Let’s Go to Bethlehem! (bring your crayons…)

In Design, Motion, Theology
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This video was created for KidsCOR’s upcoming advent curriculum series Let’s Go to Bethlehem! I just finished it up earlier this afternoon.

When I was initially brainstorming for the graphics and video, I was given the task of utilizing a map of the Holy Land as well as focusing on the manger scene with Jesus, Mary and Joseph. At first I was going to do something fairly straightforward, but then I had the idea of giving it the feel of having been drawn by crayons. The age range is from kindergarten to 5th grade, so I thought that something hand-drawn like this would be nice.

Some of the past stuff I have done this year for KidsCOR has been vector-y in look and feel, so a nice change of pace was in order.

Here’s the still graphic upon which the video was based:


Initially I was going to simply hand color everything I used and then scan it in, but as I was playing around in Photoshop I was able to customize a brush enough to make it simulate the look of a crayon. Since it seemed to work well enough, I decided to just make everything digitally, which certainly saved time.

I began by focusing on each figure. Mary was the first one I drew, and I based the subsequent figures (in scale) on her. Each figure uses a couple of layers- the first layer was the black outline, and the rest were the colors. I intentionally adjusted the amount of coverage the brush gave so that it would vary based on the tablet’s pen pressure- thus, I usually had to go over the outline a couple of times to get the full coverage. This had the advantage of forcing me to re-trace my lines, and I wasn’t attempting to be too precise, and thus the coverage is uneven and more realistically simulates something that was hand-drawn by a crayon. (And, since that is how I would do it physically, it pretty much was!)

Here are all the figures I created:


The final process was to add a white-ish cutout around them so they would be solid in the video. Although it’s not immediately evident, I used a white paper with slight texture and then set the figure group to Multiply so that the texture would show through subtly, enough so that it felt like it was actually on paper. Lastly, I colored all the background scenes, including a couple I didn’t end up using. (I was originally going to have the wisemen in Egypt with some pyramids, which would of been cool, but I guess I wanted to be accurate with them coming from the East, although the fact that it’s in crayons might cause one to wonder why I would bother!)

Update: Here’s the starry sky background:


Creating the video was actually pretty straightforward. I began by placing Mary in the scene as kind of an anchor for the rest of the movement of the video. I then took some time to get the flip-up motion of her to be as smooth as possible. (For the subsequent figures I essentially duplicated her and replaced the media file so I wouldn’t have to re-animate the flip-ups for each one. Granted, to give them a bit of variation might have been nice, but the amount of time one sees them flipping and the staggering of them flipping up essentially negates whatever aesthetic subtlety randomness might have added.)

Update: Here is a screenshot of the keyframing for the flipping motion. Really exciting, I know…


I then worked out the mechanics of the revealing line. There are a couple of ways to do it- one could draw a path in Photoshop, save it as a file with transparency, apply a mask and then animate the mask to reveal it. The disadvantage is that you would have to completely plan out the path in relation to scenery beforehand and not have an easy way to modify it. At first I was going to do this, but decided on a better way. I basically drew one dash in Photoshop and saved it as a .psd. I then drew a dashed path in the video project. This path, actually being a shape object, has the ability to use as a source whatever object you wish- it could be a circle, a dash, a car, an elephant. I thus imported my dash, applied it as the source of the shape, adjusted the spacing, scale and offset, and BAM! It was done. I then applied a write-on parameter to the shape and instead of tediously having to determine my path in Photoshop, I had to option to modify it ad nauseum within the video project itself. Lovely!

Update: The parameters of my dashed line:


After that, I then began to figure out what I wanted to do with this video. I had a vague idea in my head, but at this point I started to nail down the movements and scenes I wanted to have. The idea is that the movement of Advent and this series is to Bethlehem, so I wanted to give the idea of making a journey. One of the tricky things with making videos for this age range (K-5th) is that one cannot use very much text, as the reading levels vary from non-existent to fairly good. As such, the challenge is to communicate as much as possible without using words. Not only that, but it has to be in 30-45 secs! So yeah, making videos for kids certainly isn’t kids’ stuff. 🙂

One of the nice things about Christmas is that even though it has become so commercialized, there is still a kind of vague cultural memory about certain elements of the Christmas story. Thus, while kids could probably not relate the significance of any of the elements in the video, they are recognizable at any rate (at least hopefully they are!) and say enough that they are pointing towards something else or are about something else- Christmas, Jesus, etc. That being said, you can use that vague understanding to your advantage in that you can let these images say something without the full significance of them being known or even readily apparent. The advantage of this video is that there is a definite movement, so the feeling of everything being tied together and leading up to something is implicit, which essentially says everything you want to say without having to say anything at all.

That’s about it. All that really remained was to place all my elements in their different scenes, animate the camera movements, add some lighting and depth of field, and it was done. If you notice, there isn’t a whole lot of actual animation- aside from the flipping and the swinging star, everything is pretty static. I did this intentionally, having the majority of the movement within the camera itself to underscore the idea of the journey and the movement from one place to another, from one thing to another, and how they are all pointing towards and moving towards the end- the manger scene with Jesus. Initially I was going to have more movement going on, but as I played around with it I found that it felt more effective to let the scenes themselves speak without any extraneous animation, so one could take in the idea of the wisemen being here, and then moving to the shepherds there, to the angels up there, and finally culminating in finding the resting place in front of the manger, in front of Jesus. It is subtle, but the nice thing about subtlety is that it gives the opportunity for so many more things to be drawn out of it, whereas if I had had text that said a bunch of pre-composed statements it would be difficult to go any further or deeper than the words themselves. For this project at least, it was better to let images do the talking.

Enjoy! (and Merry Christmas!)