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The making of Apocalymas - Part 1

Traction has created a 12-day "advent calendar" counting down to December 21st—the day many believe the world will cease to exist. 

We hope the Mayans were wrong or too lazy to create a calendar that went past 2012—but just in case our gift to the world is:Apocalymas.

At Traction we like to have fun whenever we can. When we have some downtime in-between our regularly scheduled client work, we like to explore new ideas, themes and technologies. As a result, we've done a lot of different self-promotion projects over the years—labors of love that have more passion than budget. Whether it’s creating a silly visual analogy—animated character and all—for what we do, like the Institute of Practical Underpants; a fictional past-his-prime crooner releasing a holiday album; or seasonal video experiments around the office—we don't shy away from trying new things regardless of the final out come. This year is no different.

Traction Presents: APOCALYMAS — 12 signs of the end of the world. Or why you don't have to care about the holidays this year.

With the Mayan Calendar predicting an eminent galactic alignment signifying the possible end of days, Traction has created a 12-day "advent calendar" counting down to December 21st—the day many believe the world will cease to exist. This online experience features a variety of custom content to reveal the impending Apocalypse. We hope the Mayans were wrong or too lazy to create a calendar that went past 2012—but just in case our gift to the world is: Apocalymas.

Now let's be clear: we know this is silly stuff, but that is the point. By removing our standard agency business "editorial filter," we can focus on play. Play has no business objective. We play because it is fun, satisfying and recharges our batteries. And sometimes, wonderful things are produced when we play. With the ever shifting strategic, tactical and technological landscape that we work in everyday we need time to play with things to see if they will be worthy of using in our client work. With Apocalymas we wanted to experiment in several arenas: Technology, Social integration, and Content.

The entire team contributed to the general theme and identified the various content projects that we wanted to explore. Then we let them play. And play they did...

What did it take to make Apocalymas? Read on and find out...

Creative Lead — Kellie Stepping, Art Director

When asked to reprise her role as creative lead and art director for the Traction holiday project, Kellie knew there was a lot to live up to after our last great holiday endeavor: Grouchmas. We had to do something bigger, crazier, and more provocative. Apocalymas was born out of our love for the non sequitur and absurd; as well as a collective dispassion for traditional holiday cheer. With 12 days envisioned for our dysfunctional "advent calendar" each day was a blank canvas, a call-to-action to anyone wanting to create something memorable. Members from all departments submitted proposals and participated.

Overseeing a project with many moving parts was challenging. First and foremost Kellie wanted there to be an organic yet structured timeline. With this in mind, Kellie and Melanie Kaufman, project manager, devised a schedule with only a few deadlines. The team held weekly check-ins for everyone to share his or her progress and critique work. Kellie also limited her role to that of curator. Allowing people to dictate their own creative process, to explore mediums that interested them and to experiment freely was essential. Trust was another major ingredient—the success or failure of the project was dependent on everyone fulfilling his or her responsibilities and making the final deadline. As expected, they did.

"Apocalymas was a unique project because it allowed us to show off skills that transcended our job descriptions. It turns out that we are also meme experts, satirists, video directors, composers, craft nerds, playwrights, and animators." -Kellie Stepping

And in the Traction spirit of "everything being interactive," traditional departments ceased to exist. Designers edited video. Art directors wrote copy and played with code. Programmers took turns being artists and designers. There was a collective sense of openness to try new things, to share knowledge. It took a month-and-a-half and a dozen team members—who dedicated weekends and evenings—to bring Apocalymas to life. As a result this has been one of Traction's most fulfilling projects to date, a testimony that grandiose dreams can become a reality. With the right team and the right spirit.

Experience Design — Jon Stepping, Associate Creative Director

When it came time to visualize a mash-up of Christmas and the apocalypse we wanted the look to be a mash-up as well. So we combined textures from the ancient Mayans and something from a Las Vegas junkyard to establish an overall esthetic. We then mashed that up with very modern functionality to make it come alive. 

"Why mix an ancient dead culture and an antiquated gaming theme? Because nobody said we couldn't." - Jon Stepping

In the end it was a tremendous learning experience that we can apply to all our "real" work. It created new collaboration between departments that strengthens our process moving forward. In most cases everyone that worked on the project was forced to learn new things to get this done. What could be better than that for a silly little holiday project?

Day 1: Zombie Santa — Theo Fanning, Executive Creative Director

We love all things Zombie, from the classic Night of the Living Dead slow lumbering shufflers to the 28 Days Later frenzied sprinters. Mix that with our love of animation of all styles and you get a cartoon about Zombie Santa Claus. Our ECD, Theo Fanning, spent his misguided youth as an animator and illustrator so we made sure that he dusted off his pencils and got to work for Apocalymas. Old school Don Herztfeldt style frame-by-frame animation is very time consuming—as each frame is painstakingly hand-drawn and then photographed. We brought some 21st century technology to the project by using Adobe Aftereffects to composite the separate animation cycles drawn by Theo, which meant he only had to pencil 75 key frames—lucky guy. 

"While we wanted to use modern digital tools to expedite a rather tedious process, I didn't want to lose the cozy lo-fi aesthetic that my rushed pencil drawings inherently possessed. So while the art was digitized, we opted not to overly manipulate it, leaving it's roughly hewn charm intact." - Theo Fanning

Finally our sound designer Christopher Forest and Theo went into the studio to do some lo-budget foley work to bring our jolly brain-eating Kringle to life.

Day 2: Wish You Were Here — Jon Stepping, Associate Creative Director

"Wish you were here" becomes "wish we were all here" in our remake of old school travel postcards. What better way to ease the pain of the impending apocalypse than cheap impersonal snail-mail. Look closely in the letters to find all kinds of bizarre depictions of what the end will look like. Postage not included.

Day 3: Crap-O-Matic Gift Generator — Julie Nielsen, Graphic Designer, Paul Giese, Technology Director and Glenn Gallien, Lead Developer

We have a soft spot in my heart for horrible products. Some may call it a soft spot in our heads. Either way, we can't get enough of crappy products and lucky for us the internet is full of them.

"I love contemplating: Who thought of this product? Who said it was "ok" to make? And who actually funded this disaster? Due to every American's fear of being featured on an episode of Hoarders, I don't actually buy any of these products, I just browse and laugh. Browse and laugh. Keep this as your mantra, America." - Julie Nielsen

This "talent" of Julie's for finding ridiculous swag aligned perfectly with Apocalymas. 

"For example, you know we're nearing the end of days when you can purchase a Lady Elegance P EZ Female Urinal. Yes, it is a funnel that the ladies can carry around to more easily urinate in nature. However, no one thought of where you'd stash it once it is soaked in urine." - Julie Nielsen

This type of oversight amuses Julie (and the rest of us) to no end.

Once the concept for the Crap-O-Matic Gift Generator was solidified, we began to gather the products and began work on the design. Paul Giese, Melanie Kaufman and Kellie Stepping helped Julie curate the list. For the design, Julie knew she wanted some type of one-button machine and also a Vanna White-esque spokesmodel to showcase "the crap." After creating vector drawings and designing options for plaid Christmas pants, the designs for the Crap-O-Matic and our spokesmodel Doo Doo Doode were born.

Next,  Paul Giese and Glenn Gallien took the CRAP-O-MATIC into production. 

"Julie's design of the over concept really got us jazzed. And while the functionality of the CRAP-O-MATIC is very simple, we really wanted to make sure that it would be a fun experience that people would continue to play with." - Paul Giese

After coding the general layout, they focused on HTML5 animations and the randomizing array that would make the whole thing work. Proving that the whole Traction team cared more about this "crap" then they let on.

The story continues in the days to come...

Theo Fanning ECD

Theo is an illustrator and filmmaker by design, a designer and copywriter by necessity, and his office is living proof that vintage tin toys and crystal skulls can live harmoniously with deer heads and silver emulsion photo cells.