One would think that my favorite part of working on the course trailer of all course trailers was from that first moment when a faculty member came to me and asked, “Can you help me rap with Godzilla about Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness?” That was pretty cool, but it wasn’t my favorite moment. Not only because the question itself made me feel like I had my greatest weakness exposed and that I had finally been faced with something that I couldn’t possibly pull off, even with all my “fake it til you make it” know-how. I cannot and will not attempt to write rap lyrics. Natalie Baker, PhD scoffed at my confession. “No! I want to write my own lyrics! But can you make the video of me rapping with Godzilla?” This was the beginning of my team’s epic journey of fun, with a video project that would have us all humming “Ain’t Nuthin But A G Thang” for months after.
My favorite aspect of this project came when our graphic design student intern didn’t have anything to work on one day (a rarity at ALT Lab, for anyone in any position), and he came to me for something to do. Everyone knows that I ALWAYS have too many projects going and I ALWAYS can make use of an extra set of creative hands. On this day, our projects were all listed out, written on a wink wall. I walked Michael Couchman over and said, “Yes, let’s see what we have going on and you can take your pick.” We walked over and I saw the list as he might, a ton of gibberish of projects that he had no connection to. “I lied, Michael, you don’t get to pick. You’re definitely on the Godzilla project.”
This project was what I like to call an “all hands on deck!” project. I want to be clear, that every single one of us worked hard on this project. As the one steering the ship, I gotta say, I won’t even let my team commit these kind of hours on a course trailer in the future. Truly, I can say that part of why we put the kind of time and care into this one, was in big part because of how thrilled we all were with the artistic direction that our student intern created for us. Emma and I had storyboarded to communicate the needs we had for his compositions. I had decided that we would incorporate class content into billboards and screens throughout the landscape. Other than that, Michael really had creative freedom on this project. We love where he took it!
I decided that the best way for me to talk about this project would be to interview Michael Couchman and learn about his creative process. So, without further ado, here is the course trailer and my interview with the Artistic Director:
Be honest, what was the first thing you thought when I asked you to ruminate on a Godzilla aesthetic for a video?
The first thing that came to my mind, was where I would pull content from. Godzilla is a very well known character and I wanted to use that to my advantage. I figured that the best way to do this would be to pull frames from movies and use those. However, this was also around the time that the new Godzilla movie came out. A lot of the imagery I found was promotional material for that, And I didn’t want this project to just be a commercial for a new blockbuster movie, so I opted to use imagery from the older, classic movies.
What was your process for coming to this look that you created?
When looking at the imagery from the older movies, much of the footage was in black and white. I had pulled a lot of images to use and the few that were in color I changed to black and white so that there would be consistency throughout. Not having any color seemed a little bleak so I added a green filter on top. Now instead of black and white, Godzilla was black and green. I used the same method on the background imagery, only using a different colored filter so that the green Godzilla would stand out on top of it.
What were your influences on the aesthetic that you came up with?
After applying this method to all of the photos I had planned on using, It came time to consider how it would animate. The stylized imagery I had created reminded me of Morgan M. Morgansen’s Date with Destiny, a video short by Hit Record. This video had a very collage like feel and had a particular way of using photographs as puppets. I decided to use a similar method by breaking down all the elements of each Godzilla picture so that little bits could be animated separately.
What are you most proud of from the work you did on this project?
I am most proud of the consistency throughout all these images. I used a large variation of different types of photos, and paced things together in environments where they wouldn’t belong. However, each scene has the same visual feel as the one before and after it. That is what I am most proud of, creating a very distinct visual identity for the video.
You are a student in the VCUarts Graphic Design program. Tell me about things you learned from collaborating with an animator for this project. Did you learn anything from Emma Gauthier that you want to share with us?
I have a little personal experience with animating, but not much. Because of that I had a pretty good idea of how the character would move, or at least I understood its potential. I was not the animator, though. Because I was sending this off to Emma to animate, I wanted to give her a lot of freedom with the animation so that she could do whatever she felt would work best. Because of this, I sectioned off pieces of the character to animate, knowing full well that they might not even move. I put in a lot of extra work so that if Emma would want to animate Godzilla in a way that I wouldn’t have considered, she would still be able to. I did not want to tie her down with how I imagined it being animated.
Thank you, Michael. I hope that in your time working at VCU ALT Lab we have given you projects that have offered you the opportunity to learn new things and put your artistic abilities to good use. We are really impressed by what you created on this project and many others in the time you have been here. We can’t wait to see where your career takes you after you graduate, this spring.
Emma Gauthier already wrote a cool blog post about her role as the animator on this project, which I highly recommend reading. Her artistic contributions to this project were on par with Michael’s, and then some, since she did take on syncing G-zilla’s mouth with his rap. No small feat. So, let’s toast to them both!