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Watch Party: Making a Futuristic Cyberpunk Thriller for Bitdefender

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.

Grab your popcorn, because this video is a darn trip to the movies.

Tinbit Asfaw was the producer, Chris Reynolds developed the script and visual story, and Ossian Mendoza set the art direction and designed the visual style. We gathered 'round to watch the animated video they made for Bitdefender's GravityZone cybersecurity solution, and discussed how they approached creating this futuristic, immersive world. The piece recently won a 2023 Telly Award for Art Direction in a Non-Broadcast video.

Where did the inspiration for this video come from?  

Chris: We wanted to create a grand, 1980s action movie trailer for Bitdefender. Major credit goes to Ossian on this one, I believe this was his concept.

Ossian: I was playing a lot of the video game Cyberpunk 2077 at the time. And of course, I love movies like Blade Runner. I thought developing a futuristic world with technology, danger and heroes everywhere would be a perfect way to tell a cybersecurity story.

Evolution of the Bitdefender cityscape.
Evolution of the Bitdefender cityscape.

Sometimes the tradeoff for a stylized approach means that their brand and product won't always be center stage. How was pitching this concept to the client and getting them on board? 

Tinbit: We had previously produced another video for Bitdefender that used a unique storytelling narrative—a team of wolves patrolling and protecting a digital forest. As this next project was kicking off, the client told us that the first explainer video was being used as a pre-roll ad on YouTube and that a majority of viewers were watching it to the end—even though they had the option to skip it. They already were seeing the value of having a video that is eye-catching and entertaining. Not just overt brand messaging. They were eager more outside-the-box ideas and were receptive to this one.

Ossian's early concept art for the "Defender" characters.
Ossian's early concept art for the "Defender" characters.

The world you created is so immersive. How did you approach crafting these visuals?  

Ossian: From the beginning, we knew there were some defining visual elements. We have characters who are defenders, and they are protecting a network—represented by the city—from these little cyber threats. I then took inspiration from some of those 80s pop culture touchstones, as well as Batman Beyond and anime to design those main elements. Once we designed the characters, cityscape and threats, we were then able to think about what the smaller, complimentary details would be and how they would look, and breathe life into the world. I also wanted to create an overall style that utilized the Bitdefender brand colors as a recurring visual theme. 

Chris: Drawing inspiration from anime is also helpful from a production standpoint. In that style, sometimes it's more important for visuals to set a scene, introduce characters or show a unique perspective. And these types of moments in anime don't always rely on complex motion. Some "animation cheats" in a way. We thought about the types of visual moments we wanted to show when starting our production process, even before the script. I was then able to write the script to tee up some of the vital scenes Ossian was envisioning.

Ossian: Right. Focusing on secondary motion for the animation was important given the timeline and the budget. We thought of b-roll type moments featuring the characters and the city. A lot of anime like Ghost in the Shell and Akira use an expansive city as a character of its own. Showcasing these grand shots right away in the beginning of the video is key for world-building.

Tinbit: I was really impressed by how action-packed it felt, even with many scenes just featuring secondary motion. There aren't characters doing backflips, but it still felt very energetic. And then I love everything audio, so we were able to cast a really dramatic voiceover read and source cool music to really set the mood of the video and elevate the drama even more.

The team used depth, lighting and color to create an immersive world with Bitdefender's branding present in a natural way.
The team used depth, lighting and color to create an immersive world with Bitdefender's branding present in a natural way.

Speaking of voiceover, what kind of direction did you give her to nail this cinematic style? 

Chris: Cinematic is the perfect word. We mentioned the movie trailer feel, and asked for some gravitas and grandeur. We also told her it was important to add a little aggression and darkness. There are dark cybersecurity threats out there, and you need to be prepared accordingly. The recording session was really funny, because the voiceover artist (Jennifer Moule) is the sweetest person on the planet. She would go from the really dramatic "In a World..." movie trailer delivery style back to her normal voice. "Was that take okay?"

The video is pretty much a movie. With that said, what would you want to see the sequel be? 

Chris: Well, in the first Bitdefender animation, we saw the wolves defending the forest. And in this video, we see the guardian characters defending the city. So for the next one, how about we bring those two together and have them team up. The defenders are riding the wolves into battle.

Ossian: Why not space next? I mean, the Fast and the Furious franchise went to space. Why not Bitdefender?

Tinbit: The natural progression.

Written by Jarrett Hothan
Jarrett is a writer for Demo Duck, a Chicago-based video production company. He has a passion for helping clients tell their stories through video. He also plays guitar and sings in Chicago's 143rd best garage rock duo.