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How did you get started in stop-motion animation and paper craft? I had a serious cycling accident in 2013 that meant I was off work—I was a design consultant—for three months. During my recovery, a friend suggested that I look at Vine, which had just launched. I started making loads of quirky Vines, and decided to try to gain 1,000 followers before I returned to work. I experimented with stop-motion and found a niche in brightly colored, clean and surprising short videos. One of my Vines, “Table Toast,” was selected as an editor’s pick—that was a huge turning point, as I had more than 1,000 followers by the end of that week!

How does your background as a musician affect the work you make today? One of the most important lessons I learned as a musician was how to be diplomatic and keep a group of highly independent people energized and pointing in the same direction. Bands are notoriously difficult to keep together, so I think they’re the perfect training for anyone who wants to start a business or run a creative team.

The other important lesson I learned from playing music is how to be absolutely determined to get something right—even after repeatedly making errors. Musicians practice tirelessly with little or no reward—except for personal satisfaction—and if you can get used to that, you have a better chance of succeeding as a freelancer and self-starter.

How have you seen the landscape of short-form content evolve since you started Melbourne, Australia–based animation and content production studio yelldesign? In my opinion, Vine was the thing that really kicked off short-form videos as a marketing tool, so we were exposed to the development early on. Loads of new apps were sending us—content creators—betas and asking us to give feedback, which was really cool as we saw a lot of different ideas tested out in the community.

Instagram challenged Vine with fifteen-second videos, and then 60-second videos. Facebook made a huge play for video. And then Snapchat disrupted everything with portrait videos. GIFs have had a resurgence, and most platforms autoplay videos now. The landscape is changing almost daily. We used to make one six-second video for a client in a square format; now we make the same video in landscape, square, portrait, looped, with audio, without audio… the output stack is getting longer every day!

There has truly never been a better time to share art.”

How are brands approaching short-form content today? What are the common things clients are asking for? This hasn’t changed much from day one: companies want to have their brands appear in people’s feeds without bashing them over the head. Brands want a video that is short, enjoyable and, most importantly, has some sort of “surprise” at the end. Kind of like the old aha moment of traditional TV commercials, but something the user will consider sharable—and hopefully share.

What are the particular challenges of having such a small amount of time to work with? What are the opportunities? The challenges are usually within the story of the piece. Most clients assume that they can get three to five messages through in a ten-second piece—three to five features of a product, for example. In our experience, it is a much better idea to create three to five videos, featuring one feature each, and then run them as a series over a couple of months. The audience is just not interested in learning about loads of product features, and they will definitely not share that sort of piece.

The opportunities exist when you clearly show the audience your limitations, and then show them how you did something extraordinary with that. Like, make a scale model of a city using only beer cans; it’s weird and restricted, but also cool—and sharable.

Stop-motion animators take hours to shoot seconds of content. Have all the creative decisions been finalized by the time you get to the shooting stage? We make sure our storyboards are very close to the end product. We definitely don’t want to reshoot anything, as the time wasted would be exponential. However, some things we create in a storyboard just look terrible when arranged in-camera. For example, we may not be able to compose a shot as it has been drawn due to size, perspective or the space/relationship on set. For this reason, we always tell a client that final composition decisions will be made during shooting—that’s where experience plays a huge part. We need the client to trust us to make whatever adjustments are necessary on set to get the best outcome.

What have been the hardest pieces to create? Using real food is always the hardest. It has to look amazing throughout a long shoot, but food perishes more quickly than other materials. Food is also difficult to “stick,” glue or hold into place on set. Other difficult pieces include using real actors or talent. We often get talent in to do hand shots, and you have to give them an express training session in stop-motion, which can be very alien to someone who’s used to doing live video.

What advice do you have for a designer who wants to start creating online content? Pour time into personal projects and publish them liberally. You can’t get a name for yourself unless you have something to show. So start making stuff regularly, share it, push it around, discuss it with other creatives, and get involved in the different platforms and their communities. The internet has given our generation a direct, far-reaching and instant distribution network—all we have to do is make something and post it. There has truly never been a better time to share art.

Matt Willis is the founder and creative director of yelldesign, a Melbourne, Australia–based animation and content production studio. He has worked in design, marketing and advertising for fifteen years and holds a masters design in communication design, a graduate diploma in graphic design and a BA in music industry. Willis specializes in stop-motion animation and paper craft and works regularly with major global brands and agencies to deliver highly sharable content to Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

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