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Save Santa's Home: The Video

I posted a few weeks ago about working on the layout and typesetting of a book called Save Santa’s Home. And then posted a week after that about working on an original musical score for the story. All of that was leading up to this… directing the video version of the Save Santa’s Home story.

Save Santa’s Home was written by Sean Presant and Andrew Slack. After working on the book version for them, I pitched the idea of turning the book into an audio/video presentation. They loved the idea and I set out to work on it in record time (I had about a week from start to finish).

The video presented a number of challenges. First, the book was formatted vertically, while video is a horizontal medium. Second, the pages are all still frame, and while we didn’t have the time or budget to animate the entire story (that would’ve taken months and costs ten of thousands of dollars), I did want to add some movement via pans and zooms and jump cuts, along with some animation at key moments.

So I set about tackling the formatting first. I was taking the standard book page and re-formatting for a 16:9 video. This required a number of page elements and background elements to be rearranged, extended, or otherwise messed with.

For example, here is a 16:9 (the aspect ratio for widescreen video) crop laid over a book page and the resulting video frame:

There was no good way to frame this page and get everyone’s face in the shot, at least, not without reformatting the background and re-positioning all of the characters, which is what I did:

Much better! It’s not exactly the same as the book page, but it provides the same function as the book page, just, re-directed for a widescreen presentation.

Next, I took those reformatted pages, and started editing the simple pan and zoom movements in Adobe Premiere. It took some time to get the right movements during the right scenes. I also split a few of the frames into multiple layers and added blinking Christmas lights, and falling snow, where appropriate. This helped bring a lot of interest and life to the still frames.

Then, just 48 hours before launch, we learned that square videos perform MUCH better on Facebook than widescreen videos. So I rushed to again re-edit the entire 32-page book and to re-create every cut and pan and zoom from the widescreen video, but this time in a square format.

This reformatting required going back to the original pages and again moving foreground and background elements so they would fit into a square frame, painting out background elements, and placing on-screen text from the book (as most people scroll through Facebook on their phone with the volume muted).

Not a task for the faint of heart with that kind of turnaround time, but I finished with a few hours to spare!

And it looks like the video is a success! It has over 200,000 views across various uploads (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc) and has been shared by numerous celebrity climate activists, including Mark Ruffalo and Alyssa Milano!

This project has been huge, from formatting and typesetting the original book pages, to co-writing an original score with Christian Caldeira, to creating not one, but two cuts of the video version, all in the span of one month, during which I also had oral surgery to remove all four of my wisdom teeth. But I believe in this project and its message and was willing to put in the overtime.

These posts have mostly focused on technical elements and behind the scenes trivia, however, I hope you also take some time to consider the message, join the Santa Squad to help us make a positive change for the future, and donate if you have the means.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

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Save Santa’s Home: The Book

Save Santa's Home

Recently I joined the team working on Save Santa’s Home, a climate change project. Through the power of an original story serving as a conversation starter, Save Santa’s Home aims to redirect the climate change discussion from one of anger and hopelessness to one of activism and hope.

In December, a crowdfunding campaign will launch promoting the Save Santa’s Home story book and related perks in conjunction with a few public demonstrations in Washington DC and elsewhere across the country.

The book was written by Sean Presant and Andrew Slack, illustrated by Ayan Saha, with typesetting and layout by yours truly! Not only will I be doing the design and layout of the book, I’m also working with Sean and Andrew on creating a video version of their story book!

The video will feature the book’s illustrations (I’ll work in some animation to bring a little life to the still pages) with a dramatic audio reading of the original story. The video will also feature original holiday music written by Christian Caldeira and myself, and performed by our band, The Caulden Road!

But we’ll dig into the video and music more in future posts, for now …

Layout and Typesetting

Sean and Andrew ran into a readability/accessibility issue with their original designs. Text was being placed directly on the illustrations and was being obscured by various elements within the illustration (such as snow or bright highlights washing out white text). So they brought me on to redesign the entire book from the ground up, rethinking text layout and font choices on each page.

Below are a few examples of the original design they brought to me vs my new designs.

Most pages, like above, required me to paint over some objects to make sure the text was as readable as possible. I also re-framed most of the illustrations to taste, and to create a bit more room for the text.

Other pages required me to paint over backgrounds, but retain important objects in the foreground (like Santa’s sack of toys in the example below), and those pages took a bit more time.

Finally, some pages I felt required larger changes to the layout, like the back cover below.

Save Santa's Home - New Design

Overall I’m very happy with the way the new designs look. The readability/accessibility of the new layout and typesetting trumps the original design, and, in addition to that making it easier for children to read, it also helps the entire production look more professional.

As mentioned above, you’ll be able to get your hands on a copy of the book via a crowdfunding campaign next month, with the video to follow in a couple weeks. I’ll post additional updates, but if you want to get involved now, sign up for the Save Santa’s Home newsletter on the website (which I also made, heh).