You can’t make it Viral – Some Thoughts on adverts and virality

‘You can’t make a cult movie.’

I found this quote recently whilst reading a film critics blog, and the idea stuck with me. The post went on to explain that some film makers recently, especially in the comedy sphere, have tried to make films that are deliberately ‘so bad it’s good’ goofy, or peppered with pop culture references, in an attempt to make a cult classic (think The Rocky Horror Show.) The problem is, this films often end up feeling flat or forced.

I feel that the same applies to online viral videos, especially in the world of advertising. Any advertiser would love to have their work go viral, but it’s not a predictable or guarantee-able event. You can study ‘Charlie bit my finger‘ or ‘Friday‘ or ‘Numa Numa guy‘, or look at the demographics, the commenters, the imitations (or even make an response of your own – EE has a great ‘sequel to Numa Numa’ that I saw in the cinema last week and it’s pretty awesome, although I feel the older members of the audience didn’t get the joke) but you can’t really purposefully make a video with these features and expect it to ‘go viral’ and possibly more if you are advertising something. Online video gives opportunities for great, original and unusual advertising campaigns but in the end they work like any other traditional campaign, through message and exposure.

If anything, an attempt to create a spreadable video might backfire badly for a company, much like the films described in that blogpost. That’s not to say that advertising campaigns and videos don’t go viral on YouTube or elsewhere, they frequently do. But it’s not something you can plan for or rely on.


Useful related reading: Spread That! Further Essays from the Spreadable Media Project by Henry Jenkins

Spread That!: Further Essays from the Spreadable Media Project – See more at:
Spread That!: Further Essays from the Spreadable Media Project – See more at:

In this, Henry Jenkins points out that media doesn’t magically spread and share all by itself – there’s an audience involved who need to be appealed to in some way.

Mobile Video Apps and Digital Identity – A Dissertation Summary (ish!)

I haven’t written much on here about my dissertation work on mobile film, mainly because I was too busy writing it! (Although I did link a vlog on the topic here, and there are more on my YouTube channel.) However, as I finally handed it in three weeks ago today, I decided it was time I shared a few things about it on here.

Mobile Film Apps and social Media

After going through several topics, I found myself writing about the role of mobile video in social media, particularly looking at social media apps such as Vine and Instagram video. I was particularly interested in Digital Identity – how people present their public persona online, and whether using video affected that.

There has been plenty of literature on how modern mobile phone cameras have opened up filming to the general population, to the point where creating films has become a part of many people’s daily lives. However these apps have opened up sharing to the bigger population. People have been uploading mobile phone videos to the Internet for pretty much as long as there has been mobile video, and especially since the creation of YouTube in 2005. But doing this required getting the video off the phone, possibly editing it or changing file format, then uploading it… it was a much more complicated process that undoubtedly put a lot of people off. Now, you can record with an app which puts the video online and shared it to other social media platforms almost immediately, anywhere with WiFi or a 3G/4G connection.

Knowing this, I decided to try to find out exactly why people were sharing these videos. What was the content? Who were the videos aimed at? What was did they think was the purpose of sharing these videos, especially since they were being shared to quite open platforms?

Finding out involved doing a mix of studies, most importantly an online survey asking these kind of questions, but also a case study using the videos made for the #NextGenHello crowdsourced film, which I’ve written about previously. As these apps are so new, it was hard to reach out to the right people who were using them. But I did manage to come up with some conclusions.

I had looked at vlogging on other channels as part of my literature, as it’s really entered the global consciousness as a ‘thing’ people do, even as a career. I thought there might be connections between the way people vlog on longer videos – to gain followers, and mobile apps, and there definitely is for a small minority, particularly using Vine to create clever short films. Yet the majority of the people I got info from weren’t interested in that at all. They mostly made videos to share through social media to a small network of friends and family, even if the videos were open and public. Videos were being used as a form of communication to a small number of people, as well as adding to their Digital Identity (usually in a positive way; a way that made them look good online in other words!) Even the #NextGenHello videos which were made for a wider audience featured common themes of people’s lives, hobbies and families. In addition, many of the videos creative in their shots and edits, even within the short time span the app gives you.

A selection of thumbnails from the Instagram videos found under the #NextGenHello hashtag. Screengrabbed from

Many people didn’t seem to consider this in any great detail – they weren’t deliberately trying to create a particular online identity through their videos. It seems to be something we do without thinking, ditto the creative element. Mobile video has crept into social media and become a massive part of it almost organically, part of the process of evolution within online spaces.

First Foray into Animation – Cbeebies Short Project

I’ve already blogged on here about my MSc Project making an ident for CBeebies, using the programme Adobe After Effects.

I’ve written about some of the physical filming, as well as the Sound Design and Composition, but by far the hardest, more time consuming and most out of my comfort zone has been the animation of the characters. The ‘characters,’ which are the yellow are fairly amorphous so I could animate them simply using after effects and not need to use Maya/Flash.

To do this I used a technique called puppet pinning in which points along the edge of an image can be selected and then moved. Often this deforms the object and ruins the effect, but since these objects are intended to be ‘deformed’ it worked really well. It took a bit of experimentation to find a set of movements that made the characters move in a natural looking way, by varying the length of each pin movement so that they undulated across the screen rather than appearing to slide and float above the ‘ground.’ The effect I was going for was something like a sped-up snail. Sometimes the characters needed only a few pins, but it many scenes they needed to change frame-by-frame. Time consuming but ultimately more effective and satisfying!

However they still needed to be integrated with the real life background. I created drop shadows, which were customised to each character and at some points wereanimated so that they appeared to move beneath the character as if the character were jumping.

The characters on the left are jumping. As the background is plain, the movement of the shadow gives the impression of 3D space.

However the most important technique was masking, which meant that the characters could be a part of the environment, rather than appearing to be pasted over the top.

For example, in the scene below the bugs are jumping through the bars of the gate. A mask was placed over the area where the bug starts, which removed that section of the image so it appeared to be behind the gate.

The scene also required one piece of 3D animation. In the first shot, a ball bounces between the bugs, causing them to scatter briefly. In this previous blog, I detailed how I used a green screen so that a real ball could be keyed into the scene. However I soon ran into a problem with this – the ball had blurred as it passed across the camera. This meant that when I attempted to key the background out, the shape of the ball distorted. I couldn’t remove the green without removing some of the blue as well. If we had changed the frame rate of the camera it might have worked.

Instead, I decided to create a 3D ball shape within After Effects. As the ball was only onscreen for a second or two, it didn’t need to be perfectly realistic, so a blue shape with points of light and shadow, plus an animated drop shadow was a great replacement.

When the ball is moving through the shot it is fast and blurred enough to be convincingly real.

However in all this, there were bound to be a few mistakes along the way, which I made sure to capture on video. Some of them turned out pretty funny when rendered and I put together a quick montage.

Sound Design Updates – Going for ‘Simple’

Recently I posted a blog describing the sound design I was creating for my Digital Compositing project. At this point the sound design is nearly finished, the only thing that is currently missing is the sound of children playing in the background (after repeatedly failing to get a good recording of this I will be downloading a track from as soon as I have retrieved my password – oops!) and some room tone for the scenes both outside and inside the studio, which I’ll be getting at MediaCityUK this afternoon.

In previous sound design projects the ethos has always been ‘more,’ more ideas, more layers, more samples, more believability. Yet I felt like the more I put into this project the less it worked. The simple music track which I’ve posted below is the driving part of the soundtrack and I felt as if I was starting to overwhelm that.

I cut down completely on the atmos tracks. One recording of birdsong and one of wind for the park and suburban shots. One track of traffic for the road. I also removed the ‘voices’ of the characters completely, despite trying different sources (everything from my own voice to my cat to a creaking door) and different techniques, they sounded more like they were being strangled than having cute conversations! The animation shows them ‘miming’ reactions to each other and there are changes of expression, which I think will have to be enough.

In this project, using just one appropriate, well recorded sound in the right place worked far better than eight or ten layered tracks that were less convincing.

Foley Work

Over the past few weeks, my group for Audio Post Production has been busy finishing up the sound for the short Animated film we’ve been working with. We’ll be starting to mix it in 5.1 tomorrow morning.

One of the most fun things for me has been creating the Foley sounds. Foley (named after famous Hollywood sound recordist Jack Foley) is adding in sound effect to fit the screen, such as footsteps, and is used throughout the film industry, not just in animations. Often the sounds produced on set are unusable due to outside interference, and contrary to popular belief cannot be ‘fixed in post!

Although the sounds can be edited into place, it is easier if they are as closely in sync with the picture as possible, so it needs a lot of takes to get right. When factoring in takes where the microphone needed adjusting and there were discussions over the exact sound and how to get it, even a minute of footstep sounds can take an hour.

Rob and Kerry recording the sound of footsteps on a metal sheet

Like all sound effect work, Foley involves a fair amount of experimentation. I spent quite a while rolling a nut down a metal pipe angled towards a camera (borrowed from a DIY-minded neighbour’s shed) to create the sound of a robot rolling out of the end of a drain pipe. The hardest part of this (which I wish I’d videoed) was probably getting the sound of the nut rolling towards the microphone without it popping out of the end of the tube and bouncing off the equipment

For anyone interested in trying this kind of thing, ‘The Sound of Effects Bible‘ by Ric Viers, and ‘Sound Design‘ by David Sonnenschein are fantastic reads, and of course there are plenty of great sites and YouTube videos- I might make a post listing them when I have time.