Alex Steinweiss Video
Make a 1–2 minute long animation telling a story about your design hero.
Collecting Speaking Audio
There was obviously very, very few audio clips that were good quality and had people who knew Alex well enough to talk about him extensively
Steven Heller talking about Steinweiss:
I also connected with Professor Andre ** through a YouTube video he made about Alex Steinweiss and learned that he actually visited and interviewed Alex in his studio before he passed away! I am very grateful to receive a short clip of Alex himself speaking and explaining the challenges he faced as a designer.
Mixing Music Tracks
On the other hand, picking background music is like finding a needle in a haystack, just way too many genres and tones to choose from. How can one song exemplify the entirety of Alex and what he’s done?
I had a somewhat big brain idea: instead of just having a single jazz piece or multiple movements from the same classical suite, why not try mashing songs together and letting the song dictate the tone of that section of the video?
Turns out that was an idea that required a lot of finessing but really added character and spontaneity to my video and became the strong backbone of my animation.
Potential Music choices (after hours of listening to anything and everything Alex made an album cover for):
Main melody: Deep in the Blues by Count Basie and his Orchestra — immediate old timey vibes and pretty chill HOWEVER there is a controlled delicacy and a steady tempo that makes it feel more modern rather than outdated. Not sure if I should feature the female vocalist (maybe towards the end?) because it can fight with the speaking audio clips.
Accent Music #1: Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride by the Flat Foot Four — the combination of the crackling vinyl and the singing quartet told me “How can you not make this the opening to your video??” When I hear the intro to this song, I imagine the final scene to a black and white film, a setting sunset, or just a feeling of nostalgia that speedily transports the listener to bygone times.
Accent Music #2: Firebird Suite written by Stravinsky — I was unsure if I should include classical music because I think people associate 1940s-50s more with jazz and blues. However, after listening to a few classical pieces, I thought they had an elegance and complexity that were evident in Alex’s covers. The more fast-paced and passionate movements in this suite also contrast well with the more laid-back jazz pieces I picked before. It can help build tension or anxiety because at first it was unclear if the illustrated album cover would be a success story.
Accent music #3: Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin — although this pick is rather cliché, I honestly just really love this cover. It’s also interesting that even though Alex Steinweiss isn’t a well-known name, the music he designed for can immediately be identified within a few seconds of listening to them. I also wanted a section of my video to be highly dramatic, and this song has some very quick build-up’s and climaxes that are less recognizable when separated from its more overplayed parts.
insert two versions
I cut down my audio from 2 minutes to 1 minute to be able to finished within the deadline. Surprisingly, I found that the story that I thought could only be told in 2 minutes still stayed intact and flowed when shortened.
no text, just using images
For the C mini animation, I used mainly typography and geometric shapes. This time, I wanted to try for a more handmade quality, and rely on the speaker to deliver the information. Therefore, I had minimal text in my video and focused on incorporating the brushstroke quality and using Alex’s illustrations. Because of time constraint, I mainly used the AE’s transformation tool and the puppet tool, though having a more frame by frame animation feel (which I did very minimally in the columbia scene) would’ve made the video have more personality and intricate movement.
(puppet tool vs. frame by frame insert here)
I also watched parts of Disney’s Fantasia because the Firebird Suite part in my audio reminded me of how Disney paired animation with classical music.
Some takeaways that I thought of when making my animation:
It was difficult at first trying to figure out how to animate these still album covers, because each character and tree seems carefully placed and moving them up will mess up the composition of the cover. I was afraid I had to create a lot of my own assets to bridge the gap between what’s still and what’s animated. Instead, I decided to let Alex’s album covers take the lead. Instead of creating a lot of original scenes, I extract Alex’s own work and let it speak for itself. I still needed to figure out a lot of the transitions between different scenes because his covers often vary in style and subject manner.
Finding Inspiration + Material in his covers
Scenes that required heavy borrowing:
For the first scene, I picked the Grand Canyon Suite album cover because opening song Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride is a reference to a cowboy movie and a sun rising from the canyon is a borderline cheesy way to start a video. The sun was borrowed from his Requiem album.
For the scene about Alex’s experience at Columbia, I wanted to show office buildings in an empty landscape, and I remembered Alex’s Gershwin album. It was perfect because I wanted to use the large sign to show the name Columbia Records and also have the sign deteriorate to show the humble beginnings of the later on popular record label.
For the scene where Steven Heller describes how sales were boosted 800% due to Alex’s covers, I wanted to showcase how Alex’s covers had an affect on the consumer’s behavior. The music stimulated the ears while the cover stimulated the eyes, allowing the two sense connect and enhance each other. Alex created a cover for a **** late night show, and I used the glasses and bold type to forward my message.
During the audio, Steven Heller says that Alex’s work creates a sort of warmth. I immediately thought of how Alex used nature like forests and flowers to convey his impression of music, and I remembered his Chopin cover with a piano covered with flowers. I loved how he was able to condense complex feelings into simple images that can be universally felt and understood.
Assets made from album covers:
Because Alex’s covers contain so many different people and objects, I was able to search for what I needed instead of drawing everything from scratch.
columbia record with other characters
Scenes I created (mostly) from scratch:
For this final scene, Alex obviously didn’t make illustrations of CD’s or DVD’s during his era of records. I tried using complementary colors + black + white because that was Alex’s usual color palette. I also used more basic shapes and created brush stroke texture to fit Alex’s airbrush technique.
I also wanted a scene where someone is shopping for records at a record shop. I borrowed the people from Alex’s albums and made the slanted buildings resemble how Alex abstracts buildings in his own illustrations. I also struggled a bit with the color palette and tried limiting it to only shades of yellow for the shop interior + people and pink for the surrounding environment.
For the color palette of the entire video, I gave up on consistency. Instead, I included as many of Alex’s color palettes as possible to be consistently inconsistent.
Figuring out Transitions
The most difficult part of the project other than working with After Effects was figuring out how scenes relate to another.
For the transition between the canyon scene and the record shop scene, I tried my hardest in having the wooden sign in the canyon album transition to a wooden board covering the dilapidated shop window and then colorize to show the shop in its former glory. However, that transition felt very forced, and I had to give it up. Instead, I had the canyon landscape turn into an album cover so that the opening sequence to be more obvious that the canyon is part of a album and not just a random canyon.
Another idea I had was to use a wave motif and transition between cigar smoke, boat ripples, and waves of music. I think I don’t have the best grasp of After Effects to make the transitions smooth, but I did the best I can using the puppet tool.
More subtle transitions:
For the Columbia office scene, I noticed the trapezoid at the base of Gershwin’s office building looked like a trapdoor, so I used that to make my objects appear and disappear.
For the transition between the trumpeter and the flower piano, I had the trumpet turn from silver to gold going from left to right. When it fades to the piano, the flowers also appear from left to right.