THE EPIC DOC INTERVIEW
The following is an interview with Varathit Uthaisri, (“Tu”), the Director of Google’s “The Epic Docs” animation, a DemoSlam campaign project, and Motionographer’s Lauren Indovina.
First of all, can you talk a little about how the project came be? What was Google’s involvement?
I am currently working as a filmmaker for Google Creative Lab in NYC. A few month ago, we helped the launch of Google “DemoSlam” website (www.demoslam.com) where people can submit videos, demonstrating the used of Google’s products in creative ways. It was like showing off what you can do, and sharing the new tech. So the “Epic Docs Animation” is my showing off video.
Originally, our colleague Alex Chen came up with the idea of flipbook using Google Docs Presentation. However, as we are used to animate with more complex software, so working only in Google Docs presented us with an interesting challenge. There was no onion skinning, no tweening, no custom shapes etc… lists go on. Forget Flash or After Effects, it was a basic slide show tool.
Somehow, we loved its simplicity. It was a real challenge to be creative from the restrictions and desperation. Like all artists, we live in struggle. So I started digging down and messing around with it for a few days… trying to make friends with Google Docs. The goal was to create an awesome presentation that bring the audience from a boring slide show into the wonderful world of bar and graph, just like the Alice in Wonderland experience. So I made a pitch storyboard, show it to the Creative Lab team and shooting off from there.
It says in the spot that this was created with 3 animators over 3 days. Can you elaborate on this? Did you start concepting before the animation process? (Also include credits)
The key feature of Google Docs is collaboration, which allow multiple users to share and edit a single document, and we wanted to emphasize this concept by collaborating among the professional animators. Therefore, we invited the talented Nam Doan and Arthur Metcalf to join the docs. After a few days of testing out and trying out an error on Google Presentation Docs, we went ahead and start animating. It was such an exciting process since we were unsure of what would be the end results. We were working on the cloud from different locations. We literally could do it in 3 days (sort of) if you count the hours, but with a few round of changes and others works we took some extra days to polish it.
Did you guys create storyboards and keyframes? Please elaborate.
I started the original storyboards and keyframes. However, with the help of Nam and Arthur, we were pushing it further and improved the story into the next level. We separated the animation into 3 parts; Nam took the beginning, Arthur started from the moon to underwater world and I finished it up with the abstract journey.
The narrative for the animation was simply a journey into the presentation world. The idea was to start from a boring slide show and ending up in the same point. We gave life to the presentation elements such as pie chart, bar graph, bullet points and tables. The audience followed a piece of pie chart butterfly into the spectacular worlds of presentation; mountain range, sky, space, underwater to abstract world. We tried to bring the colors and depth into a flat slide show page.
What was the process of taking the animation from the Google doc and making it animate? Was there any other software?
The whole animation had been created entirely within the Google Docs Presentation, from the design process to the final animation. All the assets were created using the preset shapes and tools. The animation was frame-by-frame by duplicating these graphic and scale, move and distort. It was a harmonious process, similar to a stop motion. We set all the complication of After Effects and 3D software aside, and enjoying the primitive process.
After we completed all the animation, a final document was combined. We did some optimization to sustain 450 pages, but we could only have 413 pages as you have seen. We took a screen capture of animation and then sped up in After Effects, and finished editing within Final Cut Pro. These were the only time we used other software, the rest was in the Google Docs.
Your work tends to be experimental and process driven. You were recently awarded a Student Academy Award for “Surface Film” a Film in the category of Alternative Films. Can you talk about your process and how this led you to Google Creative Labs and working on projects like this?
The works of KOICHIRO TSUJIKAWA and JOHN MAEDA play the important part of my process. One of my goals for coming to US a few years ago was to be experimental from both process and outcome in art and technology. That is why at Parsons I did “Surface Film” (www.surfacefilm.com). Fortunately, it helped bring me to the Student Academy Award and the Google creative lab. After all, I always interested in creating audience experience through the use unique visual language.
Since you guys posted it on Youtube one week ago, the spot has received over a half million hits. That is a massive amount of circulation. Where do you see this project or others taking you and others in the future?
The Epic Docs Animation is just a beginning. Technology has been evolving fast. There are new tools, apps and technology emerging every minutes and it is impossible to catch them all. The users have too many choices than they even need. The DemoSlam campaign is one way to demonstrate these new technology in a fun and friendly way. People can make cool video and share the knowledge to the other. The message of Epic Docs Animation is the collaboration on the cloud to do an awesome thing. I hope people can find their own way of using the new technology and sharing them to the world as well.