Responses by Stan van Oers, creative developer; Amber van Os, senior creative developer; Peter Coolen, technical director; and Joris van Raaij, motion designer, Superhero Cheesecake.
Background: Just before Christmas, we were looking into cool visual effects, trying new things and sharpening our digital skillset. Around the same time, Greta Thunberg was named as “Person of the Year” by Time. Her election received mixed reactions—strongly opinionated from both sides of the spectrum. We were fascinated by that contrast and decided to make this our subject, though ultimately our main purpose was to make something cool.
Challenges: Greta is a highly controversial person. Without clear creative direction, we balanced on a thin line of prejudice. Sometimes we had to throw away aesthetically pleasing effects to prevent putting her on a pedestal. Conversely, we had to level out some of the negative sounds. It was a balancing act to achieve this neutrality without becoming a dull, emotionless, purely objective visualization.
Time constraints: Time is always a constraint, but it’s also relative. We began with a small time frame of seven days of our downtime. By focusing on visual effects, we managed to convince our co-workers that this was actually a viable passion project, and as a bonus, colleagues lined up to get involved. Sometimes, in a short timeframe, it’s easier to sell emotion rather than checking all the boxes. As the harsh red deadline was drawn through our schedule, we had to drop some secondary features to focus on our main character Greta.
New lessons: As a matter of fact, the original purpose of initiating this project was to learn new things. During this project, we valued intrinsic motivation and challenging yourself over skillset, encouraging members of the team to take on new roles. Luckily, this ended up as a success, but it could just as easily have flopped in terms of results. We tend to forget that people are often inspired merely by the passions of others; during this project, it was clear that the passions of a few built excitement within the team.
Navigation structure: Not every good idea makes it to a final product, but with passion-projects like these you can still build upon those ideas that otherwise may have never seen the light of day. The navigational structure is one of those ideas.
Design core: We used Greta’s pose from the cover of New York Magazine because this was a moment that conjured a lot of emotion. Some agreed with her victory, while others questioned whether she deserved it. This was exactly the feeling we wanted to evoke with the site. We got our friends at Colorbleed on board to help us with the 3-D model and bring it to life.
Technology: To create the world where a tornado-like path spins around Greta, we used Three.js. We displaced the vertices of the planes rotating around her and gave them the effect of motion, which was also used for the hover animations. To replicate real life lighting, we used an environment map, which also gained us some performance as a bonus. To top it off, we added smoke particles and a background—which is a generated noise texture—that rotates alongside the tornado path.