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During the 2020 quarantine (the Quarantimes), most artists found themselves with too much time and not enough work. While the majority of us discovered the wonders of moldy sourdough starters, new dances, and sea shanties, a few motion designers explored how their skills could translate into the emerging social media marketplaces. What they found...probably won't surprise you.
Peter Quinn is no stranger to VFX. He's been in the motion design industry for over fifteen years, working for some enormous clients on huge projects. Along the way, he's seen how the tools and tricks of our community have become commonplace in some of the most viral videos of the social media ecosystem. So he decided to make some of his own...to great effect.
You've probably seen some of his best videos, such as Flick and Puddle Jump. Using the skills he developed over the course of his career, Peter was able to build short videos designed for the new media marketplace. Viral videos tend to be short and sweet, sometimes only a few seconds in length. It can seem like a magic trick to find the proper mix of comedy and artistry to grab the right audience, but it's honestly not that complicated.
How do you make a viral video for Instagram and TikTok?
Peter started his journey on Instagram, but quickly brought his work to TikTok as well. The two platforms have a somewhat symbiotic relationship, which makes it easier to get in front of a wide audience quickly. But aside from understanding the apps, how do you make a viral video? What equipment do you need? Luckily, it's a lot easier (and more affordable) than you might think. You definitely need:
YOU NEED A VIDEO CAMERA (THOUGH A CELLPHONE CAN WORKING MOST CASES)
A professional camera allows for more color information, better focus control, and often more precision for tracking-intensive concepts. BUT a phone is super-portable and probably always with you—which can arguably make it the better option.
Back in the olden days (the nineties), cell phone images were just north of the Bigfoot video in terms of quality. Nowadays, you can grab a $20 third-party phone with a bajillion megapixels and 4K video.
YOU WANT TO USE A TRIPOD FOR YOUR VIDEOS
You may notice that Peter's videos all have a hand-held feel. There is camera shake and focus changes that sell the idea this is all really happening. Guess what: All of that is added in post! Adding VFX to a hand-held camera is possible...but adds a LOT of work. It's much better to put your camera on a tripod for a stable, consistent shot.
Peter carries around a light, portable tripod at all times, so he can quickly grab some footage when inspiration strikes. Does it make him look a little crazy? Sure, but we're all a little crazy these days, so no one really minds.
BUY A QUALITY GREEN SCREEN AND A LIGHTING KIT
If you've messed around with VFX in any capacity, you understand the value of a good green screen. Sure, you can get by without one, but if you'd rather not spend the next ten years rotoscoping and feathering, drop a little dough for a nice portable screen you can take on shoots.
Lighting is also key, especially if you're marrying different shots together. You can find affordable kits online just about anywhere, and you should practice different setups to find the style you like. If you're only shooting outdoors, you might not need them at all.
YOU WILL NEED A COMPUTER WITH AFTER EFFECTS
Sorry, there’s no magic one-button app for this stuff! It does take some technical know-how, but it might be less intimidating than you think. If you're not at all comfortable with After Effects, we might have a few ideas how to help you out.
What are important motion design skills to make viral videos?
While it takes knowledge and training to be able to pull off tricks like this smoothly and efficiently, Peter often chooses concepts because they can be approachable to a wider audience. He also posts breakdown videos of some of the concepts, outlining everything you need to do to recreate the effect for yourself. Check out the behind-the-scenes for Flick and Desert Multiples!
So how do you actually get started? You’ll need a basic understanding of shooting green screen footage and how to isolate elements using color keying. If you shoot it right, it’s often quite easy in post-production.
Clean plates are one of the most important techniques for good compositing, and one of the most simple. Shooting a clean plate of the environment (without you or your other moving elements) ensures you have something that can cleanly fill any holes that may be created if you need to move or remove elements in the frame.
After Effects can actually 3D track more or less automatically (which is amazing). Then it’s up to you to know what to do with that information. Peter references his methods in the how-tos above, or you can find dozens of tutorials online. This is definitely a skill that takes some practice, but you can get the hang of it after a few attempts.
MASKING AND ROTOSCOPING
Masking and Rotoscoping can be used to remove elements from a frame, cut out elements so you can manipulate them, or do cleanup. Again, this is a skill that can be learned with practice, with online tutorials, or through a more intensive training program.
If you don’t have clean plates, or if you need to fill areas behind a removed object and your camera was moving, Content-aware Fill can work wonders. Again, AE can do this more or less automatically if you know how to set it up properly.
Huh. Seems like all of these techniques could be quite useful for a career in VFX. If only there were a place you could learn all these skills in a focused, project-based approach. Oh how we wish there were some online training institution focused on MoGraph and design...a "School of Motion," if you will. Surely they would have a course that covers all of these topics and more!
Shameless plugs aside, let's get back to the topic at hand. Peter likes choosing ideas that can be accessible to others, and keeps those breakdown videos short and bite-sized as well. The result is something like this, with people from all over the world making their own spin on Peter’s video:
What makes a video go viral?
Knowing what buttons to press is important, but let’s be honest—the real magic of something like this is in the concept and planning. Knowing how to pull these off and make it look effortless doesn’t happen overnight. Peter’s been creating video / vfx / motion design content for 15+ years, and spent a lot of that time creating things specifically for social media. He’s developed a really clever sense for what works with this format and platform, and why certain things are successful.
- Make it short / keep it bite-sized
- Get to the point
- Make it fun (give them something for their time)
These videos are meant to be fun for him, too, and knowing the right amount of time & energy to invest is important. After many years of agency and advertising projects, he’s used to working quickly.
Peter recommends you set a deadline. These projects shouldn't gobble up too much of your time; you still have to pay the bills, and viral videos aren't a guaranteed source of income. You also need to set your standards early on. Sure, you could spend days on these videos and make them PERFECT, but does that see returns? There’s also such a thing as being too polished.
You might be thinking, “Sure. All of this is cool, but does viral success ever actually lead to anything tangible?” Well...yes! Peter has been able to leverage his viral success into actual paying work. However...we're saving that conversation for the podcast! Make sure you tune in.
Check out more of Peter's Work