What’s 200 feet wide, 30 feet tall and takes 4 months to make? Hint: Leviathan and John Deere

What’s 200 feet wide, 30 feet tall and takes 4 months to make? It’s quite a story. Back in April, I was invited to collaborate on a huge project with the incredible Chicago design studio, Leviathan. I would be one of two editors along with an inspiring array of a dozen 2D and 3D animation and design artists, along with the rest of a world-class creative team. A talented and inspiring group that consistently blew my mind with everything we achieved along the way.

Last week, all of us enjoyed a well deserved project wrap party on my roof and studio. A great evening to celebrate four months of work.

And with the NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) now in the rear-view mirror, I can finally talk about the wonderful project and answer the question from friends and colleagues, “What exactly have you been working on all this time?

Answer: The John Deere 2013 Product Launch

When you hear the name John Deere, especially if you’re city-folk, your first thought is probably one of simple rural pleasures. Farmers up before dawn, planting and harvesting, just as they have for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Times have changed. John Deere is a Fortune 100 company, with a higher ranking than American Express and Time Warner. And just as we citified, non-agricultural humans have embraced everything digitally connected, so has the farming industry.

One of the fun things about being an editor is the opportunity to learn a lot very quickly about the topic of any given project I’m involved with. And I can tell you with great certainty that I have a new appreciation for the technology of farming. Tractors with GPS, sending more data than you can imagine to computers and other equipment. Satellite navigation of crop rows. Tractors that can pull up next to a grain combine while it’s in motion, and “lock onto it”, with perfect spacing, allowing the combine to unload as it gets full, without stopping.

Even if I could have talked about the project during the process of making it, it’s actually a little hard to explain with words. Happily, Leviathan and Joel Corelitz of Waveplant, who did sound design on the piece, just released their beautiful case study on the project, which illustrates what we all created better than I am able to in mere text.

John Deere 2013 Product Launch from Leviathan on Vimeo.

Yeah, 200 feet wide. Certainly the largest display of anything I’ve ever been a part of. My co-editor on the project, Mike LaHood and I edited in an 8k canvas (8000 pixels wide for the non-nerd faction of my gentle readers). HD television is less than 2000 pixels wide, which gives you an idea of the exponentially bigger-ness of the project. Movie theaters are only now just beginning to screen movies in 4k, again just to give you another reference point for the scale.

If I had to describe the process of editing still and moving pictures on such a large canvas, the best analogy I can come up with is that it was very much like editing a moving gallery. Each “room” needed to be curated with images that illustrated dozens of ideas over the course of 45 minutes. We weren’t editing linearly as much as creating groups of individual galleries, each containing a few or dozens of images that complimented each other and moved the message forward as the viewers would journey through the entire “exhibition.”

While Mike and I were beginning to curate the edit, Leviathan’s Creative Director for the project, Bradon Webb, was already overseeing teams of animators and designers, including the physical design of the enormous set. All of us worked concurrently, passing work-in-progress back and forth the entire four months. Again, the scope of the project required each discipline of the final video to be designed at the same time. The designers and animators created the initial framework with our early rough edits, and we used their early design boards to determine how to populate the script with images.

Years ago, back in my early days of being a film editor, graphics and any animation design was usually left until after the picture edit was completed. However that workflow meant that designers had to work with what the picture editors gave them. They had to fit any graphics work around what was already created and approved by the client. Very little room for design creativity with that method.

In my most recent decade as an editor, I found it was much more rewarding for everyone involved in the post production process to be involved from the beginning. With Leviathan for example, on one project we collaborated on a few years ago, before I edited a single frame of footage, I took my laptop over there and reviewed the raw footage with the designers to allow us all to discover where we could take the footage and begin bouncing ideas back and forth. What resulted was my being able to incorporate their ideas from the start of my picture edit, always being aware that I wasn’t editing a linear series of images one after the other, but creating a three-dimensional space, allowing the graphic designers all the room and freedom to interact with the moving footage. It resulted in a much more pleasing and interesting piece than it would have in the past. With this John Deere project, that philosophy was even more critical to its success.

At one point we decided to shoot some additional footage on our own for one of the segments and I was off to a bean field in Iowa to meet an excellent time-lapse photography shooter from Los Angeles, Chris Pritchard, allowing us both to shoot various continuous angles of a new John Deere tractor in the field from sunset through sunrise the next morning. 14 hours of continuous overnight time-lapse shooting.

Sunrise in a Waterloo, Iowa Bean Field

Sunrise in a Waterloo, Iowa bean field, complete with god rays.

It was an example of how everyone on the project contributed with multiple skill sets. I was originally brought on as an editor, but since I’m a photographer as well, it was wonderful to have me switch hats for a couple of days and help create another piece of work for the project. I’m happy to say, it’s become more common over the years to switch up my editor/photographer/director skill set in mid-project. It’s nice to be sitting in the edit suite when someone says, “Man, we could really use a shot of…”, and we go out and make it happen.

Here’s some of my raw footage from the Iowa time-lapse shoot. With time-lapse, you can look at weather forecasts in advance, but you never really know what the clouds are going to do until you begin shooting. We got lucky with the perfect amount of stars and middle of the night clouds, and then the most glorious sunrise, complete with what we call in the biz, god rays. We were all overjoyed at what we had captured.

And here’s a list of the entire crew that made it all possible. A great, inspiring group of humans!

Client: John Deere
Agency: See Our Solutions

Executive Producer: Curt Reed
Media Producer: Jamie Henley

Production Company: Leviathan

Creative Director: Bradon Webb
Producer: Ellen Schopler
Editor: Mike LaHood
Co-Editor: Billy Sheahan
2D Design: Gareth Fewel, Ely Beyer, Anthony Malagutti, Kyle Shoup, Josh Van Praag, Hung Le, Mike Tello
2D Animation: Gareth Fewel, Ely Beyer, Katrina Nelken, Anthony Malagutti, Josh Van Praag, Kyle Shoup, Steven Greenwalt, Chris Beers, Carter Blackwood
3D Design & Animation: Anthony Malagutti
3D Lighting, Texture, & Composite: Anthony Malagutti, Siddhant Satuskar
Stage Design: Bradon Webb & Anthony Malagutti

Executive Creative Director: Jason White
Executive Producer: Chad Hutson
Chief Scientist: Matt Daly

Sound Designer/Engineer: Joel Corelitz, Waveplant


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