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1 Feb

Story Is Once Again King

Posted in Category: Industry News, Mobile Video on February 01st, 2012 by Mike Kirsch

On the internet, a one minute video is never exactly one minute. While traditional broadcast or web pre-roll video placements might occasionally force your hand into creating for a 5, 10, 15 or 30-second window, the vast majority of internet distribution channels allow for complete freedom from the constrictions of time. The anecdotal argument that online audiences will only tolerate short videos has now been proven false. Mediapost recently reported an Invodo study that found “37% of consumers spent more than three minutes watching product videos that are educational or demonstrate how to use a product.”

Whenever a client asks for a “one minute video” that’s intended for web distribution, I work with them to create a video with the appropriate informational content and it generally ends up running between 40 seconds and 1:30 in length. The takeaway here is “appropriate informational content”. Building the right message for an audience is a lot easier when you’re not watching the clock and it’s more effective to deliver a great video than one that just fits into an arbitrary time limit.

For content producers and brand managers alike, it’s important to always remember a little wisdom from Film School 101; story is king. The differentiator for good content will never be length, distribution outlet or even (in many cases) video quality. It’s not unheard of for a homemade video to amass millions of views. The key to success with an audience is to tell an engaging story that keeps their interest while it delivers your information. The rest is just adspeak.

23 Dec

Awesome Augmented Reality Apps

Posted in Category: Equipment and Technology, Fun Stuff on December 23rd, 2010 by DotLot

In its simplest terms, augmented reality (AR) is the merging of computer-generated imagery within a real-world environment. The most common examples of AR are found on broadcast sporting events. Yellow first down at American football games and world record positions at swimming event are all superimposed onto video to give added information to viewers. Although AR has been around for decades, only recently has the technology become powerful enough for the average person to utilize in any practical manner. Nowadays there are a plethora of websites that create AR through the use of webcams, but my favorite application of the technology has got to be on smartphones. With its built-in video capabilities, today’s smartphones create an amazing amount of opportunities for AR developers.

One question haunts me nearly everyday of the workweek, “What should I eat for lunch?” Applications like Urban Spoon and Yelp are stepping up their game to help in making that ever-so important decision. Both applications now include modes that display info on restaurants viewed through your phone’s camera.


Want to play games on your phone without being totally disconnected from the real world? Firefighter 360 lets you put out flames that spontaneously combust around you.

If you’re going to waste a few minutes out of your day, why not feel like a hero doing it? With Sky Siege you can shoot down planes and cause destruction wherever you happen to be pointing your phone’s camera, even around your coworker’s head.


Or become a graffiti artist without the pesky fear of being caught by the cops! Virtual Graffiti allows you to stick it to the man in relative safety. Take a picture and tag up whatever you’re looking at on your phone. Then upload it for other virtual taggers in the area to see how awesome and rebellious you are.


For the avid hiker, the theodolite app can use your camera to tell you exactly where you are. It acts as compass, GPS, map, and inclinometer.


Should you find yourself gazing at the stars you can use Star Chart to tell you what constellation you are looking at.

Never forget where you parked your car again with Car Finder. Set a visual marker on where you have parked. There are other apps that can direct you via satellite, but it is much cooler to find on a real-life display.


Should you find yourself lost in a Spanish speaking country without knowing the language make sure to have Word Lens on your phone. This amazing app recognizes text through your phone’s camera and will track and replace it with translated text. Now you can confidently find your way around without calling attention to your gringo status.

Nielsen Reports currently places an average person’s time online at 60 hours a month. This equates to an entire month out of a year and that number is poised to go up.  AR provides an entirely new level of interactivity by bringing the best that the digital world has to offer to our current reality. No longer are we bound by physical limitations. If it can be thought up it can be created in AR through a camera phone. For better or worse the line between these two worlds are becoming increasingly blurred. With the pace of our technology it may be that someday all information one can ever hope to learn will be delivered via smart phone and enhanced with AR.

–Vu N.

13 Jul

The Buddy Group Wins 8 Tellys!

Posted in Category: Announcements, Our Work on July 13th, 2010 by Mike Kirsch

The results are in, and I’m proud to announce that The Buddy Group has won eight 2010 Telly awards! For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Telly Awards, they honor the very best local, regional, and cable television commercials and programs, as well as the finest video and film productions, and work created for the Web.

Here’s how it works – The elusive Sliver Telly is the highest possible award, and isn’t given out very often. The second place award is the Bronze Telly.

Seven of our awards were awarded in the traditional process, where producers who have won Silver Tellys in the past are sent copies of the work and judge each individual video based on the category in which it was entered. The eighth award was for the VelociRaptor Product Trailer that we made for Western Digital and comes from an exciting new category – the People’s Telly, which was voted on by the general public via the Telly Awards YouTube channel.

Here’s the full breakdown of our eight 2010 Tellys:

WD My Passport Studio Trailer – Computers/Information Technology Category – SILVER

WD My Passport Studio Trailer – Use of Animation – SILVER

WD Velociraptor Product Trailer – Computers/Information Technology Category – BRONZE

WD Velociraptor Product Trailer – People’s Telly, Use of Animation - BRONZE

WD SmartWare Overview – Sales Category – BRONZE

WD SmartWare Overview – Visual Effects Category – BRONZE

Hot Wheels Custom Motors Interactive Video Experience on YouTube – Entertainment Category – BRONZE

DTS UltraPC Video – Miscellaneous Category – BRONZE

16 Jun

Building an Ikea Helmer Render Farm

Posted in Category: Equipment and Technology, Fun Stuff, How To, White Papers on June 16th, 2010 by Mike Kirsch

We need it yesterday. We always need it yesterday. A common theme in post production is that high-end creative must be produced on a tight deadline. Few things are more frustrating than waiting on an After Effects render while the clock is ticking loudly in the background. Like many post-production facilities, DotLot generally has a limited amount of time to deliver beautiful videos augmented with amazing graphics. Even though our computers are fairly powerful, we use of dozens of video layers and plugins at once, which taxes our poor little 8-core processors to the edge of their capabilities. By putting our heads together with our amazing IT tech Aziz, we were able to construct a solid render farm at a fraction of the cost of most high-end professional solutions.

For the uninitiated, a render farm is a group of networked computers that help to speed up render time by sharing the workload. For instance, a 30-second commercial has 900 frames. If each frame takes 2 minutes to render, then a single computer would require 1800 minutes, or 30 hours to complete the job. With multiple computers working together, each one can tackle a single frame at a time and then take the next frame in queue when it is done. If you have a five-node farm, that very same render would be completed in one-fifth of the time, or just 6 hours. In a world of looming deadlines, this makes a huge difference.

Our render farm journey started at Ikea. Sort of. A while back, Aziz sent me a link to a blog post about a guy who had built a multi-core Linux cluster using DIY parts and an Ikea Helmer cabinet. (To be fair, Obscured Clarity actually credits this guy for coming up with the original idea.) Prior to seeing this post, we had assembled a five-node render farm using old workstations that were left behind when systems were upgraded. It was a decent solution, but having five big Dell towers in a small edit bay made a lot of noise and heat and wasn’t very practical. This Helmer idea seemed to be a great alternative - we could build cheap, bare-bones systems; connect to them through our network; and they would take up less space than a single tower. Good deal!

Our plan was to split up the work - Aziz would set up the computers while I modded the case. His first task was to order all the parts for the computers. Since this project was somewhat experimental, we decided to start small with three render nodes, figuring we would add more later. Here was our buy list from NewEgg.

NewEgg Order List

The Magic Box

Overall Product Shot

Intel Box CU

We originally ordered 3.5″ drives - DON’T DO THIS!  The Helmer is only big enough to fit 2.5″ laptop drives. We returned the 3.5″ drives and ordered up some spiffy Western Digital Scorpio Black 160GB 2.5″ hard drives.

Scorpio Hard Drives

With all the parts in hand, Aziz set out to build the master drive, from which we would clone all the others. He installed Windows XP and the After Effects render module and then added all of our plugins and fonts. (We primarily use Red Giant’s Trapcode Suite and Knoll Light Factory.)

Windows XP Installation

Windows XP Installation CU

While he worked on that, my first task was to head out to Ikea to buy the Helmer. It’s available in a few colors (silver, white and red) but since we were building a render farm I decided it would be appropriate to go with the barn-red version.

Helmer - Red

Helmer under construction

Like most Ikea stuff, the basic build was pretty easy. The hardest part was cutting holes in the back of each drawer for the PSU and cooling fan.

Cutting Holes in a Helmer

Word to the wise - if you’re using a Dremel, be sure to use an appropriate routing bit for metal. I burned through a few wood routing bits before I finally realized that there was a bit made specifically for metal routing.

Once the rear panels are cut and the screw holes are drilled, you can mount your PSU and fan.

PSU and Fan mounted in Ikea Helmer drawer

PSU and Fan mounted in Ikea Helmer drawer - reverse shot

Rear of Ikea Helmer modded drawer in cabinet - WS

Rear of Ikea Helmer modded drawer in cabinet.

All that’s left to do after that is to slit the label holder on the front panel of the drawer so that you can fold it back to allow for a little extra airflow over the CPU.

Ikea Helmer front panels

Ikea Helmer modded front panel

Ikea Helmer modded front panel 2

The next step was to build the three systems into their drawers. Aziz used Clonezilla to make identical copies of the master drive.

Building the system

Building the system 2

In order to avoid issues with the bottom of the motherboards touching the metal surface of the shelf, we cut insulating sheets out of the tops of the motherboard boxes. High tech, I know!

Aziz cutting the box

Motherboard insulation

Assembling the drawers

With a handful of zip ties we were able to get the cables under control without having to cut any of the extra ones away.

Completed Ikea Helmer drawer computers

Finished system in Helmer cabinet

We added a switch so that we could connect all of the systems to our network.

Network switch

Completed, wired Helmer render farm

Ikea Helmer render drawers MS

Ikea Helmer render drawers CU

And our Pièce de résistance is our patent-pending screwdriver power switch. We had planned to order some lighted power switches that we were going to add to the front of each drawer, but there was a problem with the order and we needed to build the farm, so we went super low-tech and decided to forego any physical switch at all. We literally said “screw it” and picked up a nearby phillips head driver instead.

Screwdriver power switch

In this shot you can see the CPU fan is finally up and running…

Drawer in Helmer cabinet

We assigned each of the three render nodes a unique, static IP, and using the Windows Remote Desktop Connection feature, we were able to connect to each one from our primary edit system.

It worked like a charm!

After Effects Render Node screen shot

Now all of our renders are three times as fast as they used to be. In the near future, we plan to expand our farm to a full six systems. Eventually, we might even add additional Helmers to make our rendering lives even better.


12 May

The First Few Shots

Posted in Category: Mike's Shooting Tips, White Papers on May 12th, 2010 by Mike Kirsch

Defining what I’m shooting while I’m shooting is always one of the key challenges of documentary-style filmmaking. It’s not that I don’t plan for my shoots, it’s just that the reality of a given situation generally presents itself as different from even the most educated guesses. At some point, the planning has to stop and the first few shots have to begin. It’s that point at which what needs to be done diverges from what was anticipated.

Out on location the last two days, I have been shooting a set of small group interviews. As with many of the projects I work on, I am bound by secrecy (and NDAs and lawyers) to not say too much… so I can’t always tell you everything about what I’m working on. But, I can tell you that over the years I have developed a few techniques for getting the most out of the first few shots of a project.

Look For Patterns

You need to go into your shoot with some idea of what you intend to capture, but it’s critical that you look for patterns in the answers that will help guide your eventual edit. Without some degree of consistency in the footage you capture you’ll never be able to tell a complete story. This doesn’t mean you should bombard your subjects with slanted questions that will lead to the answers you want, but rather you should look for patterns in the answers that might help guide the story you tell to more accurately reflect the stories they tell.

Ask Extra Questions

Once documentary subjects are gone, they are sometimes gone forever. It’s important to start with a list of questions that you will ask of each subject, but for the first few interviews you should try to add more questions and followups than you normally would. Since the patterns you notice during the first few interviews will help guide the questions you ask later on, it’s important to ask extra questions at the beginning in order to cover as much material as possible. In addition to helping you refine your story more quickly, it also covers you with lots of extra footage so that you’ll have a better chance of ending up with footage from those early interviews that will be relevant to your final edit.

Make Options, not Choices

Whenever I shoot scripted videos (especially talking heads for the internet) I try to shoot the first few bits twice; once at the beginning of the day, and again at the end after the actor has found their character and all the kinks have been worked out. For documentary pieces, though, this isn’t generally possible. Real-world subjects come and go and rarely stick around for second takes. The solution is to shoot lots of extra coverage at the beginning of the project.

Cost permitting, shoot interviews from multiple angles, with multiple cameras. Time permitting, stage the first few interviews twice in slightly different locations or with different screen directions. If I’m interviewing two or more people at once I’ll ask one-on-one questions followed by “group sessions” where I try to get the subjects to talk to each other rather than to me. The more variety you get, the more options you’ll have and the fewer hard choices you’ll have to make.


Perhaps the most important tip for eventually staying on schedule is to figure out what not to shoot. As you discover content patterns you’ll also be able to create the coveted what-not-to-shoot-list. Learning what types of questions, shots and B-Roll to avoid will help you further refine your primary story. Coverage is important, but over-coverage can be time consuming and expensive, leading to more time spent shooting and much more time in editing.

These techniques certainly don’t constitute a complete documentary how-to, but they do help get me through those first few critical shots of a project, when concepts are still being solidified and reality is setting in. Remember that when it comes down to the actual process of shooting it’s often more useful to have a general concept than a concrete plan. You can’t usually recreate the first few shots of a project, and you also can’t afford to miss important content, especially if one of those early subjects turns out to be critical to the story.

– Mike

17 Mar

Hot Wheels Custom Motors Cup Launches

Posted in Category: Announcements, Fun Stuff, Our Work, Viral Videos on March 17th, 2010 by Mike Kirsch

File this one under: Stuff I Can Finally Tell You

We did it! We finally launched the Hot Wheels Custom Motors Cup interactive game on YouTube and the Mattel Hot Wheels site. In its first few weeks alone the game has garnered over 350,000 views - and that’s just on YouTube!

We’ve been dying to tell you all about this project, but we had to keep it all top secret until after the official launch. It’s out there in the world now, though, and if you haven’t already seen this interactive game, you should check it out.

The concept is pretty simple - you pick the vehicle you want to race with and then you pick the accessory that you think will give you the best shot at winning the next race. There are three races overall and you get to pick a different accessory for each race. Watch out though, because the other cars get to pick new accessories, too, and everyone wants to win!

We shot every frame of this video in stop-motion animation. The prep, which included concept generation, storyboarding, planning, set construction and the stage build took six weeks. The shoot took a month. For those of you who like production trivia and fun facts, here are a bunch of numbers that went into this project…

26 days of production
9181 frames captured
1 minute 16 seconds average to shoot each individual frame
88 individual camera angles shot
3 expensive movie light bulbs burned out
2 expensive lighting control boards burned out (but fixed under warranty!)
85 pounds of sugar used
150 pounds of sand used
2 tripods hot glued to the floor
98,511 individual files totaling a 641GB project

Sometime in the next week or so we expect to have a behind the scenes video completed that will highlight all of the work that went into bringing these cars to life. For now, you can play the game on YouTube and tell all your friends about it!


29 Jan

Stuff I Can’t Tell You Yet

Posted in Category: Fun Stuff, Our Work on January 29th, 2010 by Mike Kirsch

We’re working on a super cool project in DotLot right now.

It’s for a major brand.

It involves stop motion animation. Lots of it.

And it’s super cool.

But I can’t tell you about it until it launches in a couple of weeks.

What I *can* tell you is that to date, we have used north of 85 pounds of granulated sugar and over 150 pounds of sand as set dressing.

I can also tell you that granulated sugar retails for approximately $0.50/lb. The biggest bag of sugar that Ralphs carries is 10lbs, but Albertsons stocks 25lb mega-sacks.

In case you were wondering.

– Mike

29 Oct

Pumpkin Carving Contest at TBG

Posted in Category: Fun Stuff on October 29th, 2009 by Mike Kirsch

The Buddy Group held a pumpkin carving contest at lunch today. Five departments each worked together to make an entry for the competition. The winners will be announced at lunch tomorrow.

DotLot’s entry…


Client Services carved an homage to our CEO, Pete Deutschman…


Hello? Is it Dev you’re looking for? (Lionel Richie courtesy of our Development team.)


Audience Engagement gave us this social media message…


And our fancy designers came up with this inverted gem…


Happy Halloween!

– Mike

30 Sep

Death Valley Fund PSA

Posted in Category: Announcements, Fun Stuff on September 30th, 2009 by Mike Kirsch

It finally aired, so now we can share it with you here! This is the PSA that Mike edited for the Death Valley Fund. If you want to see it on TV, it will air on KCET right before National Parks Episode 5 on Thursday night. If you’re setting your tivo, be sure to record the show before the Ken Burns doc, too, because the spot actually airs at 7:58pm.

Or, watch it in High Def by clicking here!

– DotLot

28 Sep

Death Valley PSA to Air This Week

Posted in Category: Uncategorized on September 28th, 2009 by Mike Kirsch

We just found out that the PSA that DotLot Director Mike Kirsch edited for the Death Valley Conservancy will air on Tuesday, September 28th, right before the third episode of Ken Burns’s new National Parks Series.

The commercial will air at 7:58pm on KCET, right before “National Parks: The Empire of Grandeur”. Get more information on the KCET website.

– DotLot

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