The need for a ‘My Aston Portal’ video was first put to me during my PDR by my then line manager Kevin Brace at the end of July 2010. At that stage a brief for the production of the animation had not been developed and as I had no personal experience with MAP it was clear that several developmental meetings would be needed before we could get the ball rolling.
The first port of call would be Addam Hepburn, Systems Implementor with ISA who, due to his work on MAP, was more than happy to help out. Because of the Summer annual leave diary and other ongoing projects, it would not be until the beginning of October that Addam Hepburn, Kevin Brace and myself would be able to get together to thrash out some ideas.
What may have been the logical approach for many, the tutorial/how to/walk through video, we were able to dismiss almost immediately. Addam raised concerns that as MAP is constantly developed, new features would not be reflected in such a video therefore restricting its shelf life. Also I felt that this kind of video would be too long if it were to cover all aspects of MAP and would not be sufficiently dynamic for the audience at which it is aimed.
Of the several other ideas discussed the one that seemed to have most promise was the idea of a comic book which would feature students around campus discussing the merits of MAP. The virtues of this approach would mean it would be colourful and therefore eye catching and the narrative would have to be broken down into clear and concise chunks. We would also be able to develop a multi format approach by using the comic book pages as posters to promote MAP. Kevin also suggested the use of a QR Code on the posters to drive students to the animation and the MAP pages via mobile devices. This approach would negate the use of filming and sound recording and therefore be minimal on equipment and personnel resources.
Satisfied that we now had a style to aim for, our attentions turned to the content. Addam and Kevin felt that the key to getting students to use MAP was not just the everyday services it offers such as finance and time tabling but by focusing on how it can make them more attractive to employers through management of placements and use of the e-portfolio. Developing this thinking, Kevin came up with a tagline, “Enhancing Graduate Attributes”, around which the content would be based.
A second meeting between me, Kevin and Maureen Tibby, Head of the Careers and Employability Centre, was arranged for the end of October in order to run the “Enhancing Graduate Attributes” idea past Maureen and also ensure that we were adhering to Aston’s remit/strategy. Maureen’s suggestions and the meeting as a whole proved encouraging and satisfied that we were heading in the right direction I could finally begin work on preliminary visuals, a proof of concept for the animation and a brief for the project in order for a script to be developed by Nick Birch.
The essence of the brief was a requirement for a script that featured two protagonists involved in a conversation about the virtues of MAP (with a focus on ‘Enhancing Graduate Attributes’) presented in the form of a frame by frame comic book. As mentioned earlier the protagonists were to be students featured in various campus locations and the perceived (but unstated) tone was to be straight forward and informative. However, the first draft script that Nick returned at the end of November was quite unexpected. Not only was it humorous but also had the protagonists referencing the fact that they were part of an advertisement and breaking the ‘fourth wall’.
Initially, although the script was very good, I felt that this was not what was needed because the mock ad-sales element of it didn’t fit with the tone we were trying to set. Then it occurred to me, that with a slight re-write of the script, one of the protagonists could be turned into a super-hero which would reinforce the comic book motif. Everything had fallen into place.
The final script, storyboard and test animations were completed just in time for the Christmas break with plans in the New Year for the ‘design’ of a super hero costume, identifying people to play the parts and blue screen photography prior to assembling a first draft of the animation. However plans had to be put on hold as a couple of projects, including the Paramedics Training Videos for the NHS, would take priority for a couple of months. However, during this time we were able to present the work done so far to Maureen Tibby, Angela Davies and Lehanne Anderson of the Careers & Employability Centre and their favourable comments proved very encouraging.
Work on the animation finally reconvened at the start of May 2011. In order to plan out exactly what images of our actors would be needed for the final animation I created a version with self shot photographs of myself against a blue screen, playing the part of ‘Captain Aston’ (although not in costume) and his opposite number. To all intents and purposes, this was the final animation and would only require the replacement of the images of me with the final images of the actors.
A call went out to marketing and the entire South Wing fourth floor corridor for volunteers to play the parts of Captain Aston and his cohort and it was CLIPPs very own Paul Gorman and Zara Kendrick who answered that call. A couple of hours shopping and a bit of nifty work with a sharp knife and a bit of glue and Captain Aston was finally ready to don his cape and mask.
After a short photo shoot against the blue screen to get the required images of Paul and Zara, final compositing of the My Aston Portal animation could begin and the completed animation was delivered at the beginning of June 2011.
Comments have so far been positive. Angela Davies wrote “It’s great to see it all come together from your initial pencil drawings. I think it unambiguously emphasises MAP’s functions. Glad you decided to go with the direct approach. The poster is vague enough to want to find out more, but the comic strip is very clear, and funny; I think it will appeal to students.”
Nick Birch added “I’m really pleased with what we have achieved in making the MAP animation. Often, it’s the simplest messages that take the most effort to communicate effectively and Steve’s worked so hard on bringing this complex, yet straightforward message to the screen. I think it’s another fine example of the high quality and visual impact we can achieve in Media & Learning Technologies.”
Angela also suggested that Captain Aston could be put to further publicity use in the future, a sentiment also echoed by Steve Thompson. So there could be a sequel yet!
Many thanks to Kevin Brace, Nick Birch, Paul Gorman and Zara Kendrick for their involvement in this project. If you have any questions regarding this production feel free to enter them into the comments and I’ll try my best to answer them.
Video Graphics & DVD Production
Centre for Learning Innovation & Professional Practice