Hope is not lost- Christmas Opener 2018

Just because the story is the same doesn’t mean you have to tell it the same way.

Two years ago, Christmas 2016, I made an opening video for our Christmas Eve service at Lincoln Berean that told the story of the fall of man from Genesis to setup why Jesus was sent to earth. I gave all my creative energy to that project and pushed myself to do some things I hadn’t done before. I was happy with how it turned out, and it communicated what we wanted to communicate. (link).

In 2018 I was asked to do the same kind of video again. I thought…crap…I don’t know what I’d do differently than last time. Sure, it had a slightly different focus, but in the end it felt like it was going to be basically the same video, right? I felt a little bit defeated before I had even begun. What if this time it wasn’t as good? Would I have the same passion and energy I had the first time I told this story?

A little over a month later, here’s what I ended up with: (crank your sound up!)

Let’s break it down.

I did some things in this project I didn’t even know I could do. Once the ideas started to roll I decided I wanted to create a space scene from scratch. I have some experience with after effects, so I dove in head first and asked questions later.

My goal was to create a scene that could pass as a believable tribute to what creation may have looked like. That starts with the visualization of God speaking the universe into existence.

In the beginning

That can certainly be visualized with a big bang type explosion, and often is, but I wanted to take a different approach. I played around and ended up using several effects and layers to make the universe appear in a way where it warps and collapses into itself. In this interpretation it doesn’t start small and get big- but rather it starts big and gets small, as if God’s voice sort of projects the details into place.

Next were the space and earth scenes. I’ve always loved Andrew Kramer’s work, so I went over to his website and one of the first tutorials I saw was how to make a very realistic looking earth, and another for a realistic looking sun. Andrew’s tutorials are fantastic, and I give him a ton of credit. I try to be as original as possible, but one of the sun shots is definitely just the tutorial with a few modifications. I learned a ton, and then I was able to take what I learned from the tutorials and design additional unique scenes of my own.

Making the space and earth scenes was the most fun I’ve ever had in after effects. I obsess over small details, and these scenes were full of those. It’s so much more than a making an orb and putting it on a star background. What really sells these scenes is the layers and layers of tiny details. The haze. The lens flares. The camera motion. The sound effects. That’s where most of my time was spent, and I absolutely loved it.

creation 1.gif

In all, I probably spent about a week of work on this opening half of the video. I learned a lot along the way, and in the end with all the sound effects and transitional elements added in- I was extremely happy with how it turned out.

Next: The Apple
As the story is told in Genesis, God created people in his image and put them in a beautiful garden with one simple command. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and try to do things their own way- essentially to try to be their own gods.

The Genesis story doesn’t say what type of fruit was forbidden, but it’s commonly portrayed as an apple.

The Genesis story doesn’t say what type of fruit was forbidden, but it’s commonly portrayed as an apple.

Sometimes we buy stock footage but I try to avoid it when I can. I knew for the apple tree scene there was a lot of specific shots I probably wouldn’t find in a stock pack. So I decided to try to create it myself!

It was the middle of winter in Nebraska, so there wasn’t many opportunities for authentic apple tree footage. Fortunately we have a studio space at Lincoln Berean that I could use. After calling around and doing a lot of research to consider all my options, here’s what I ended up using to make this scene happen:

1) Ficus Tree that we bought from a nearby greenhouse
2) Fake Apples
3) Super glue
3) Fog machine
4) Spray bottle (for water droplets)
5) Peanut butter oil (to make the fake apples less shiny)

I never showed a wide shot of the tree because it was pretty clear that the apples didn’t belong on a tree that size, but the closeups worked perfectly. And having the lighting completely controlled was a huge advantage so I could take my time and find the exact shots I wanted.

Last but not least, the falling apple. Making this shot was relatively simple. I bought a real apple and had a friend take a bite out of it. Then I took it up on a ladder with a blue screen below. We mounted the camera on a jib pointed straight down and I dropped the apple over the blue screen. I filmed it in 120FPS and used the Twixtor plugin to slow it down even more.

falling apple.gif

It’s funny looking back and realizing that at the start of this project I was just hoping to survive it. It seemed like it was going to be the exact same as the video I had made just 2 years before. On a long enough timeline, in any creative job, this is going to happen. Your work will repeat itself. You’ll take the same kind of shots, design the same kind of graphics, and tell the same kind of stories. It’s going to feel boring, which seems to be the opposite of why you are doing this work for a living. When you’re feeling that way, all you can do is just trust your process and push through- and you’ll be surprised what you find on the other side. I know I was!

Thanks for taking a bit of time to check out this behind the scenes post, and I’d be very happy to answer any questions you may have about the specifics of this project!