Behind the Scenes: Musana Chalk Scribe

June 13, 2013
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Don’t get me wrong, I love our whiteboard video scribes. No matter how many we do – we continue to find new and interesting ways to tell our clients’ stories. But with one of our illustrators, Bryce Widom, being a superbly talented chalk artist…we were inspired to try something completely different.  A chalk scribe.

Serendipitously, around the same time we were asked by Kaesi Solomon of CU’s Social Impact Scholar Recognition Award to create a video for their latest recipient – the Musana Community Development Organization in Uganda. We approached Kaesi and the team at Musana with the idea of this new form of scribing. Being the wonderful people they are – they agreed to be our guinea pigs and gave us full creative freedom. We were giddy (if you work in the creative industry – you’ll appreciate what a rare opportunity this is).

If you live, work, or play in the Boulder/Denver area…you may recognize Bryce’s chalk art from The Mountain Sun or Vine St. Pub. Using tools most people are only familiar with from elementary school or kids sidewalk doodles, Bryce is able to create intricate and beautiful scenes. Our goal was to capture even a smidgen of his magic, employ it in our scribes, and expand our capabilities for creative storytelling.

Of course, this experiment came with its challenges, unknowns, and health hazards.

AAAAAAAAND…SCENE

One of the challenges we anticipated was that to realize the true beauty of the chalk scribe, each scene needed to be much longer than what we did for our whiteboard scribes. The visuals also had to be a less-literal-interpretation of the script since it would be challenging to sync the VO and illustrations as we do for whiteboard scribes. This theory proved to be true – more than we thought.

First – there was the sheer amount of footage we had to shoot.   We captured every scene from beginning to end, shooting 1 still/sec.  With each scene talking longer to create than a whiteboard scribe, the resulting footage was nearly 200 GB and over 22,000 stills. All of which we had to tediously “clean-up” before we could begin editing. Calling all interns!

Furthermore, to get a full scene to sync with the voiceover, we had to speed up the footage 5 x faster than we do for whiteboard animations. This created a bit of a frenetic feel with Bryce’s hand – which might work for the right topic (like a new energy drink), but is way too fast for most. So, lesson learned…in the future, we will allow more time for scenes to play out, or come up with other solutions, to avoid speeding up the footage so much.

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JUST GO WITH IT

What we also learned through our first chalk scribe is that the medium is much less forgiving. Unlike whiteboard, if a mistake was made on the chalkboard, you couldn’t just erase what you did and get it back to exactly the way it was. There were halos and changes to the dust pattern that told on you. We just had to roll with the mistakes.  In addition, since we used the same board for each scene, it was difficult to completely get rid of any hint of the previous artwork.  Fortunately, if you’re watching the video unaware of these things, you most likely won’t notice them.

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ANIMATIONS

Next, and something we are still exploring, is how to incorporate animation into a chalk scribe. If you’ve seen any of Room 214’s whiteboard video scribes, you’ll see how we love to use subtle animation to help engage the viewer and move the story forward. With the texture of the board, the “halo” around each line, and the ever changing dust swirls – making a complex animation work with chalk was much more challenging. Even the simplest of animations aren’t quite as seamless as we’d like – check out the scale on the logo at the end of the Musana video.

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If we just wanted to do a completely animated piece – like this video from Microsoft – we could have done that.  But to us – that wouldn’t have meant anything new for our scribing technique. Peeking into the creation of each scene is part of the allure and charm of the scribe.

CREATIVE  HAZARDS

Finally, we learned how very fine dust particles building up and floating around in a small, windowless room can be very hazardous to everyone’s health over time. On the first day, Bryce would blow away the chalk debris that collected as he worked. By lunchtime, the complaints from both inside and outside the scribe room began. The smell of chalk was everywhere. You could feel the grit on your skin, teeth, and clothes.  So on day two, we tried this great invention called a vacuum to suck up – instead of blow up – the debris. We also brought in a good air filter and Bryce wore a fancy mask.

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It’s because of all these challenges and the experience gained during this experiment that we are proud of our first chalk scribe. We can’t thank Musana enough for being game, open-minded, and trusting us. Or the Social Impact Scholar Recognition Award for brining us this opportunity. And of course we could not have done this without Bryce – a talented artist and collaborative partner.

Since this first project, we have had several clients ask us to produce a chalk scribe for them. As you can see, this new and unique form of scribing adds tremendous color and a more organic and artistic feel to scribing. This might not be the approach for every client or topic, but for the right ones – it’s a new way to capture your viewers’ attention and set your brand apart.

To get your own chalk scribe, or learn more about us, email info@room214.com.

About Jen Casson

Jen Casson is what you'd call a "Pi Person" – broad experience (top of the π) with depth in specific areas (the legs of the π). Her career began as an IT consultant, working on enterprise software projects as an analyst. She quickly moved into Business Consulting, specializing in Corporate Performance Scorecards, Program Management, Knowledge Management, and Systems Thinking. In her late 20s, she decided there wasn't enough creativity in her job, so she made the bold move and changed careers. Fast forward 8 years and you’ll find she's a video producer and award-winning editor, having worked on projects for the likes of the Discovery Channel, Sundance Channel, Science Channel, Ford, Dish, and others. In 2011, Jen joined Room 214 to create video content for digital campaigns. Here, she produces and edits video projects and provides leadership to the creative team and agency.

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