Mo-Graph Mentor

{Student Work} David Urbinati : Visual Essay

This project was completed in our first online course, Introduction to Design & Animation. The project brief is titled : Visual Essay. The challenge was for students to communicate an idea of a story within the constraints of a 30-45 second video. David Urbinati chose to tell a short story set in space.

We asked him to provide a write-up for the project. Below are his words.


Around the time when the project came around in semester 1, I had been in my free time exploring the capabilities and potential uses of the Trapcode Mir plugin. I found it very good at making interesting low poly landscapes combined with some compositing techniques. Inspired by the visual style of the plugin and other work I had seen in a similar style, I decided my visual essay was going to include this kind of 3D low poly world somehow.

Because of my fascination with space and space travel, I created a story centered around an exploratory spaceship traveling though the far reaches of space and exploring a planet that was inhabited by a native people. However, as the explorers are exploring the planet, the planet starts being destroyed by natural disasters. As the explorers escape, they leave the inhabitants of the planet behind. The idea was to create a tension between the explorers and the inhabitants of the planet in the different “fates” they both experienced.

Once I had the visual style and basic story established, I proceeded to write out a shot list to serve as my script. The piece was going to be cinematic, mood driven by the visuals and music. The shot list had detailed descriptions about camera moves and what was going on in each scene. In the storyboarding phase, I actually went into After Effects directly to work with Trapcode Mir to create the landscape designs. Since I was still new to to plugin’s capabilities, I wanted the process of creating the various environments to be more experimental where I would shape the plugin’s look by beginning with a basic mental picture and tweaking the settings until I felt it was right. The character designs and spaceship design I did work out in a sketchbook before moving to Illustrator and Cinema 4D, respectively.

With the shot list and storyboard designs, I created an animatic where I matched music to the shots I had and worked out the timing between cuts. I quickly discovered that my original concept was much too long for the visual essay assignment and the animatic was very helpful in determining which scenes to “delete” and where my cuts were going to be and how long each scene needed to be.

I had to “rethink” my project though as I basically had to cut several scenes and still tell my original story as best as I could. I then moved into production where I spent a lot of time refining camera moves and scene composites as well as integrating my characters into the various scenes. Working in this 3D style completely inside of After Effects had a lot of its own technical challenges but I learned a lot about what I was able to do well with those limitations and how to use lots of the time saving compositing techniques for the effects I was going for.

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Once all the shots were created, it wasn’t really until I started to cut them together in Premiere where I began to see everything come together. I decided to change the song last minute from my animatic, which was risky, but worked out really well actually for the mood that fit the condensed version of my story. I had spent a lot of time researching music in pre-production for my piece but never really settled on anything until this stage. I was able to use a lot of the hits and musical cues in the song as sound effects for motivating motion in my shots and cuts between scenes.

Once everything was cut the way I liked it, I went back and fixed any animation or render errors and then designed the title and credit shots for the end of the piece. Back in Premiere I color graded everything to communicate the cinematic feel I wanted. After I felt everything was where I wanted it. I let the piece sit for a couple of days without me touching it. When I came back to it, I was able to more objectively assess it, changed a couple minor things. Then exported it and fin! The whole process from concept to completion was really cool to go through in such defined detail as I had never experienced before the class.

The mentors’ and classmates’ feedback was really helpful in making the piece what it is and I’m really pumped about the experience I gained and am now able to share.

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Tags: Motion Graphics, Motion Design, Online School for Motion Graphics, Motion Graphics Courses