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MIT staff blogger Kellen M.

Making the Pi Day Video by Kellen Manning

the experiment, part 2

Let’s get right to it. What went into making this year’s Pi Day video? Honestly, it all started with a random DM on Instagram.

Back in October, I was scrolling through the @mitadmissions feed when I came across an animated short of a lady making bread. I probably watched 30 second short01 <strong>Emily '22:</strong> everyone should go watch this bread animation its so cute its life-changing for 20 minutes before finally learning that the creator of the short was a first-year student named Angela. After watching the clip another dozen times, an idea flashed in my head. The problem was I didn’t actually know what the exact idea was, I just knew I had one. After that vague little spark, I sent a message to Angela asking if she would be interested in potentially working with the Admissions Office on… something?02 🤷

A month passed and I still hadn’t thought of the idea but, as it turned out, I didn’t need to because I was recently assigned to join the Pi Day video team. Almost instantly, my mind went back to Angela’s bread animation, and I knew I wanted this year’s video to be animated. So, I emailed her with the idea…well…at least I thought I emailed her.

Weeks went by with no response, so I sent her another DM and it turns out I emailed a completely different Angela who probably had no idea what I was talking about. Despite that little hiccup, Angela was excited to be a part of the project and our first meeting was scheduled for 3 pm EST the next week.

There were four things we learned during this first get together. First, Angela loved the idea of doing an animated version of campus. Second, I realized03 By 'I realized' I mean Karen, the Associate Director and the other member of the project, asked me where Angela is from. that I totally forgot to ask Angela where she was located before picking a meeting time. The answer was Guam, and in Guam our 3pm EST meeting was actually 6 am ChST.04 I know, not great, but she made it!   The next thing we learned was that the baking animation was done on her MIT-issued iPad and was the first time she ever animated anything. Last, but not least, we learned that Angela hadn’t been on campus since sometime during middle school.05 <strong>Angela '24</strong>: That felt like a fever dream and I don't actually remember anything. . After these revelations, we knew we needed to find a later meeting time and add a person to the team who had at least some on campus experience.

As luck would have it, we had the perfect person in mind: enter Emily ’22. Emily is a part of the not-so-secret team and she’s an artist, a writer, super enthusiastic, and, most importantly, a junior who had lived on campus for a year and half before everything shut down.06 Don’t worry, I also asked where she was currently living. The answer was New Jersey

Now, with two students on board, we asked Emily and Angela to put their heads together and come up with a concept, identify the resources they might need to execute said concept, and, if possible, some type of storyboard. What they came back with was probably the official start of this whole project.

At our next meeting07 from this point on, our meetings were weekly for the next four months Angela explained that the Studio Ghibli film, Howl’s Moving Castle, was the inspiration behind their idea, with an updated version of our mascot, Tim, playing the role of Howl. Then, they walked us through the storyboard and introduced us to the second lead character, Ellen.

Quick note on why the name “Ellen” from the team:

Angela ’24: Ellen’s codename almost throughout the project (before we could figure out a nice and fitting name for Ellen) was Burrito. Why? Because we love burritos, and we also love Ellen.
Audrey ’24: As much as we loved Burrito dearly and initially wrote “Burrito” on all the dialogue cards, we ended up giving her a human name. We went with Ellen, because Ellen = Kellen – K (or “Kellen”[1:] for the compsci kids out there). WE’RE JUST KIDDING KELLEN08 I was almost flattered, and now I'm heart broken she’s actually named after Ellen Swallow Richards, the first female MIT student.

With the story outline set, they let us know that there were two things they needed. The first thing was someone to create music that—to combine/paraphrase Angela and Emily—took lo-fi soundscapes and Ghibli-esque music and made them sound lit. The second thing they needed was another animator, because Emily had even less animation experience than Angela.

As soon as they mentioned music, my next thought was Karthik. Karthik is a junior and currently serves as the president of MIT’s Music Production Collaborative. He actually did a live tutorial on how to remix The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights for us on IG Live last year, and I figured he would be great for this project.

On the animation side, Emily and Angela already had a student in mind. It was another first-year student named Audrey who had recently posted an animated beaver on her Instagram. Angela had recently started partnering with her for  MIT Borderline.

While we waited to hear back from both Audrey and Karthik about potentially joining the team, Angela sent the first animations and…

AKDJFLAKDJKLSADFKAS…THEY WERE SO GOOD!!

Look, it’s not that we didn’t believe they would be great; it’s more that we had no idea what to expect. I mean, look at those floating pumpkins!!

Shortly after seeing these first clips, both Karthik and Audrey agreed to join the team!

Now, the team was set, but we soon discovered two more interesting wrinkles09 this project was all about discovering things . One, to go along with Angela in Guam and Emily in New Jersey, Karthik was in Texas and Audrey in California. As for the other “interesting wrinkle”, Audrey had pretty much the same experience as Angela when it came to animation. So, combined, our three animators had done exactly two animations.10 Technically, this eventually moved up to three. Angela and Audrey collaborated on a project for Borderline called <a href='https://www.instagram.com/p/CJ1hiGeBZfO/'>Asian Aphrodite</a> around this time

So, to recap, we had a team working across four different time zones, and our animators would be teaching themselves how to animate and edit while doing the project. Not to mention, two of the four students had either never been to campus or had visited campus once years ago. Needless to say, we were all hyped!11 <strong>Emily '22</strong>: sounds like a recipe for success 🤩

With the full team in place, the project started moving in hyperdrive. Every week there was new artwork and new animations.12 <strong>Audrey '24</strong>: And the occasional cursed zoom background Eventually, those pieces started to meld together enough to have a first draft. And, with the first draft, Karthik sent us the first samples of the music.

With each new piece, the vision of what the final project was going to be became clearer. The music, which started off with a Mario Galaxy-influence, began to evolve with a mix of vibes from lo-fi, Studio Ghibli scores, and Karthik’s own sound.13 <strong>Emily '22</strong>: music king sounded amazing Angela, Emily, and Audrey handled all the writing, editing, animating, and directing, teaching themselves everything they needed to know along the way.

These four students, who before this project had never met in person, who before this fall had never animated anything, who lived in four different time zones, all came together and created something really cool.14 <strong>Audrey '24</strong>: psst look out for easter eggs in the animation! ;)

I can’t think of anything more MIT than that.15 <strong>Emily '22</strong>: UWU!!!!

  1. Emily '22: everyone should go watch this bread animation its so cute its life-changing back to text
  2. 🤷 back to text
  3. By 'I realized' I mean Karen, the Associate Director and the other member of the project, asked me where Angela is from. back to text
  4. I know, not great, but she made it! back to text
  5. Angela '24: That felt like a fever dream and I don't actually remember anything. back to text
  6. Don’t worry, I also asked where she was currently living. The answer was New Jersey back to text
  7. from this point on, our meetings were weekly for the next four months back to text
  8. I was almost flattered, and now I'm heart broken back to text
  9. this project was all about discovering things back to text
  10. Technically, this eventually moved up to three. Angela and Audrey collaborated on a project for Borderline called Asian Aphrodite around this time back to text
  11. Emily '22: sounds like a recipe for success 🤩 back to text
  12. Audrey '24: And the occasional cursed zoom background back to text
  13. Emily '22: music king sounded amazing back to text
  14. Audrey '24: psst look out for easter eggs in the animation! ;) back to text
  15. Emily '22: UWU!!!! back to text