The Hidden Life of Rosa Parks: Q&A with Joash Berkeley

By Lesa Silvermore

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Featured Video with Joash Berkeley 

The creative director, Joash Berkeley, from Eido studios recently worked on the short The Hidden Life of Rosa Parks. This short beautifully reveals the astonishing life of Rosa Parks while educating the viewer of her passion and determination. Her historical bus journey which lead to the Montgomery bus boycott is how many recognize her name but this film shows her early work in social injustice way before that movement. The unique coloring of the figures, powerful transitions and provoking symbolism not only captivates the viewer but has a strong impact. 

We had the opportunity to ask Joash about his process of this project that is partnered with TedEd and he gave us an awesome insight to the behind scenes of working with his team. 

The Hidden Life of Rosa Parks

Q&A with Joash Berkeley

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I'm a son of God who has a heart for building people's lives through the gifts given to me. Being born and raised on the Caribbean island of Trinidad & Tobago has left me with a fascination of color in my work, but it was through my education at SCAD I discovered that I could use thoughtful design to inspire change in the way people think about a brand or idea through storytelling. Now in Huntington Beach, California, I've started my own studio, Eido, in which I hope to create thoughtful change in the lives of the people within my sphere of influence.

The Hidden Life of Rosa Parks is filled with powerful transitions, for example the scene where Rosa is seen in the bus which moves into her jail cell. Can you talk about the process & intention of those moments?

We knew that the challenge with most informational videos is maintaining attention across the entire video. Fortunately, the script provided by TED-Ed was already so captivating in its storytelling, that we simply elevated it by using transitions that balanced a cinematic approach to storytelling, while playing with multiple narratives at the same time.

Each scene conveys multiple messages with hidden symbols that reference the life and journey of Rosa Parks – a technique attributed to our great art director, Harol Bustos, a Chilean editorial illustrator who was able to cleverly intertwine what's happening in the narrative with the surrounding context Rosa was in at the time. For example, describing Rosa Parks' childhood life at home, but breaking the window frame to make reference to a burning cross, an association with the KKK threats Rosa faced in her childhood.

The textures & color palette are so specific, did you go into the project with this style in mind?

The color palette was something I wanted very intentionally controlled to communicate two systems of tension happening throughout the story. First, the System of Fear, defined by a monochromatic sepia palette. It describes the dull and emotionally stifling experiences of African-Americans in the south. This felt appropriate because contrast, between blacks and whites, was a primary societal issue, and contrast becomes more obvious when using a monochromatic palette. The sepia tint and textures were chosen to reference the time Rosa Parks was in.

Secondly, the progressive addition of a warm, yet intense accent color representing Justice. These warmer colors symbolized Rosa Parks' activist efforts and the rippling effects throughout her society. These burnt orange and yellow colors are usually associated with heat, which felt like an appropriate metaphor to oppose the system of injustice. As the film progresses, we see the System of Fear being taken over by Justice and the tension increases the more Rosa Parks' influence creates change. You can see this tension being hinted to even in the end title sequence where the color fades on for a second before resting in the images.

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

We took it upon ourselves to make this project be as captivating as a short film can be with various narratives, clever transitions, and impressive animation. That's a high bar to maintain while still honoring the true objective of the film: ensuring the information comes across accurately. That high bar meant we spent a lot of our own investment into this project to make it what it is.

The greatest challenge for this project has been directing such extraordinarily talented artists to meet this vision without having the budget to honor them with. Although the project in itself has significant impact, it came at a financial cost we all knew we had to put in. "You reap what you sow." We knew what we wanted to reap, so we sowed accordingly.

Now that the video has been released and people have seen it, how has this project transformed for you? I know the first time I watched it I was really moved and every time I go back I walk away with something new.

Definitely! I think beyond the technical improvements of craftsmanship that comes with each project, the bigger takeaway for me has been more behind-the-scenes. This project has given me the opportunity to become a better leader and has layered within me the practice of long-term building capacity. I started this project with the end in mind and found myself, and my team, layering progress to meet that end without compromise to the standard we set out to have, but with an openness to the fact that challenges come up and you just have to exercise collaboration, wisdom, and stillness to work around them. This project was the product of a committed and honorable team, and I can't thank each of them enough for the collective sacrifice made to get this project out in the world today.


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