An effective movie trailer has the ability to move an audience, to stir our emotions, compelling us to dedicate our precious time to watching the full feature film. In two minutes, a trailer must hold your attention and capture the essence of the film’s story. The trailer is in and of itself is a unique storytelling art, incorporating strong video clips, music and sound bytes, seamless editing and powerful motion graphics.
The trailer for Columbia Pictures’ upcoming film Anonymous, a political thriller based on the man who allegedly wrote William Shakespeare’s plays, is a prime example of how a trailer can set the tone of a film. The trailer opens with melancholy Radiohead music setting the scene. Eerie title cards enhance the mood of the storyline, with motion graphics that mimic ink and blood spatters revolving three-dimensionally around bold typography in between video clips. (Watch the trailer below)
The leading design agency behind the trailer, Greenhaus GFX, has mastered the art of the trailer, and the firm’s dedication to their craft is certainly reflected in the Anonymous trailer.
It’s a sunny afternoon in Culver City and executive creative director and founder of Greenhaus GFX, Helen Greene, is sitting with two designers known as “The Kyles” – lead motion graphics designer, Kyle Thorsen, and motion graphics designer, Kyle Brosius. Thorsen and Brosius have more than their name in common– both graduated from FIDM/Fashion of Design & Merchandising’s Digital Media program in 2008 and now specialize in title design for feature film trailers.
At the brightly lit Greenhaus GFX headquarters, the energy of the office is cheerful and relaxed, yet exciting as designers mill in and out of the break room, discussing projects. Greene, Brosius and Thorsen are jovial, finishing each others’ sentences as they talk, reminiscing on some of their favorite projects, like Anonymous.
“Anonymous was a great project. It was a lot of fun, and a learning curve too,” says Greene, referencing the RealFlow program used to create the liquid-simulated motion graphics in the trailer.
“RealFlow is not an easy tool, it works with physics… You can’t just tell it to move how you want it to, you have to create a simulation… and that’s always a lot of fun.”
The Greenhaus GFX team approached Anonymous as they do all of their projects, with the utmost determination to create their client’s vision, even if it means learning new software or new techniques.
“Helen, being who she is as an artist and an owner, helps us get the tools we need to do the project right, as opposed to faking it,” says Thorsen. “She understands what the artist needs to make it look great.”
The visual design firm offers all the trailer design house basics– motion graphics, graphic design, typography, illustration, animation, 3D modeling, stereoscopic 3D, concept design, story-boarding, photography, cinematography, directing, compositing, FX technical direction, and finishing… (whew).
Greenhaus GFX can claim bragging rights for movie trailer campaigns for films like Priest, Battle Los Angeles, Conan the Barbarian, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Other Guys, and The Karate Kid for film studios like Sony Pictures, Columbia, Warner Bros., Universal, Screen Gems and Relativity.
Although the firm is comparably newly established, Greene leads her seven-person staff with more than 20 years of design experience under her belt. Prior to establishing Greenhaus GFX two years ago, Greene was head of the Motion Graphics Department as creative director at Create Advertising, overseeing campaigns for films like Spider-Man 3, Ghost Rider, and Up (… and countless others), building up the department from one to 16 staff members. Today with creative director Jason Doherty (formerly of Imaginary Forces and Ironclaw), and teaming up with editing company Vibe Creative, owned by Ann Mugglebee and Greene’s husband, Paul Holtzhausen, it’s clear that Greenhaus GFX has all its bases covered when it comes to trailer production.
For Thorsen and Brosius, working at Greenhaus GFX has been a dream come true.
“It’s pretty surreal, being here and being able to design the things that people see every day. There are probably millions of eyes that see our TV spots, and it’s awesome,” says Thorsen, who was hired full-time at Greenhaus GFX in September 2010 after working freelance with the firm.
Greene says that it was Thorsen’s degree from FIDM that compelled her to meet him initially. After working with other FIDM Digital Media Alumni at Create Advertising, she says that the experience had been positive.
“I saw that he went to FIDM, and that made a big difference to me. That will stick with you– if you have a good experience with certain people from different schools,” says Greene. “FIDM graduates don’t take [criticism] personally, they have really thick skin. That’s one of the most important things that you have to have. This is not fine art, this is advertising.”
In addition to their ability to handle criticism, both of these grads clearly understand the value of networking.
After graduating from FIDM, Thorsen had stayed in contact with Brosius working together in various freelance roles. When Greenhaus GFX needed an additional designer for a short-term project, Thorsen called Brosius who was working at E! television network as a motion graphics designer at the time. Brosius took the job, and was eventually hired on as a full time motion graphics designer.
“Make sure you talk to the people you’re going to school with,” says Thorsen. “That’s the most important thing.”
Additionally, Thorsen says the best thing you can do as a design student is refine your personal aesthetic.
“Developing your own, original style that is really refined is definitely key,” says Thorsen.
“And that probably takes years,” Brosius adds. “But it’s something that you really need to think about when you’re in school– to not always just copy what’s out there. It’s really the originality of your ideas, and the execution of those ideas that will get you far. ”
Today Thorsen and Brosius exercise their design skills at Greenhaus GFX, sometimes handling between 20 to 30 projects designing typography for movie trailers, which includes animation, layout, and how the type interacts with the visuals. After building a strong foundation at FIDM, Thorsen and Brosius are excited to learn from some of the industry’s finest professionals, who encourage them to design to their highest potential.
“Helen is always leaning towards pushing the envelope. She’ll tell us how to take it to the next level, and why we should do it,” says Thorsen.
Obviously Greene’s commitment to excellence is helping the firm to develop some of the industry’s most visually exciting motion graphics. For Greene, even after 20 years in the business, she says the best part about being a motion graphics designer is still the thrill of having your work on-screen.
“To see your work in a theater with an audience, that’s one of the most rewarding things,” says Greene. “Also, to see your designers that you have picked grow up, mature and grow. That’s very inspiring and rewarding to me.”
We look forward to many more inspiring visuals designed by FIDM graduates and all the designers at Greenhaus GFX.
Below: Movie trailer for Anonymous by Greenhaus GFX
Below: Movie trailer for Oz the Great and Powerful by Greenhaus GFX
Below: Watch the full Greenhaus GFX reel.
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