Thursday
Feb272014

Advanced Doodling!


I've been in Hog Heaven for the past 6 months or so working on a new short film I'm calling "Advanced Doodling." The film is a spiraling involuted melange of stop-motion art and footage of its own creation. It is inspired by what appears to be an unavoidable axiom:

The art I make is never as pretty as the art I make while making it.

In the spirit of this axiom, I'd like to share with you all the process of making Advanced Doodling.

I'll be building the film piece by piece online, regularly posting the art sequences we create, dailies of the documentary footage our great DP Kevin Jones has been capturing, and various edits and re-edits as the film is assembled.

I've kicked it off with the "Pitch Video" I made to recruit crew in my film collective, Scary Cow. I have a big backlog of footage to show you all so stay tuned!
Tuesday
Dec042012

How Freckle Went Bacterial

In today's post I'm going to take a break from tacking my art up on this virtual fridge and digress into the business side of the Hot Velcro Action endeavor. On Monday, Nov 19, I officially released Freckle, the music video I've been working on for the last 18 months for Brandon Patton. In its 10 days, Freckle racked up 37,000 plays on Vimeo and was written up on LaughingSquid, Gizmodo, Cbsnews.com, Neatorama, Nerdist, and a few hundred other smaller blogs. It's hard to call 37K plays a viral sensation; let's just say the video went bacterial.

The success of the release had something to do with the quality of the video, and something to do with the steps I took to promote it. I found the whole process interesting and learned a lot about how things spread on the internet, and I thought I'd share the experience here on the blog.

First off, I should mention that my promotional strategy largely derived from this excellent write-up of the on-line launch of a short film called the "Thomas Beale Cipher". This is what I did:

Release Srategy

1. Created a website

I built a slick web-page around Freckle with fun "making of" videos and features. I knew this would be an important component of the marketing of Freckle since the process of its creation is one of the video's main hooks.

2. Wrote a press release

I wrote up a press release containing copy that could easily be lifted for a story about the video. If you are a blogger and you are choosing among a hundred cool story submissions, why not choose the one that requires the minimal effort to turn around a post? To make it even easier, I organized the release as "SUMMARY: [snappy one paragraph description that in the end was the complete verbatim content of 80% of the stories on Freckle]. FULL STORY: [more copy for the blogger who wanted to write a longer post]."

3. Contacted a bunch of blogs

About two weeks before the official release, I posted Freckle as a pw-protected video on Vimeo and contacted a bunch of blogs with this link and my press release text. The format of this contact differed among the blogs - some were direct emails to editors, some used sites' "submit contact" forms, etc. Here is an example of the wording I used to contact these blogs.

The blogs I contacted before the release were: Gizmodo, Motionographer, Petapixel, Presurfer, BoingBoing, TickleBooth, and Metafilter.

(Why Vimeo as opposed to youtube? I'm not positive it was the right decision in the end, but it was based on the reasoning in the aforementioned guide.)

4. Released the video

At 12:01 am on Monday, Nov 19, I re-uploaded Freckle to Vimeo as a new video. Bloggers want to be the first to the party; they don't want to write about something that's been around for a few weeks. For the previous private link I had given to bloggers, I replaced the source file (which Vimeo allows you to do) with a 20 second splash screen saying "Freckle is public! See here: [link]" and put the link to the new version in the video description as well.

In the video description for the new version, I included a short tag-line, a link back to my website, and contact info (email, FB, twitter...) for myself and Brandon.

I also put the video on youtube. Even though I didn't give the link to anyone, I wanted people searching on youtube to find it. (And in fact, a few blogs did just that, and the unpublished youtube link got a few thousand hits).

5. Spammed everyone I know

And asked them to watch the video! Then politely asked them to engage all their social networking might (twitter, pinterest, stumbleupon, reddit, digg, de.li.cous...) to spread the word. In the email, I said something like "if you want to take the time to aggressively help me with this, write back and I'll send a list of actions to take, but if not, above all, please share this on FaceBook" since I read (and the results bore out) the FB is king for meme spreading.

6. Reached out to heavy hitters on Twitter

I did a few web searches for things like "influential stop motion twitter users" and hit these users up with "@" tweets linking to Freckle. This worked in very few cases, but as you will see below, in one particular case it got me a lot of traction. I also had the good fortune that the singer, Brandon Patton had some semi-famous friends, having played bass for MC Frontalot and Jonathon Coulton, and toured opening for They Might Be Giants. Brandon arranged for these folks to tweet about Freckle in the first days of its release.

7. Tried to get Freckle added to a bunch of Vimeo channels

I sought out Vimeo channels like "Stop Motion", "Music Videos by vimeo users" etc with lots of subscribers and used the "shout box" to submit Freckle for consideration. Most importantly, I submitted "Freckle" to be a "Vimeo Staff Pick". Thus far, Freckle has not been so designated, but it's worth mentioning, because it's worth a lot of hits if you get it.

8. Contacted a bunch more smaller blogs

My response from contacting the larger blogs was dissapointing -- only presurfer even got back to me. I took a great piece of advice from a co-worker and did this: I googled two videos that are similar in appeal to Freckle, the Jelly Bean stop mo video and Protegion . I then compiled a list of smaller blogs that reported on these two videos and contacted them with my pitch on Freckle. This got a much heartier response, as you'll see below.

I also had a few friends or friends-of-friends, that were bloggers themselves and generously agreed to write up Freckle. Every little bit counts.

The Gory Details...

This google spreadsheet contains a list of all of the blogs and twitter users I contacted. Happy hunting!

Here is what happened:

Monday, Nov 19

Freckle gets a little over 300 views, mainly driven by FB traffic. Towards the of the day, as the result of my outreach to smaller blogs, stories appear on WallToWatch , PaperBlog , StuffYouShould.com and Presurfer .

Tuesday, Nov 20

Freckle is viewed by 900 more folks as the result of:

  • The small blog posts above. Bizarrely, Freckle gets about 150 embedded plays from the Boston sports site sonsofsam.net. I still haven't been able to track down this story.
  • More facebook traffic. Scarycow.com shares Freckle to its 13,000 fans. Eventually 1275 people would "Like" this post.
  • Tweets to a total of 90,000 people by Jonathon Coulton and MC Frontalot.

Wednesday, Nov 21

  • The twitter user @WeLoveStopMotion tweets about Freckle and posts it to the blog of the same name. While the tweet goes out to only about 1000 followers, weheartstopmotion is a popular blog on tumblr, which I now learn about. Tumblr is a little like Pinterest -- people have blogs that that largely consist of "tumbles" -- reposts of other stories on tumblr, which is accomplished with a single click on a story. Within a day, about 35 other tumblr bloggers reblog the WeHeartStopMotion post, eventually accounting for about 700 plays (hard to count since they show up in Vimeo's analytics as a bunch of separate embed sources).
  • LaughingSquid.com posts a story on Freckle and tweets it to their 360,000 followers.
  • About two hours after the LaughingSquid post appears, Gizmodo.com lists Freckle as a "Watch This!" story on the side-bar of their main-page. At the end of the post it says "via LaughingSquid.com via Vimeo".

Thursday, Nov 22

Freckle spreads laterally from gizmodo, which is basically used like a wire service by blogs around the world. Vimeo's embed stats show that Freckle is being played from over a hundred random little blogs, aggregrators and other web-sites.

Friday, Nov 23

Most of the hits are now coming from three (apparently) big european blogs, feber.se (swedish), http://technologie.gazeta.pl/ (polish), and gizmodo.uk. About 400 people watch Freckle on a European clone of Facebook, vk.com .

Saturday, Nov 24

Freckle is listed on cbsnews.com in its "Black Friday Music Roundup" , along with videos by Florence and the Machine and David Guetta. This seems pretty dern cool, but only results in a hundred or so plays.

Mon, Nov 26

The youtube version of Freckle shows up on Neatorama.com , and via Neatorama, Nerdist.com , resulting in about 2000 plays on youtube.

Wed, Nov 28

Another spike of about 3000 views results from the video's appearance on gizmodo.jp, the Japanese edition.

Woulda Coulda Shouldas:

Thus ended the first ten days of the on-line release of Freckle. Here are some things I might have done differently:
  • I didn't really pursue promoting Freckle on the full panaroma of social media outlets, like Pinterest, Stumbleupon, Reddit, Digg, De.li.cious, etc. This is mainly because I didn't have accounts or critical masses of followers on any of these sites, and none of my 30-something friends did either. If I had been yet more promotion-minded, I would have tried to learn / build traction on some of these outlets months before the release. I anecdotally know their power because in 2010 I had a gallery show for some velcro art and the next day a 1000 people visited my website via stumbleupon.
  • I did not do a great job of capturing viewers of Freckle. I had a Facebook "Like" button at the top of my website that a few people clicked. However, it wasn't till Saturday that I learned that a "Like Button" is different than a "Like Box". The "Like Button" allows a user to post to her own wall that she Likes your link. The "Like Box" allows a user to add himself as a fan to your Facebook Fan page (and post to his wall to that effect), giving you a permanent connection to that user. I quickly threw up a "Like Button" in a more prominent spot on my web-site, linking to my little used HotVelcroAction facebook fan page and got 12-15 new fans. Had I done this early on, perhaps I would have gained a hundred or so contacts for future projects.
Monday
Nov192012

Freckle is Here!!!

18 months. 19,000 velcro dots. Two velcro dot-suits. 20 volunteer velcro pushers from Scary Cow. A girl. A guy. Space. Skin. Freckle has arrived!

After watching it, CHECK OUT THE "MAKING OF" PAGE .

Wednesday
Jul042012

Fireworks!


A Happy Fourth of July break from Velcro, ladies and germs... Enjoy!

This piece actually started as an I-Swear-This-Will-Be-A-One-Night-Art-Project art project having nothing to do with the fourth. I was just in love with this fabric and wanted to chop it up and get my meta on. In the end the video took about three weeks.

My friend Sam once told me: "Don't get obsessed with process. Too many artists get obsessed with their process." Too late, Sam.

There is a message at the end of the video and I hope it moves you to some small action. I originally planned to deliver that message as a voice-over in the piece, have no music, and make it a sort of earnest, slightly quizzical meditation. Instead I wimped out, pulled in the faux-melodramatic Wagner, and stayed in my comfort zone. None-the-less, thank you to anyone out there who sacrifices their time and more to defend this amazing set-up in which I do my life: America.

Monday
Jun112012

Hot (Generative) Velcro Action

After wrapping on the meticulous velcro tracing sequence described in my previous post, I decided to set the Freckle crew to work on a project of a completely different nature. As an experiment in rule-based art I created a series of "pattern cards", each of which provided instructions for a fairly simple dot sequence to be executed on the board over an 8 frame interval. This interval was selected so that when set to music in 4/4 time, each card would represent a "part" in visual 1/8th notes. Here are some examples of the cards:

Over a month of wednesday and friday nights, the crew used these cards to create 32 measures (256 frames) of Hot Velcro Action. To add some additional structure to the piece, we switched color pallets every 8 bars. We started with pastels and muted tones, moved to highly saturated primary colors, went back to muted tones, and finished with black/white and graphical print dots.

But wait a second, aren't you supposed to be working on a music video? The overarching purpose here was to make some cool abstract footage as background for various green screen composites in the outro of "Freckle", which is what you hear in the video above.

In the end I love the visuals created by this process, though the patterns didn't get pulled out by the rhythm of the music quite as much as I had hoped. Thanks again to my amazing crew -- it's back to velcro rotoscoping on wednesday...

p.s. Thanks to John Hight for the great shot of hands at the board.