The Making of “Blood”

…I teach a course called “Image Design,” which is essentially “Photoshop,” at a local college here in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Each semester I (sometimes) give students the option of forgoing a written Midterm Exam in exchange for a project that utilizes the same material covered in the exam. So rather than asking someone to, say, “Define “Histogram” and the keyboard shortcut to access it” I would prefer giving them the opportunity to use it in a hands-on scenario.

So you may have predicted that the students opt for the project approach. Well this time they actually requested both. A written exam AND a project. As a result I’m gave a diet version of the Midterm Exam along with a standard 1-week assignment. Only the assignment was much more involved this time.
Now..to assign a fitting subject, theme, and medium is a challenge. My preferred approach is to set my personal tastes aside in favor of letting them decide collectively. This approach involves asking groups of 24+ people what they’d like to do. I’ve learned, though very slowly, that that’s a bad idea. What you get is complete paralysis. There’s something about a group dynamic that actually reverses the odds. It’s strange, but the most creative students go silent and the least creative take charge. The best cure for group paralysis is…well, a touchy topic. Lets just say I had an outside group decide for them. That group chose the theme “vampire,” “like, teen vampire,” “…or, like, a girl vampire.” With the high-level theme secure, the following steps took place to create, rationalize, and package this project.
  • Because this project would cater to 2 classes (24 ea.) I turned to a survey taken the first week where student’s declared majors and interests. This list included: Graphic Design, Web Design, Animation, Photography, and Illustration. In order to “feed” each category I decided to create several options, or “packages,” within the assignment. By the end I would have a vampire “movie” in need of promotion, several branching design options, and students could select one option to pursue.
  • The final package list included: A US 1-sheet format measuring 24×36 (print), A Japanese B-Zero 1-sheet format measuring 10×14 (print), a Netflix’s Mailer (inside cover) ad 7.25 x 5.5 (print), an HDTV 1080p either still or animated promo (photography/animation/motion graphics), and finally IAB Compliant Web Banners either still or animated in Flash (300 x 250 med. rectangle, 240 x 400 vertical rectangle, 720 x 300 pop-under, 160 x 600 wide skyscraper).

  • Next, a list of assets were developed. The students would need amble content to help build the visuals -yet also have breathing room for creativity. And that…is a tricky thing to do. Here’s what I came up with: photography for the 1-sheet layouts, photography for the television and web banner layouts, a vector logo of the movie title, vector footer copy for the 1-sheets, multiple treatments of a television network logo for the TV promo, music to help inspire (maybe), the high-level description of the film, a tagline for the 1-sheets and banner ads, plus a tagline and showtimes for the TV promos.
  • Here’s the overview posted to their class blog: “Blood” is a fictitious movie/TV show and you’re in charge of its promotion. The high-level plot is “A young woman succumbs to vampire-like tendencies after acquiring an inexplicable generic disorder.” The target audience for “Blood” is male and females between 22 & 35-yrs. old. and favor the “Thriller“ genre. In terms of context, “Blood” delivers what one producer described as “…a fluid, fast, and classy tale of struggle that’s emotionally devastating and sensuously rich.”
  • With the package and asset list complete I wrote instructions for each. These instructions simply told the designer that if, for example, you chose the “Netflix Mailer” option you would be required to: create a layout at ? measurements, ? dpi, ? margin, ? color mode, include content from a select group of photos, add the logo, tagline, etc. Each instruction guide would be quantifiable, mirror lessons from past weeks to insure they could accomplish the steps listed, while also aiming to minimize the number of questions I might receive after assigning the project.
  • The physical size of the layouts planned meant I had to supply photography that would fit. By “fit” I mean generous in terms of resolution. Luckily my school had a Nikon D300 available. Stress on the word “lucky” as the labtech who spec’d the hardware, Larry Sandt, really knows what he’s doing. Larry was also kind enough to supply me with a test image which I used against the 1-sheets and TV measures. Everything worked fine.
  • It was now time to locate a model. A volunteer model. Since the college lacks a process to compensate people for this type of endeavor I would have had to pay a professional out of my pocket. Well, I can’t afford that -and asking a professional model to work for free isn’t how I roll. Luckily (again) a former student had offered her time, months in advance, towards a project just like this. She didn’t say “vampire” specifically of course. Just “Holler at me about any modeling shoots you know about/want to plan.” Well, after explaining the theme and time necessary to complete the project she said “sure.”
  • “Blood” became the working title for this project. The band “This Mortal Coil,” and their song + album titled “Blood,” help solidify this decision. Here’s the logo created using House Industries “Chalet” font.

  • It took 4 emails and 4 calls to Netflix‘s before reaching their corporate offices. Presskit information for mailer advertising isn’t on their site and the corporate number is on lock-down. Ad placement info appears to be a bit controlled. -Although Netflix staff was always very polite and helpful. Great group.
  • Having a model now meant it was safe to create storyboards for each design package. I decided to take one set of photos in the studio and a second set on the town. The studio shots would be for the 1-sheets and the city shots for the TV promos.
  • One of the proposed shoots involved the model (aka “vampire”) sipping from a blood bag as those it were a Capri Sun pouch. Locating a real blood bag took 7 phone calls to various medical supply outlets. The 7th call was placed to a group that prefers to remain nameless. That group had blood bags in their possession, but only for medical staff education, and a strict policy against allowing those blood bags into the community. Long story short, they agreed to allow me to use the bags…after signing a contract and placing the responsibility on my freelance business and not the school.
  • Vampire teeth were purchased from a local costume shop ($18). “Fixodent” was used to secure the teeth rather than the casting agent that accompanied the product.
  • Tom Wrench, one of the colleges best design students, assisted me in the studio late one afternoon with capturing the concept. The shot took approximately 2.5 hours.

  • NBC” became the choice network for this project due to their content. After downloading their logo I tweaked out 15 versions ranging from horizontal, stacked, to a .com version.

  • For the second “on the town” piece a local photography named Holly Henderson, who captures amazing images, suggested I shoot on the roof of a local club/office building. Initially I was against this idea due to legistatics. Then she supplied me with a few images she had captured while shooting in the same location. I was immediately sold. So Holly sent word to her contact and within a few days we were shooting on the building’s roof.
  • By this time around 553 images amounting to alil’ over 6GB had been captured. This was ultimately narrowed down to 67. Of those, 42 were set aside for the print catagories and 25 for web and television.

  • Here’s a “coming soon” image I post to the class blog a week before releasing the project.
  • Here’s a second image I played with to relax and stay in shape Photoshop-wise.
After
Before
By the end the “Blood” project package measured 556MB, contained 2 extra credit options, and counted for 25% of their grade. And there we go. It’s documented. If it weren’t written here it’s likely no one would know what went into this project. Lets hope they appreciate it and produce something great.
Oh, and due to a number of reasons I can’t post their work here. If I somehow get a link, or links, to some of the finals created I’ll definitely added them below.

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