QPR Institute “About Suicide” – Behind the Scenes With Artist Mitch Davis
Over 800,000 people die each year by suicide. That is one death every 40 seconds. Just startling. This motion graphics piece by Treatment created for the QPR Institute really struck me as an effective and visually striking way to draw attention and awareness to this mental health topic.
I really enjoyed the art style behind the piece, almost like it was made from paper cutouts that you can feel the texture of. I love hearing the stories behind every piece of art and was lucky enough to pick the brain of Mitch Davis, the motion designer behind the visuals to this project.
Tell us who you are and what you do.
Mitch Davis I’m a freelance professional based out of Spokane, WA. I’ve been running this operation as a business full time for the last two years. I handle creative and my wife helps on the business and copywriting side. The term studio may be sort of inflating our status, but whatever, we make cool stuff.
How big was the team on this project?
Mitch Davis Three people worked on this. Benji Wade, who founded Treatment , worked directly with the client to write the script. Together, and through many meetings, we all conceptualized the piece and nailed down the tone. Once VO was recorded, I storyboarded, designed/illustrated, and animated the piece. I hired a great 3D artist and friend who assisted on various 3D tasks.
What is your favorite shot? Walk through your process in how you brought it from idea to finished frames.
Mitch Davis One of the more powerful scenes, I think, is the subway interaction where we see a troubled young girl being approached by another woman on the subway. That scene, in a sense, is the emotional turn of the entire piece. We’ve covered how big of an issue suicide is, now we need to show that human interaction and compassion is the solution. The zoom, to me, seemed like the perfect opportunity to use the vertigo effect. It was important to show that, despite her being in a public place and surrounded by other people, she feels alone. She feels distant from others in a constantly shifting environment.
Knowing the importance of that camera move, I decided it was best to use 3D for the environment. So, the 3D-Artist on the project UV-Unwrapped the 3D model of the subway train. I then painted it with the grainy texture that’s used in the rest of the piece. I applied the texture to the model in Element 3D. Once that was done it was just a matter of integrating the characters into the scene and adding a little subway wiggle. All that animation was exclusively done in After Effects.
I always find it interesting to see if (and how much) a project deviated from the initial boards. Did you have any changes during animation & the edit?
Mitch Davis Actually, the final piece varied quite a bit from the original animatics. One of the notes we got from the client was that they wanted to lift the veil on this topic. They wanted to rattle the cage and really wake people up to how serious the problem is.
When hundreds are killed in a bombing, we rightly take notice and reflect on ways we can avoid the same outcome in the future. Though suicide claims more victims, they largely go unnoticed by those not directly related to victim(s). So, I decided to add a scene with a bombing similar to the violence occurring in the Middle East in order to draw associations between the two dangers. The hope was to let us see each other’s struggles as a battleground to be pacified.
The reflection scene at 0:34 started out with the character opening up a cabinet mirror and revealing copious amounts of prescription pills. The intent here was to reveal that what’s going on in someone’s head is easily concealed up.
These were some of the ideas that were reigned in because they were maybe too abrasive for the video. The trick with this piece was to open people’s eyes, but to handle the material respectfully. The ultimate goal was not to shock, but to inform. There was some change, but the majority of the video remained true to the boards.
What Software packages did you use?
Mitch Davis I used Photoshop to Storyboard, Design, and Illustrate. The majority of the animation was within After Effects, including Element 3D being used for most 3D animation. Other 3D work was done using Blender. And lastly, I used Animate CC for any frame-by-frame animation. DuIK was used for character rigging. Elementary is an essential tool I used in tandem with Element 3D. Ae’s Camera Lens Blur was used for those tilt-shifts throughout the piece.
What was the most challenging part about creating this?
Mitch Davis Frame-by-frame animation was definitely the hardest part. I’m not an expert at this, so adding scenes that required traditional animation was me at my most quixotic. Being a one-man team in that department was definitely biting off more than I could chew. That being said, I’m happiest with those scenes. They feel the most honest and genuine.
Any upcoming work that you’d like to mention?
Mitch Davis My personal project at the moment (which I don’t get to work on as much as I’d like) is a series of illustrated movie posters where the main character’s faces are replaced with butts. Yep.