ve all seen those cute little clips of buildings falling apart with animated eyes and arms added to them. There's tons of them. Production-wise, it was also a practical idea: Easy to do, funny, super relatable. It was a no-brainer.

newsela animated video production pitch art
Newsela commercial video production pitch

What challenges did you come across when mapping the broad appeal of memes onto an educational video production?

Chris: Memes in general are all about tapping into a singular emotion. And so for all of these scenes we ended up creating for this campaign, we tried to tap into a singular emotion. 

However, there’s the universal feeling of being overwhelmed, and then there’s the more specific feeling of being overwhelmed by 30 students, when last year there were 25. We had to figure out how to resonate with that teacher in Poughkeepsie who's feeling that. 

The one that does that best is the coffee cup. The voiceover set up and the art direction styling of the shot puts the audience in a classroom setting, but anyone anywhere can relate to the feeling of literally feeling like you’re overflowing with too much responsibility at work.

newsela commercial video gif

Take me behind the scenes. How did you make some of these inanimate objects—like the pencils—move in the frame? 

Nick: It was strings and compositing for everything. We got fishing wire and Cody and Bailey pulled the strings down for the magnet scene. Initially we had discussed camera movements in some of these, but then we started thinking about the logistics like compositing. Keeping the shot locked off was the right call. Then we could take a still frame or a plate of the scenario and use that to paint out the string. Our Gaffer, Jonathan Lopez, lit the scene so well and so evenly, which is so important in commercial video production, that we were able to take the plate and then create a mask around the string and then voilà! Movie magic.

Ossian: We also thought, for a very quick second about doing stop-motion, but obviously that would’ve been extremely challenging and also not really in line with the doodle style we pitched, which uses live footage. That's one of the reasons we used a lot of wiring and practical effects. 

Nick: The pencil one was the most difficult, actually. We had two people on either side pulling a pencil. There was natural window light in the back, which we didn't really think about, but that shifted over time. So then the plate was a little messed up, and required key framing and color correction to fix. 

Ossian: Yeah, the globe was also kind of tricky because we needed to stop the spinning at a very specific point and we didn't want it to spin too fast or too slow. Chris did a good job with that one. He was the puppet master on that one.

Chris: Yes, I love being the puppet master and I enjoyed working on set.

Then what? You added the doodles in post-production?

Ossian: Yeah, we actually had a live feed on set where Rohan, our animator, could be there with us remotely to make sure he could actually animate on top of the objects and the movement of the objects. For the one with the globe, we wanted to figure out where to place the books so he could figure out where the arms would be reaching when the globe was spinning. There were a couple little details like that. We just wanted to make sure the footage we got would work well with the doodle animations. I think having him remote-in to the shoot day made post-production go really smoothly. 

Written by Kelsie Ozamiz
Kelsie is a Creative Lead at Demo Duck, a Chicago-based video production company. She owns too many fanny packs. She asks that her friends and family stop buying her fanny packs. Follow Demo Duck on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.