Behind The Scenes: Building Branded Content with Layered Animation and Aruba Networks 

When Aruba Networks asked us to create their new brand video, they basically gave us one simple instruction: As a newly acquired division of HPE, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, they want to reinforce the Aruba brand identity. In other words, they wanted us to make them and their technology look cool. We’ve created a number of videos for this technology company in the past, and the simple directive they hit us with this time made it pretty clear that they trust our creative vision as well as our ability to execute. Although some may balk at the lack of direction, we thrive with all that creative space, and nothing makes us happier.

Of the three ideas we put in the pitch deck, Aruba Networks chose ‘Our Vision,’ a layered animation piece that illustrates how their different technologies (including smart buildings, facial recognition, trans-continental video calling, and other innovations) can work together. The end goal is for their clients to see beyond the use of a single technology solution and instead to envision how all of the solutions available through Aruba Networks can help keep their companies on the cutting edge of technology.  

Take a look at the special Behind The Scenes video we made with our friend Benjamin Packard (Producer and Videographer with Retainer Media), and then meet us below for some nitty-gritty on how we did it:

Setting the stage

The idea for this particular brand video was a “workplace of the future,” where everything is connected, instantly available, and responsive to user commands. We also wanted to go in a somewhat edgy creative direction. It was clear from the beginning that a warehouse setting would give us that edge and also provide a great contrast to the state-of-the-art technology we’d be illustrating. We found the perfect location right around the corner from us at American Steel Studios in West Oakland.

Our lighting design played an important role in capturing the mood. In order to emphasize the industrial futuristic vibe, we created big shafts of atmospheric light using Xenons (what Sean calls “old school, crazy lights” that were actually developed in WWII to spot planes). The Xenons are pretty gnarly, but they gave us exactly the atmosphere we’d hoped for.

Layered animation

One of the big challenges with layered animation is that you have to have the setting and the characters interacting with animation that’s not there. As you can probably imagine, there are a number of ways this can go very wrong and look silly, simple, and ineffective. In order to execute the vision with precision, our animation department partnered up with local VFX artist, Sam Sarraf, who collaborated with us on both the animation design and execution.  

Here’s the thing: No matter how killer the graphic design is, the video can still look wonky if the characters are not interacting with the VFX in a realistic way.

Matchmoving is the process of matching computer generated (CG) elements into live-action footage. Although the matchmoving itself takes place in the animation studio, the groundwork is laid during the video shoot. To create layered animation that looks like the VFX are actually embedded inside the space (rather than looking like a 2-D overlay), we had to shoot the scene with people and props and then again without people and props.

Although green-screen effects are common in animation, we decided that in order to make the graphics feel more natural in the space, we’d rely more heavily on rotoscoping instead.  Rotoscoping is a technique that allows animators to extract an object from a scene for use on a different background. But the way we used it was to extract an object from a scene and replace it with our own graphics. In addition to helping us create a more natural feel to the graphics than compositing would have, rotoscoping also allowed for more flexibility with lighting.

A staircase of light

As words on a page, this all sounds pretty abstract, doesn’t it? Let’s get specific for a second by taking a look at one of our favorite shots in the video above.  It starts at 00:42 and shows a woman walking down a flight of virtual stairs.  

(Go ahead and take a look. We’ll wait.)

Ok, so…to create the staircase of light, we shot footage of the actress walking down an actual staircase that had been placed on the set. Then, with the camera locked in place, we shot an empty plate with just the background and a bit of atmospheric fog. In post-production, our animators overlaid those two shots and used rotoscoping to extract the on-set staircase from the scene. Then, we used animated elements in post-production , to create a staircase of light that advances with every step the character takes.  

Pretty cool, right?

We could go on and on about the various tricks and tools we used, but we’ll spare you the details and leave it at this: Our client loves the end result because it brings their message to life and makes them look good.  

It all started with “make us look cool”

At Corduroy Media, our strength is found within our creative problem solving. No matter the tools and tricks we use, or who we partner with, the end result is always great visual storytelling that presents the client’s message in compelling and innovative ways. In this case, by using creative concept development, a series of cool camera techniques, gnarly lighting, and layered animation, we were able to illustrate the ways in which Aruba Networks stands at the cutting edge of the technology industry. And that’s the kind of work we do everyday.