The Washington Post


Best Use of Animation or Motion Graphics / Nominee
The Washington Post

Best Use of Animation or Motion Graphics

"New tools are constantly being developed and the number of ways we can tell a story and engage our readers seems almost unlimited." The Washington Post
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Q: Can you describe your project and the concept behind it? A: Every 17 years, billions of loud Brood X cicadas emerge from underground in the eastern part of the country. This phenomenon polarized the region: “The cicadas are delightful!”, “No, they’re creepy!” Thinking about these spans of time (and the changes in our own lives) made us relate to the cicadas more. We wanted to place our readers virtually next to them, moving through the creatures’ short above ground existence from their point of view.
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Q: Tell us about your initial moodboard, wireframe, or prototype. How did things change throughout the process? A: Early on we had the idea of presenting this from a micro perspective: when you are very small a single tree can be your entire world. The concept was to show each step of a cicada’s life around this tree, through camera animations. Once we had the narrative concept in hand we began with simple sketches and a story outline. Then we built simple models and tested out camera angles as our miniature world began to take form with color and texture.
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Q: What influenced your chosen technical approach, and how did it go beyond past methods? A: We used three.js to display the models and animate the scene. Although we had experimented with this approach in the past, this time we focused on matching our models stylistically with nature in spring time. We wanted our readers to feel delighted, inspired by this unique bug and its adventure above ground. The result was a colorful, creative and artistic interpretation of their world.

When did you experience a breakthrough or an "a-ha" moment during this project?

Much of the graphic work we conceive as journalists tends to be more technically constructed and artistically restrained, often editing back color and detail so readers can focus on what is relevant to the story. This time the entire world was the story. When we tested the augmented reality part, we placed a virtual bug on the ground next to a real one. Seeing this little imaginary bug next to its real-life counterpart was wondrous!


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Q: What web technologies, tools, and resources did you use to develop this? A: We built the page in React and used React Three Fiber (a renderer for three.js). We combined Blender with painting using a digital display tablet to create the model and a Reality Converter (Apple AR software) to allow readers to display the model at home.

Q: How did the final product meet or exceed your expectations? A: The entire project was a quick turnaround for us. Sometimes we have the flexibility to add another week to production if needed. This time, nature dictated the deadline and 17 long years of waiting were coming to an end. That said, on the day of publication, after we finally had a chance to sit down and experience the presentation as a reader, we were just so happy with how everything came together. We felt joy for the little cicadas.

Q: Why is this an exciting time to create new digital experiences? How does your team fit into this? A: We’re looking into experimenting more with React Three Fiber and how we can create templates so that it’s easier to introduce our journalists and readers into the world of 3D. New tools are constantly being developed and the number of ways we can tell a story and engage our readers seems almost unlimited.