Friday Farewells and Fun Stuff

It’s Friday! A day for looking forward to fun stuff and

Back in 2007, we entered into our first 48 Hour Film Project. I started a team because I wanted to learn more about working with different kinds of people, shooting live action (I was primarily animation in college), and learn more about making a short film. We drew “Musical or Western” and had about 27 people on our team. The film, to put it bluntly, was a hot mess. We had a great team, and there are some outstanding parts. Mostly the music by Dan McDonough. And the next year…it also wasn’t that great. But year after year we entered, and sometimes we won awards (four!).

What the 48 HFP provided for us was a chance to experiment and learn: try out new crew, practice with new equipment, and/or just have fun. We’ve taken what we learn in those couple days each summer and built a team of prepared professionals that work well under pressure.

After seven years, I’ve decided to try something else and mix it up. We’re making a short film!

We’ve produced a number of short films, but never one quite like this. Part zombie film, part musical, this will be a realization of an idea that’s been kicking around for awhile. It will utilize many or our strengths, and hopefully give us a chance to learn even more as we work on something that is 100% us.

The storyboard is in the rough draft stage, and we’re lining up the pieces to shoot this summer. I’m not going to go into the details of the story, but in the meantime, enjoy the song. Stay tuned for “Won’t You Come Home, Bones Bailey?”, coming out in 2014!

UPDATE: Incase you were wondering, the music for this project is being done by long time collaborator Billy Moretti of The Denver Boot. He’s worked on two of our 48 hour projects and numerous spots for WPI and others.



3 Ways Video Makes Your Company Awesome

In case you didn’t know, we make videos. Videos of all kinds: funny, informative, technical, web-based, and corporate. Video is a powerful medium that can make your company stand out in a crowded market place and have a lasting impression on your customers. Knowing how video makes your company more awesome is important to know when entering into a video production. Knowing the strengths of video can help you utilize this tool even better and get the best results possible. For the simplification purposes, I use the term “video” to mean both live action and animated videos.

Follow me on a walk through of three ways video strengthens your company.

A lot of the videos on the internet are tutorials, walk-thrus, or how-tos. If you include home-made as well as professionally produced videos–you’ve got months or years of content on very specific topics.* Apps, Kickstarters, gadgets, and specialized services can use video to show their clients how their product or service work. Better than a text-based document, clients can really see how something comes together, how best to use it, and come away better informed.

Kickstarters in particular benefit from the power of video to explain things. Typically the companies or individuals that use Kickstarter only have working prototypes. They can’t rely on reviews because they haven’t massed-produced their product yet. Instead, live demonstrations of their product can prove the viability of their product and create interest before they go into a larger (and more costly) round of production.

Another way video connects online viewers to physical products are assembly or usage videos. Anything that needs to be put together or has complicated operating procedures can benefit from a video. Creating an informed customer that can use the product means they’re more likely to recommend the product and purchase future versions or offerings. Any video under a minute will leave the client satisfied and free to go back to their life.

Knowing is the first thing your video should accomplish: what it is, how it works, and why it’s better.

Music, lively characters, and animation are really powerful elements that are only available to the world of video. Making your customers feel something about your product–not just know–creates a deeper connection and sense of trust. Your customers don’t just know what you do, but feel that you know and care about them.

With so many things available on the internet, an emotional impact helps you rise above the noise. You’re not just offering a well made product or service, but one that appeals to the needs and wants. For instance, if you’re selling a product for “embarrassing bathroom situations” making customers laugh and feel like this is normal can unite everyone over a topic that is infrequently talked about.

A memory tied to an emotion will be stronger than just the memory alone. Video–more than any other medium–has that ability to emotionally connect. It’s not just text. It’s not just pretty faces or funny cartoons. It’s storytelling, graphic design, photography, and music all combined into one impactful tool. The last element is the most key: music is a huge emotional tool that other mediums just don’t have. Utilizing well produced music that fits your brand is something you can’t skip in the video making process.


This is the end result of making your customers know and feel about your product/service/company. They know what your product does, they feel a certain way about it, but bringing these two things together is the experience. This is the difference between a Gillette commercial and a Dollar Shave Club youtube video. It’s not just serious vs. funny. Traditional vs. quirky. It’s making your customers identify themselves by buying your product/service.

Making customers experience your company also sets the tone for future interactions and what they can expect. There are many values your video can offer–great customer service, locally sourced, well made, technically advanced, problem solving, etc. Each comes with their own virtues. Videos where customers experience (not just know or feel) the value of your product prime the client up to expect the same in the future–where they’ll only consider you as their number one choice. Make your clients know and feel that you are the best and you start the pathway to a life long customer.

Who hasn’t made a personality judgment on a certain kind of computer user? Let a friend use your computer and I’m sure you’ve heard “Oh, I don’t really like Macs” or “Guh, PCs are so clunky.” Even better, “I’m an Android user.” People enjoy identify as Mac vs. PC, Android vs. iPhone, iPad vs. Nexus, etc. This comes from these companies creating a strong experience that turns the user into a citizen of their brand.


Just as you’re trying to get your company to stand out–so are your customers. It sounds silly, but every purchase is a way of saying “this is who I am”. Customers have so many choices of what color, size, shape, style, technology, price, etc. they’d like. Having a living, breathing embodiment of your company depicted in a video makes your company a personality they can connect and identify with. They aren’t just purchasing the product, but an addition to their life.

I would be remiss if I didn’t cite some of my influences. I started this post with the idea of “Know, Feel, Experience”, but the visuals came from a couple other sources. Specifically, this Lifehacker article and Hugh MacLeod’s image helped me create a visual representation of these concepts.


*Update: this statement has been changed to reflect the lack of data on this topic. Something we hope to correct in the future. 


VolksVader is NOT Viral: 3 Years With Volkswagen

For all of 2011, when I asked clients what videos they liked, the answer would always include Volkswagen’s 2011 “The Force” commercial. If you haven’t seen it yet, just go watch it and come back.

Have you seen it? Ok, this is the thing…it’s NOT a viral video. Wikipedia defines a viral video as “A viral video is a video that becomes popular through the process of (most often) Internet sharing, typically through video sharing websites, social media and email.”  Volkwagen’s video isn’t any of those things:

• It was shown first during the Super Bowl–not the web.
• 111 million people watched the 2011 Super Bowl (the most watched program ever at the time)–not an obscure source.
• While it’s hard to gather this data from Youtube, it looks like it got 6 million views in the first week or so–most likely from people that saw it on the Super Bowl and told others to watch it. It was popular before it got on the internet.

Currently “The Force” video has approximately 57 million views, or 20% of the population of the US has watched this video. With those numbers, they were able to increase sales by 18% That’s amazing numbers.  That’s like everyone that watched the video also bought one (if we just count Youtube views). So, what is “The Force” if it’s not a viral video?

Check out the data about Volkswagen sales.



It’s Just Good Marketing

Let’s peel away the layers of what the video is doing, and how this is most likely just a reflection of strong market research.

• Market > 30-40 year old parents looking for a car in the $20,000 range.
• Key elements to highlight > new blue tooth/near field technology in the car.

Ok, we know who they were talking to, and what they care about. The car is affordable, for families, and has some neat tech inside.

How they achieved that:

• Put a kid in it > kids can sell almost anything–sorry, it’s true.
• Figure out what 30-40 year olds like (and if you can include their kids, even better) > It just so happens that Star Wars has been consistently popular for the last 30 years.
• Oh, look > there’s something in Star Wars that can be used to teach potential customers about how the car works.

BOOM > that’s the ad. It’s not hard to put those things together if you’ve done your research and have the money to license some pieces from a major franchise.

2012 and Not Having a Clue

For 2012’s Super Bowl ad, they scrapped the movie references in favor of their “Get Happy” campaign. I’ve been working on this idea since the summer of 2013 and–get this–the ad is gone from their page and most of the internet. All I can find is a pre-release from Clevver news and a few videos about how rascist it is–all before the official Super Bowl airing.

The Clevver News shows the ad before talking about it, so check that one out.


The sales figures also reflect this dip in the market place. The sold 25% less cars than in 2011. Somehow, no one spoke up and said “If we’re going to parody any culture, maybe it should be–you know–Germans, since that’s who makes our cars.” The whole thing is a great study in what not to do.


Link to data about Volkswagen sales

Problems with this ad:

• No idea who their market is > Racists? Folks that want a vacation?
• No idea what their demographics thinks is funny or enjoy doing.
• No value element to highlight. How can you prove a certain car brand makes one “happier”?

Between just the Today Show and Good Morning America, there are 5 minutes of content talking about how rascist the ad was. That’s 10 times the length of the thirty second spot that would have aired during the Super Bowl. Let’s just say that Volkswagen fumbled that campaign.

My favorite quote from this Today Show spot (quote is link): “We consulted about 100 Jamaicans.” You can get 100 people to say many things, that’s not that many people–nor proof that your idea is good.

Favorite quote from GMA (quote is link): “He’s even negotiating VW for some sort of co-branding.” Since it’s been scrubbed from the internet, I don’t think that panned out.

2013 and “Winging It”

I can see what Volkwagen is trying to do in their newest ad “Wings”. A movie parody worked before, so it will work again. They took the notes on their 2012 ad and made their home country Germany the focus instead of an arbitrary country.

It’s hard to break down how successful this ad is, since some of that will not be based on views, but also how many cars they sell in 2014.

Things this ad does right:

• Clear market > families with teenage children.
• Clear value statement > this car is well made by Germans.
• It has 12 million Youtube views already. It’s on par with the 2011 video.

Where this ad misses:

• Unclear who is the huge It’s a Wonderful Life fan. I’m not sure this is that popular with 16-25 year olds and that parents that enjoy that movie want the quirky humor this ad presents.
• Middle ground parody. If they’re going parody a conversation between Zuzu and George Bailey–you should GO for it. Neither actor is very cute/endearing and it looses a lot of ground in the casting area. Very few people are excited by annoying teenage girls and average-looking dads.

bailey zuzu

We get the parody in “The Force” because the little kid looks just like Darth Vader in miniature. It’s not a homemade costume, it’s not “vaguely evil kid with mind powers.” It’s CHILD DARTH VADER. (I might be too mean because I’m a big fan of the It’s a Wonderful Life.)

What could help it succeed:

They made about 10 easter egg/vignette videos that reside on their Youtube page. These are way funnier, and present the joke from the mouths of a couple straight-faced German engineers. I think it works when you get further away from the Americana-folksy inspiration than the ad with the unpleasant family explaining the joke. Those online vignettes have a low amount of views, 4,000-15,000 views. If they’re looking at targeting a younger market, these could work if they’re carefully placed online and in certain broadcast time slots.

Focus on Smart, Not Viral

One million views seems confer some sort of prestige. But, there’s a fine line between the Old Spice Guy and the Mountain Dew goat. Before hitting the ‘cat-acular button’, you should figure out if your audience even likes cats. It’s all well and good to make a parody, but it might not be what your market wants to hear. With a combination of tools and strategy, the average marketer has the tools to make sure that the people that need to see the video–infact–see the video. Learn the tricks to make a valuable video, and skip the viral.

P.S.–All of this might not matter anyway, since 80 % of Super Bowl Ads Don’t Help Sales.

Learn more about Super Bowl Advertising

Cleanin’ the Green


We do a lot of special effects here at Tools! , and sometimes it seems like it’s just 1-2-3-Software! We’ve all seen the “click to remove” behind the scenes videos from DVD extras. But it’s rarely that easy. Usually, there’s a few steps between “green” and “clean” that take a skilled fx person–like us–to make perfect. Here’s the 5 steps we take to turn our fake into a piece of cake. (Err, sorry for all the puns).

Full Process (Aka, Click-n-Go)

Here’s the full process covered in one video. A shot like this probably take about 3-6 hours for a talented fx person.

01 Shoot the Footage


The key to shooting the footage is to make sure the green is lit as evenly as possible. The more even the color/shade, the easier it is for the software to do its job. We make sure we know all our shots ahead of time with storyboards so we know how each shot needs to look. The last thing we have to be careful of is clothing choices. White clothing will pick up and reflect the green–making some of the actor disappear as well. Light colors like yellow can also cause problems. You may have noticed the bottom left corner, we can get those out later–just watch.

02 “Garbage” Mask


A “garbage” just means a rough trim of the edges of the footage. We can make the software work better if we give it less to process. We roughly “cut” the edges with a vector mask and animate it to follow the actor. This process can take a couple minutes to a couple hours, depending on how much movement there is.

03 Rough Clean


NOW we use the filters our software comes with. There actually thousands of shades of green in our greenscreen. The software can only take out so many of them depending on how high we set the “tolerance”. The problem is that it might also start to take away other light colors–skin, teeth, eyes–if we set the tolerance too high. In this stage, we’re looking for 85-95% of the green removed, while still leaving all the of the actor on the screen. If you look in the bottom left hand corner, you can see some speckles of the screen left behind. This is fine for now.

04 Fine Cleaning


Now we mask specific parts of the actor and just user filters on these specific areas. Really fine areas like the rapidly moving hands will have to be masked manually. That means we draw a mask around the hand almost every frame to carve them out while retaining details like the fingers and motion blur. No little speckles should remain in around the figure.

05 Color Correction


Depending on your background, you might need to color correct or shade the actor to match the background. When we’re filming, we try to match light direction and temperature, but since we need a flatly lit background, we can’t do too much. This will require putting filters and animated filters on top of the actor to get them to be the same color/lighting as the background. Luckily for us, this project just required the actor to be in a big white space. We did warm up her skin tone a little to make her more lively though.

06 Final With Background


Here’s the final image with background. We did fuzz her edges just a little bit more to make her blend with the background. We also added her shadow onto the “i” of the logo if you look closely. Those little details can really make the actor seem like they’re in the space and interacting with the elements around them.

Bonus Round!

Did anyone catch the local commercial green screen joke in Bob’s Burgers? It’s only during the credit where they screen the family-centric commercial. Linda Belcher has a speckly green halo around her for some shots–indicative of a bad (home made) green screen job. That level of detail for a gag over the credits is pretty nice.


Low Priced vs. Well Priced


Recently, I was talking with a colleague that described one of their vendors as “great, they’re really cheap!” In my head, I had an immediate knee-jerk reaction to that description as a way of ascribing value. It made me reflect on where I think my company’s value lies, and why “cheap” is not the only thing I look for as a business owner or the way I market my company.

If I had to guess why we’re passed over for projects, probably more than 50% of the time the reason is the price. For the potential client the price is too high, not what they expected, or they had no idea what similar services could/should have cost in the first place. 99% of the time these clients that decline are services are respectful and don’t make make any negative comments about our pricing…and then there’s that 1% that believe cheaper is always better.

Where Does The Money Go?

Just like a physical object, you get what you pay for. Most of the time, if you’re using a low-priced graphic designer, photographer, animator, or videographer those cost savings translate into a poorly made product. The design quickly looks dated or doesn’t work for a variety of applications. The photography is poorly lit and unflattering. The animation or video isn’t well scripted and doesn’t reflect the unique message you wanted (in addition it can also suffer from the same problems as cheap graphic design and photography). Occasionally, you can find that rare “unicorn” of a creative that is both good and cheap, but they don’t stick around long. Either they get snatched up by fulltime work, increase their rates, or have to take on more work to make up the difference on their cheap prices-and consequently have less time for your project.

How Can You Save Money

To save money, it’s best to have an idea of what you want and be honest about what you’re able to achieve in your scope of time/budget/abilities. For example, if you need a video that explains your business plan to investors, then you should know your business plan before you start to make a video. Developing it alongside the video can muddle the two processes and overextend the timeline (and budget). Figuring out what you want and planning that idea are monumental steps that can take months and months (or years) if the client isn’t clear with themselves and their contractor from the beginning.

Don’t Spend Your Time Looking For Someone That Might Not Exist

If you do manage to find that “unicorn” creative that can make what you want, for less than the other guy, what is the real harm? You’re right, there’s little harm if you can reach an amicable agreement with someone that is cheap and does good work. It’s also an almost unattainable goal and a waste of your time. Cheap creatives are going to be something someone finds every once in awhile. Meanwhile, there are so many professional creatives that are well priced–and all it takes is some careful planning and saving up to afford their services. Services that will carry your business further and last longer than the cheaper alternative. Well priced creatives will still meet all your needs, and you won’t have to worry that they’ll dissappear or be unattainable in the future. And, since they’re easier to find, you can get back to working on the more pressing parts of your business and be more efficient overall. Spending money on a well priced creatives guarantees a certain level of quality in return. Always searching for the ultra sale can be a waste of time/money/effort.

So…What’s The Problem With Cheap?

Getting back to my colleagues comment, “they’re really cheap!” The problem is that in creative agency work, the “materials” aren’t just paper and pen, or cameras and computers. People–designers, animators, videographers–are just as valuable as a workstation. Without a well-trained professional operating the equipment, it’s useless. It’s like going to a restaurant and having the chef be really excited that their ingredients are the cheapest they could find. Or knowing a skyscraper was built for bottom dollar. Or having the lowest-paid doctors and nurses doing your operation. Cheap is not a mark of quality. This is the essence of the meaning behind our company name “They’re Using Tools!” A creative, clever, and resourceful person will be able to take any idea and use “tools” (their mind and talents) and make something astounding with it. That ability shouldn’t be a dime a dozen.

Because we pride ourselves on our creativity and cleverness, we always try to work within a client’s budget, and give a variety of scaleable options for any projects.  A client is not going to insult use by asking for a re-quote or clarification on pricing. It’s only insulting when we hear “I’m going to go with someone cheaper” or “I think I’ll go with my relative in college, they have all that software too” that it becomes insulting. The insult isn’t that a client went with someone else, but that what we offered–experience, professionalism–didn’t matter. Only price mattered and we couldn’t meet those low expectations.

We can’t please everyone. For some, cheaper will always be better. That is something that is hard to become accustomed to, but our skin gets thicker over time. All I can hope is that maybe this will give some out there some more options when contemplating their next design/video project. Direct their choices away from cheap cost and towards well made.

Conan Knew That Main Stream Media Is Scripted

This is somehow a big deal.

Let me rock your word: every news segment you see isn’t a made-fresh-daily product. I know some newscasters that definitely develop/put together their own stories. They can put months into a 5 minute broadcast. Because they care about the subject. Because they know getting their facts and interviews straight will be worth it to their audience.

It doesn’t surprise me that some (or most) of it is scripted by someone out of house. Because at the end of the day–every day–they have to fill so many minutes of airtime. Tragedies, snow days, first days of school, lost puppies, firefighter strikes, slow news days, and all the in between. These stations bought a packaged segment, probably because no one wanted to waste valuable time writing a fluffy holiday piece.

I’m not even surprised if most of the “big” news is a pre-made package. There’s no way a station in California is going to have any personally researched information on something happening in New York. They’re getting their news from CNN, the Associated Press, Reuters, or some form of social media (Twitter/Facebook/audience reporting). They bought those facts–and their exact wording–from somewhere that was vetted and had double checked their facts. Ok, yes, in the case of social media you can’t really “fact check”, but they are getting screen caps and usually reporting this as information they got from those sources. Again, “usually”. Buying it from a source makes that source liable if something goes wrong, and saves newscasters some time in the era of 24 hour reporting.

It’s like buying a store bought pie, but making the turkey yourself. These stations–especially the smaller ones–want to deliver a consistent, good product. And sometimes they just don’t have time to make the pie and the turkey, so they bought something that was already well made. What’s shocking is that the folks that made the original package didn’t have a cap or a counter so that small news stations could see how many times their segment was used. This is pretty common on stock photo sites so you can see how often the photo has been used and you can even buy exclusive licenses. It’s to help the purchaser make an informed decision and give them the option of buying another, less-used product and keeps everyone’s message fresh and original looking.

This was just a lazy market place and everyone got caught. And the folks at Conan’s show probably knew that this was a practice that had been going on for awhile and realized they could fill their joke time slot with a segment about newscasters filling their holiday time slot. Here’s another shocker: Conan doesn’t write all his own jokes. He has a writing staff of 20+ people, who are probably are getting some of their ideas from aggregate companies that watch all the news, cable, and tv internet that they couldn’t possibly watch and still come to work and write jokes everyday.

I just wanted to throw in some rational to mix with the Big Brother conspiracy theories. Conan’s segment isn’t proof that Big Brother exists, it’s proof that no one knew how the news worked before today.

It all equals 4

I’ve been having a conversation with someone about “spoilers” and why the matter.

My basic principles:

-I don’t care about spoilers.

-Other people care about spoilers, so I won’t talk about any major plot points in a movie less than 20 years old out of courtesy to others. Haven’t seen Blade Runner? Sorry, you should already know everyone is a robot.

Honestly, being hung up on the ending is like being upset that someone reveals an answer to a math problem. There’s only so many outcomes (it’s a trap and/or it was all a coma dream). Being hung up on the surprise of the ending doesn’t give the audience intellectual credit to enjoy the rest of the film regardless of the answer.

It’s like this, 2+2=4. But, so do these things:







even 384÷96

…and so on.**

It’s a journey, and that is what’s interesting. This isn’t Christmas, Santa Clause isn’t real. But a great film is still a gift that should be treasured.


**I am oversimplifying the math. But, really, the answers to such a simple problem is almost infinite, and that should serve as a metaphor on how to approach film.