Don’t Do Drugs – A Motion Graphics Project

What was the project?

This was a motion graphics assessment I completed as part of a team of 4 during my second year at uni. We actually did very well on the assessment. It was a lot of work, including a weekend with very little sleep, but I’m really proud of what we were able to put together.

What’s the story about?

The film is about a gullible young adult named Dave who’s keen to try drugs. After taking them, he experiences a bad episode in a strange world of shapes. After angering a circle, the triangles and world begin to attack him. While trying to escape, he runs into a wall and awakens to find he’s been missing for days.

Drug dealer gives Dave the pill he's come to pick up

What’s the theme/message?

I think the theme and message of this film is obvious: Don’t Do Drugs! Why’d we choose it? We needed to have a positive message for the assignment. How well do I think the film delivers on this message? I think it very strongly advocates against drugs due to the side effects.

That all said, one area the film falls down (and I’ll be the first to admit it) is the facts. Obviously a ‘trip’ after taking these hallucinogenic drugs wouldn’t quite be a world of shapes and laser triangles (I think?). From what I’ve read, it would much freakier. But I don’t think the message’s strength is the point of this film. I think the point was to make a world which was fun and weird with motion graphics, and the drugs message is what pushes Dave, and the film, into this world.

Pupil dilating from doing drugs

How did we make the film?

This project was a lot of fun. As stated, this was a team effort. Everyone played an important role in bringing this film to life. Not only did everyone contribute to the project overall, we each contributed something to the motion graphics aspect of it.

Producing this project was a balancing act. We had to complete this with several other projects and assessments during the semester. A lot of the filming took place within a reasonable timeframe, but the FX were all completed within 2-3 days before the deadline. It was a real time crunch of late nights and long hours to get everything finished.

The YouTube release has been polished a little compared to the original submission.

Dave is in a weird world of shapes after taking drugs

The opening apartment scene was shot in one of our own places. We dressed it to be dark, messy and gloomy – something you would expect from a sketchy dealer. We used text to illustrate the mystery of what Dave was taking. We also used blurs and colour to help drown out the real world as Dave transitioned into the shape land. This was blended with first person shots to create a connection to what Dave was experiencing before going to the strange world.

Our Director had a great idea to turn the opening into a montage as opposed to the more traditional pacing of the original edit. This was in the interest of cutting down the runtime and getting to the interesting part of the film – the shape world.

The aftermath tunnel scene was well lit and seemingly static as Dave was thrown back into the normal world. The location was completely different and outside to show the passage of time. We utilised text message graphics to show that Dave had been missing for days due to his drug use. Overall the motion graphics were predominately used in these two scenes to help support the narrative and propel the transition to the shape world.

Dave looks through tonnes of texts and missed phone calls after he comes back to reality after doing drugs

The motion graphics

The shape world was by far the hardest part of this project. Obviously we used green/blue screens and then created the world around the actor. The original sequence was much longer and had to be cut down due to time constraints. It was our first time really using green screen and due to the studio layout, we did have some problematic shots as well. This added an extra challenge in post-production as I had to eliminate any part around the actor that didn’t quite blend properly.

The biggest challenge our Director faced was guiding the actor to react to the imaginary world around him. This was my first time really exploring animation beyond lightsabers and lightning as well. I had to really consider the way these simple triangles flew around and time every asset to work perfectly with the actor. It was challenging at the time, but something very rewarding that really honed my skills for future projects.

Green screen before and after
Green screen before and after

The sound design

Sound design was also a huge part of this project, especially in the shape world. This was also something the Director and I were learning as we went along as we hadn’t done any sound classes at uni yet. We really wanted to make the shape world seem withdrawn and other worldly. We used a lot of atmospheric sounds to help convey this.

The entire film uses no music apart from a song from the 1930s called ‘Ten Cents a Dance‘ as Dave is transported to the shape world. We wanted to keep the film simple and tense to help deliver its message. A huge credit to our Director for a lot of the sound work in the shape world.

What did this project teach me about screenwriting?

This was one of the first times I wrote a screenplay in the correct format (that part is key) that was set in a very other worldly environment. The film doesn’t utilise much dialogue, so the screenplay had to lean predominately on big print. I needed to ensure this big print clearly described what people were seeing. Not just because that’s Screenwriting 101, but I also wasn’t directing this film. So I had to ensure the story was clear for the Director.

Looking back over the screenplay today, it’s clear to me that the big print should’ve been broken up more. The paragraphs are far too big for a screenplay format. That said, I do think it conveys the story visually.

Given this was a uni assessment, I also allowed myself to be very specific in what I was describing. ‘A dynamic background of blue and black’ almost feels like a direction. I wouldn’t normally do this in my screenwriting today.

Don't Do Drugs excerpt from the screenplay

It’s also worth noting the change from linear opening to montage opening was made after filming. As such, the screenplay reflects the original opening. Even though we made the change, there was no need to go back and rewrite the screenplay or refilm because we already had everything we needed to make the change.