The Passion Project that Hooks MTV
Back in 2020, Arts and Entertainment Technologies student Hari J. started a passion project to make a fan animation for the song “Dynamite” by her favorite K-pop band, BTS. After months of animation work and online tutorials to fill in the skills gaps, she uploaded the 2-minute video to her socials. Then, like any busy student with a growing log of project work and a side hustle, she moved on to the next creative project.
Fast forward two years and a pandemic - the fan-animated music video “Dynamite” has received an impressive 21,000+ views and raving comments doting on the talented artist’s work. Hari is now in her senior year sitting in the hall waiting for her next class to start, when she receives an email titled, “Animation Project Inquiry.”
“I didn’t think much of it as I was already a semi-freelance artist that got the occasional commission, but when I read the email in its entirety in class, I quickly told my friends and asked the professor if I could go speak to Jamil Hooper, the Industry Relations Manager for AET, for advice,” said Hari J.
The email was sent by Cartuna, a Brooklyn-based animation production company, hired by MTV to find talented animators who could create digital content to promote nominated artists for the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs). The company discovered Hari’s “Dynamite” video on Instagram and reached out to garner interest in creating a fully animated 3-minute music video inspired by the band’s original music video with a new narrative plot.
“A lot of our conversation revolved around boosting her confidence in approaching this opportunity and discussing ways she could fully take advantage, “ said Jamil Hooper, Industry Relations Manager for the School of Design and Creative Technologies. Hooper vividly remembers sitting down with Hari J. and reviewing the email from Cartuna line by line to address every question. The two discussed how to make creative requests, negotiate compensation, and together they researched similar projects to have a baseline request. “I did a lot of cheerleading,” he said with a smile.
Interview with the Creatives
We spoke with Hari J., Animation Director/Head Animator, and her AET teammate on the project Karina Teruya, Co-Director/Animator, about the experience with Cartuna and what’s on the horizon for both creatives.
Was this your first commission of this size? Were you prepared to respond?
Hari: This was definitely a first for me, haha. I had received gigs from companies but those were from family friends! So, there were some informalities and grace for me. But MTV? I never got a commission/contract from a company like that, and I had absolutely no idea what to do. I was so scared I’d lose the opportunity as fast as I had received it because they had expressed that they were looking at other artists other than me to animate for BTS’s video! But they did assure me I was their favorite pick. Since I didn’t know what to do, I started speaking to anyone I thought might have more of a clue than me. I asked Jamil Hooper, reached out to a few other freelancers I knew, my friends, and a few of my professors that I knew did freelancing work/contracts. I ended up receiving the best help from Jamil and one of my freelance animator friends that was actively working.
Karina: It was also a first for me! I haven’t done many commissions in general, and the biggest one I had done was still quite casual. It’s nothing like working under an IP as well-known and loved as BTS! Thankfully for me, Hari was the one in contact with Cartuna, but I still went out and did some research on contract work, commissions, and things of that nature to understand what we were getting into better.
What were you asked to create by Cartuna for MTV?
Karina: MTV originally commissioned a 3:15 total animation. Early in the process, that animation got cut down to just around 3 minutes so that we'd be able to stay on schedule. It may not sound like it, but 15 seconds of animation is a lot, especially as the 15 seconds that got cut were most likely going to be dance sections. We were given BTS's performance of Dynamite at the 2020 MTV VMAs as reference for the dance sequences, but Cartuna also wanted a narrative storyline to go along with the dances. The animation was designed around two storylines--BTS's arrival to the VMAs and their dance performance at the VMAs--and we distinguished the storylines with different art styles.
How much work goes into creating an animation like this and how long did you have to complete it?
Hari: Karina did a great job explaining our situation and choices made during the project. I know personally I was working every second of almost every day except for the time where I needed to rest in order to avoid complete burnout (I even worked while on my graduation vacation trip to Korea). It really felt like if I took too much time to rest, we wouldn’t be able to make the deadline and even with that grind mindset, the deadline had to be pushed back another 2 weeks because we weren’t going to make the original deadline in time. The project started with one person and grew to a team of 8-10 people by the end of it.
Karina: A LOT! The project was broken up into phases of the pipeline, so we started with making style frames and storyboards, then from an animatic to rough animation, final animation, and finally compositing everything together. Within each phase of the project, we split the work between ourselves, though Hari took on the compositing. We both use Procreate on the iPad, so we used it for almost all stages of the animation. I’ve got almost 200 Procreate files from this project alone! It might not have been the best software for such a big project, but it was one that we were both comfortable using. The timeline for the animation was so short that we wouldn’t have had time to learn entirely new software. We had about 3 months for the entire project: we started just a week or two before finals in the spring and finished up right before I had to move back to Austin for the fall semester.
Did you have several rounds of review and what did that look like? Was BTS involved?
Hari: BTS was not involved haha, but basically we went through 4 stages: style frames, storyboard, rough animations, and final animations. Between all of them, we went through many revisions and approval rounds where I sent the animations to Cartuna and they sent it to MTV (the client) for approval or revisions, and then Cartuna would relay those approval or revisions to me.
Did you ever hear from BTS? What was their reaction?
Hari: NOPE! But I wish we did!!
What are you both proudest of when you watch the animation?
Hari: I’m proud of the fact that we finished it! I’m still shocked that we finished that animation within 3-ish months. OH, I am also super proud of the fact that I got to make this with my friends, they are all SUPER talented!!!
Karina: Same! It feels like so long ago that we did the animation, but I’m still amazed by the fact that we finished the project. I wouldn’t consider myself an animator (or at least, that’s not my focus), but I’m also very proud of the animation techniques and experience I picked up just by working on the project! I also got an insider’s look at how Hari makes her animations and that was some invaluable experience.
What was your biggest learning from this experience?
Hari: Man, my BIGGEST learning experience? There were so many lessons I learned, haha. But one of the biggest things I learned was how awesome it is to create something with a team of people. I believe a lot of us want to try and do everything ourselves and be proud saying, “I made this! Me alone!!” or at least that’s how it was for me.
Through this experience, I really got to learn how much fun it is to work with a team of people and at the end of it celebrate with everyone and say “Look! WE made this!” It definitely makes the whole experience 100x more enjoyable. I highly encourage everyone to look for others that want to work on projects with you! Don’t try to suffer alone and destroy yourself by trying to create something on your own.
Karina: I can’t agree more with Hari! Plus, doing this project really gave me a new perspective on how to value my work and my time, especially as I find myself becoming more and more busy. Talking about money and pay is always a sensitive topic but do your research and talk to people! Don’t undervalue yourself (even if it is a cool job) and know your limits! It’s also important to have a good work-life balance: even if you have big deadlines ahead, be sure to give yourself time to decompress and talk to your friends.
What classes really prepared you for this opportunity?
Hari: Honestly any animation class you can find will be helpful and it did help me. I specifically remember Lucas Dimick, Lance Myers and Neal Daugherty being the professors that helped me the most with animation.
Karina: I actually haven’t taken any 2D animation classes! But I did take Professor Dimick’s Storyboard Concepts class, which really helped me think about composition and movement for sequential art.
What is your advice to current AET students?
Hari: Be passionate! Be ambitious! Always try to do something or learn something new every time you create. That way every project you ever do, you can rest assured it pushes you forward in some way. I also wholeheartedly agree with Karina’s words too!
Another piece of advice I’d like to share is for the workaholic AET students out there. Remember to rest! I think a lot of times we like to encourage burnout behavior and there’s nothing wrong with working hard, but please don’t beat yourself up if you ended up doing nothing but sleep and watch YouTube videos that day, that’s what your mind and body needed for that day. It’s ok if you don’t finish your passion projects THAT month, just take things day by day but~ never give up on your passion projects/interests either!!
Karina: I would definitely encourage everybody to pick up a personal project outside of class! You can take what you’ve learned in class and expand it into something you’re more passionate about. Whether that’s doing a game jam or animation jam, or just something that’s been on your back burner for a while, it’s the passion projects that will push you to make your best work. In terms of classwork, if it’s in a field you’re interested in, go above and beyond on the assignment or the project! Turn it into your own passion project or spin it in a way so that you can finally learn that one technique or program you’ve been wanting to learn for a while now. And I definitely second everything that Hari said too!
And, would you do it all again?
Hari: I would love to create an animated music video with friends for MTV again! But next time I’d want a bigger budget so we could properly compensate all of us and our hard work! Cause man we worked HARD, haha. And I’d want more time on this project so we could spend more time polishing and reaching stretch goals as well!
Karina: I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity to work on such a big project and it was very fulfilling to work on it with friends! But I don’t think I’d do it again unless we had more time to work on it, so we could have the chance to polish it even further.
Hari J. graduates in Spring 2023 with a degree in Arts and Entertainment Technologies. She is currently doing more work with Cartuna for MTV and accepting freelance animation projects while building her own business.
Karina Teruya is an Arts and Entertainment Technologies, Plan II, Studio Art student set to graduate in Spring 2024. In addition to her studies, she’s working on games and personal projects.