When Colours & Shapes had contacted me about working on the main TED Conference in Vancouver, I was absolutely over the moon. Not only did I feel very fortunate for this amazing opportunity to land in my lap, I had worked with Anthony and Gordie (Co-Owners of Colours & Shapes) on two previous projects and each of them was a very enjoyable experience, so I knew I'd be on a strong crew. 

In early conversations a group of illustrators and animators were brought together to feel out what sessions we would be inspired by. In total there were twelve sessions so we had plenty of wiggle room to really focus in on session theme's that spoke to us as artists. 

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My initial task was to animate the conference theme (illustrated by Jordan Awan), as well as create speaker titles and do some animating of other designers work on one or two of the sessions. However, Gordie and Anthony were open to me designing and animating one of the sessions myself. I just knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity.  This began what ultimately became a beast of a project and an experience I will not soon forget. I learned alot about myself as a motion designer; my strengths, my weaknesses, and most importantly how to keep a productive mindset amongst the sustained juggle of a heavy workload.

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As Anthony and Gordie ironed out the creative direction with the TED team, I spent the weekend biting at the bit to get started. I decided just to start throwing some stuff agains the wall and see what stuck. Although the result never made the pitch deck, I still love what came of the preliminary time I put in. This piece is chalk full of hidden messaging and meaning but, I'll let the design stand on its own.

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The initial style frame ultimately missed the mark on several key factors, but it did act as a good testing ground on internally sorting out, what would work and what wouldn't. We put together a moodboard and pitched the idea that we would represent Connection by showing snap shots in time of varying characters in all walks of life coming together in a train station. The original intent was to bring together feelings of nostalgia and warmth while also playing toward some of the less "fuzzy" emotions. We wanted a piece that would represent all forms of human connection, both warm and joyous as well as melancholic and conflicting. 

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Once the mood board was together and approved, I had a solid vision for how I would approach these designs. I hopped into Ai and began to create the base of the terminal which I then brought into Ps to light and texture. Below you can see the original base vector design as well as the base pass of texturing and lighting. You can also see an initial mockup of camera movement and secondary design elements.

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Because we had so many characters to deal with, my pitch on animation was to build out a set of still frames that flipped through as the camera moved about the space. We would focus on different areas of the terminal, highlighting individual interactions. We ultimately decided to pivot away from the vector graphic approach as it really limited our camera options. It would be very time intensive to actually create the multiple spaces we needed to move through. So, we decided it would be better to create a single scene within C4D so that we could tie the entire thing to a single camera movement. This would alleviate a whole heap of issues.

With the decision to pivot, I created a model within C4D and decided to use a kind of down and dirty comping technique I had used many times before when working in 3D. We still wanted that painterly quality, so I decided to actually paint in highlits and light leaks in Ps. I ended up on a tedious, yet effective workflow that It went something like this:

  • Export from C4D:
    • Volumetric Local Lighting Pass (Redshift Render)
    • Volumetric External Lighting Pass (Redshift Render)
    • Lightly Cel Shaded Pass (Physical Render)
    • Depth Map (Physical Render)
  • Photoshop Comp:
    • With full control over each pass I comped everything together at varying degrees of opacity.
    • I was then able to create a suite of overlays to bring everything together and add in slight lens effects, additional light leaks, and other atmospheric elements.
    • Several individual layers of smoke and fog were created so I could have some freedom of moving them around in Z space within Ae when it came time to animate.
    • The final step was to add in painted shading and highlights to really drive home the painterly feel.
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Because my character design chops were not sufficient to create so many characters within 3D, I actually decided to do something I was much more familiar with. I snagged the base character pose from C4D's library and began blocking the main characters within the scene. This gave me a good reference point of positioning to design the characters in 2D. 

Once it came time to animate, I exported the scene out to Ae and had corresponding nulls I could attach my 2D characters to within the space.

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I decided to design the characters based on stock photo reference. I've had a lot of experience with creating vector based characters, then digitaly painting over the top to create depth and form. As you can see here, when the individual painted elements come together you get a very unique painterly quality that still feels very much based in reality and not to abstracted.

My painting workflow went like this:

  • Color Block (Painted)
  • Shadows (Painted to give depth and form)
  • Highlights (Painted to pop the contrast and bring our characters off the background)
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TED felt that the original versions based on the dark nostalgic, noir-esque approach was a bit to ominous. Although, I felt it really struck a chord with the original moodboards, we had to make another pivot toward something, brighter, cleaner and more colorful. Really, they wanted this piece to have a much warmer and more friendly vibe than we had originally pitched. After several rounds of revisions, trying to get the right characters, lighting, and atmosphere, these are the final frames we landed on. 

Honestly, this piece ended up becoming a monster of my own creation. Because of decisions I made early on in the process, versioning and itteration became a MASSIVE time consumer and really became a mind numbing piece to change. Looking back in retrospect, I would have created this piece COMPLETELY differently. While the route I took ultimately worked out. It was a hard lesson learned to not create something frame by frame when you've got the opportunity to actually do a majority of the heavy lifting comp work in C4D or Ae... just don't do it. With all that being said, I'm very proud of the tedious, convoluted work I put in on this piece.

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For this session I was SO FORTUNATE to work with the amazing designer, Eleena Bakrie. She currently works over at We Are Royale (which I've been a huge fan of for ages), so when I found out I had the opportunity to animate her designs, I was just a little bit excited. Our plan with this one was super straight forward. Recreate this scene in 2.5D, have a simple camera push, add some slight light effects and animate the butterfly and reflections.

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The first motion test I sent over had the butterfly enter screen left, land on the flower, then exit screen right. I blocked it out into 4 sections so that we could cycle through the full piece on audience walk in, then we could hold at the end of each block during the 8 TED Talks that were given during this session.

There were a couple issues we needed to address after feedback. The first issue was the primary movement of the butterfly needed to be re-thought. Instead of looping (on left, off right) we decided that we would have the butterfly come in screen left and simply stay on the flower. Then the loop just became slight movements while stationary on the flower. The second issue we had to address, was the reflections weren't quite convincing enough. So, I pre-comped the butterfly, scaled it up and placed in slight, textural variations to give us the vaying types of reflections we see in the final piece.

This one was an absolute joy to work on and in comparison to "Connection", is something I look back on without having to cringe at the time put in.


I was originally planing on animating the conference intro, which in early concepts would be very straight forward as a conference intro was not part of the scope. However, the further we got into the project, the TED team realized they needed something to kick the conference off. So, we came up with a concept that would have just enough depth animation wise while not being to time intensive given it's conception at such a late stage of the game. Because of my ongoing battle's with the session animations, I recommended we pull on Ryan Woolfolk for the animation of the intro. True to form, he knocked it out of the park with a great little intro sequence that fit the illustrative style perfectly.

The first thing I accomplished when being pulled onto the project, was taking Jordan Awan's "Bigger Than Us" artwork and breaking it down in Ai to prepare for animation in Ae. As you can see by the styleframes, it's a very complex and layered piece that needless to say, took quite awhile to prepare for rigging and character animation. Although, it was time sucker, I am very happy I put in the early effort as it made things much easier on Ryan once C&S brought him on board.

I put together some initial style frames for the onscreen look of the conference title. Unfortunately, none of them were chosen for the project as the TED team wanted something VERY minimal, but I think there were some interesting possibilities available.

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Here you can check out the work, Ryan Woolfolk put in on the intro animation. The sound design was done by the AMAZINGLY talented sound designer, John Poon. This piece had a great reception amongst the crowd and those of us in the venue. It was so much fun to see this intro really come to life.

We had nearly 100 speaker and presenter titles to create for TED 2019. Out of all the pieces I was tasked to do, believe it or not, this one was the least time intensive. The original pitch from C&S to TED was to pick out different elements of Jordan Awan's artwork to use in conjunction with each title. We would create 4-6 templates then expand out from there.

In the early stages we went through SEVERAL rounds of back and forth. I had developed animations that utilized different elements, unfortunately they just weren't sitting well with the TED team. In the end it became a very minimal and constrained animation which made the templating of each piece a breeze. 

C&S actually hired me to come up to Vancouver to work as a "render monkey" of sorts for any last minute changes for the show. There were several times I was so happy that I had put in the time to build these well thought out templates. When we had a change in speaker for the next day's session come in, it was a matter of minutes before we had the updated changes out the door and over to playback.

Another one of the early tasks I had on my plate was to create some designs for the actual session titles themselves. There were no plans on animating these, so I could quickly come up with some looks that I thought would work well. In the end we used a very straight forward design of text only which C&S had designed by their in house designer. Here were a couple that landed on the cutting room floor.

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When all was said and done, this project was one of my career highlights to date. The experience in going to the Main TED conference was worth the long days and late nights in itself. Although, I've had a lot of experience with seeing my work on stage for events and performances, this one tops the list. To experience the thought and care that is put into this event by all those involved first hand it was a truely humbling experience. Plus, I've always wanted to see TED Talks live... so there's that!

I want to thank Anthony Diehl and Gordie Cohran over at Colours & Shapes for pulling me onto this amazing team of designers and animators. I can't tell you how many times throughout the process I would look at everyone's work and think, what the hell am I doing here?? It was a gift of an experience to be trusted to be amongst this talented group.

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jbergren@jordanbruce.tv       -      319.360.7929