The VRTM Story: An Animated Series About Time Travel

I’ve always tried to make a habit of documenting my projects and sharing as much as possible. My last company made this a part of its core philosophy. It was a great way of holding ourselves accountable, and helped us build a small audience of people to show new projects to and get feedback from.

After documenting stuff on our blog for four years, I wanted to try something different.


The cool dramatic extreme close up shot I rarely had an opportunity to use 😂

Art style Exploration

For no reason other than I thought it was cool…. I went with pixel art. I found a couple of talented pixel artists on fiverr and hired them to create some concept scenes.

The obvious setting was my apartment and desk. I took some pictures, sent them over, and waited excitedly to see the first concepts come back.

These are the first concepts. I didn’t hate them, but I just felt they were extremely awkward and sort of weird. I realized if I was going to animate myself, I may as well take a few liberties.

The Setup I landed on

I thought about how I could make the setting more interesting and honestly, I think I got carried away.

The idea was to set the series in the future. The future version of myself was about to launch a virtual reality VR time travel company, and to get people excited about the launch, he decided to travel back through time and post videos to YouTube in the distant past (a.k.a. ~ present day ~).

I thought that this would allow for some much more interesting content and narratives within the series. For example:

  1. Any $1 I made in the distant past, with compound interest, would be worth a lot more in the future. I planned on the animated, future version of myself getting insanely rich quite quickly.
  2. Perhaps companies that I launched in the past could have knock-on effects in the future. Maybe a slingshot is the new weapon of choice in the future, after all other weapons were banned for getting too powerful.
  3. I thought it would be fun to warn people about things that were going to happen in the future. If I was right and the things happened I could say “See! I told you;” if I was wrong, I could take credit for warning people. It was win-win!
  4. The world could have a really dark, cyberpunk/synthwave feel to it which I thought would be a fun aesthetic to play around with.

I also liked that the entire thing could be positioned as a “product launch” which would fit within the narrative of the show. The associated website would be selling the benefits of time travel, as if that was the product it was selling.

The name I decided on was vrtm.com — Virtual Reality Time Machine.

I hired a new artist to mock some stuff up in this new direction and I loved what I got back.

This was the main desk scene where most of the episodes would be set. I cut between different zoom lengths in post to add a bit more variety to the shot.

There was another angle that showed the computer screen allowing me to demonstrate stuff.

This was the transition I used to cut between animated and real-life footage. All of the real-life footwage was set in the present day and filmed on a GoPro camera strapped to my head.

I was PUMPED at the direction that this was going in.

The animation

I had assumed that animating each episode was going to be a bit of a nightmare. My original plan was to send an animator the audio for each episode and get them to sync up the lips of the characters. Then, I’d piece the different clips together in Premiere Pro myself.

Luckily, my buddy Kevin turned me onto some software that basically automated this entire process. Adobe Character Animator lets you create custom character “rigs”, which are animated automatically from an audio source, and/or a webcam.

This would dramatically decrease the cost of each episode!

Launching and what happened

The “launch” of this was fairly underwhelming. I didn’t have much planned outside of just emailing a few people about it and sharing it on Twitter. The feedback was mixed. Most people were confused by the positioning of the whole thing. “You’re launching a time machine…from the future? What?”.

It took a lot of explaining and time investment before the “AHHHHHH I get it now” moment, and most people didn’t get that far.

In hindsight I got too carried away with the world building and fleshing out the complex narrative and forgot that the main reason why people watch any video is that the video itself is entertaining!

I underestimated how hard it would be to tell a story in an interesting and compelling way. Even with my relatively optimized animation process it was taking a long time to write, animate and edit each episode.

  

    
  

Ultimately, after making a few videos, I decided to scrap the project and repurpose all of the content into a more traditional blog format (which is why this blog exists).

Interestingly, the first day that this blog went live…. the post about starting an automated business for some friends got more traffic than the same Virtual Reality Time Machine video got in three months!

Conclusion

Despite failing almost instantly this project was still super fun to work on and I don’t regret it for a second. I still may use the character rigs for the occasional video, but for the type of content I’m going to be making, a format like this blog seems much better. It takes much less time to create, and takes much less time to consume.

If you were one of the few people who checked out VRTM when it launched and subscribed, THANK YOU!

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