Down in Lower Freeborn: Aggie Studios

Down in Lower Freeborn: Aggie Studios

Photo Credits: IAN JONES / AGGIE

“Your Source for All Things Aggie”

In the depths of Lower Freeborn Hall, the basement of the MU, lives the creative offices of ASUCD — each a different medium exploring and displaying student life on campus. Moreover, behind the misleading sign reading “AggieTV” (its old name) is Aggie Studios.

Aggie Studios, with a staff of 53 students, is broken up into two sectors: Client Media and Studio Productions. For Client Media, Aggie Studios acts as a resource to both ASUCD and external clients as they are able to create videos pertaining to events, campaigns and more.

“Client Media is all of the external client work that we are paid to do or requested to do via ASUCD,” said Shubah Chakravarty, executive director of Aggie Studios and a third-year communication and cinema and digital media double major. “It is mainly ads, event videos and recaps. We recently did a video for the Sunset Fest campaign, the Unitrans referendum, the Office of the Chancellor. They come to us with a video they want and then we come up with the concept.”

Jillian Nguyen, a second-year communication and cinema and digital media double major, acts as Client Media Director. In her position, she coordinates with Aggie Studios and the client at hand, translating the original client vision to Aggie Studio’s for them to use their creative discretion.

“Every single client we have worked with have trusted us to be the creative professionals,” Nguyen said. “It’s never like, ‘We want a 40 second video and its needs to have these shots.’ Whenever we have the project, we have a lot of creative liberty. Obviously we have to constrain ourselves to what they want in the video. We get to have this creative outlet and give back to the university.”

According to Studio Productions Director Ryan Wong, a second-year managerial economics major, Aggie Studios does not “have to wait for ASUCD to tell us what to do every time. We can go with any direction with any video on the creative end.”  

“Studio production is anything that we personally as a studio choose to create or cover,” Chakravarty said. “This includes, but is not limited to, news coverage, events on campus, any type of highlight we want to do on student life or an event. I see it as the official studio voice through video on campus.”

Each quarter, Aggie Studios produces 10 to 20 videos — a piece of butcher paper charting the progress of each videos hangs behind the door of the Aggie Studios office. Some videos can be finished in a weekend; more complicated ones could require work throughout the entire quarter. Especially this quarter, client videos have been in high demand because “ASUCD has a lot of videos that needed to be made.”

“Our main role within ASUCD is to be their video production unit, so that takes priority over everything else,” Chakravarty said. “We might be seen as a corporate ad, but the videos we make are about Picnic Day, Whole Earth Festival, the CoHo, Unitrans … it is all about students, though.”

No matter the purpose of the video, Aggie Studio’s service to exploring student life takes precedence.

“We always talk about wanting to tell a story,” Nguyen said. “When you are covering an event, you want to know the pulse and rhythm.”

Storytelling through video requires Aggie Studios to be greatly prepared for videos while expecting the unexpected. The process and how much planning can occur depends on each video. According to Nguyen, “it’s a lot of you learn as you go.”

“For something like the Nerf Gun Club video, you don’t have a shot list,” Wong said. “You’re just going in there and trusting your videographers to get the shot and go from there. We can plan what day we are going to be there, how many people are going, what is our vision and what do I want to get, but not this specific shot. Usually it turns out really well as long as we are on the same page.”

The ability for Aggie Studios employees to “think on their feet” becomes essential.

“You need to know how to go out there, find a story and piece it together,” Chakravarty said. “What differentiates a good writer or videographer from an inexperienced one are the people who know how to respond. I’ve been to hundreds of Aggie Studio shoots, and they never go according to plan. There is always going to be some factor that you could not have planned.”

Video storytelling by design can pose great challenges to reporting that Aggie Studios has become accustomed to overcoming. Wong, Nguyen and Chakravarty each quoted a potential or conquered hurdle in the filming process.

“The SD card didn’t work for the recording equipment at the Whole Earth Festival video,” Wong said. “We had to run back to the studio and get this large boom that we only use for in studio and hook it up to the camera.”

“There is lost footage, lost audio,” Nguyen said.

“We were once given the wrong location to the shoot, or the wrong time,” Chakravarty said. “I’ve been in situations where someone starts yelling at me, at more emotionally charged events like a strike. My skateboard has come in handy so many times. I always bring duct tape because something always breaks.”

Despite the challenges that may accompany filming, Aggie Studios has taken the initiative to expand their animation department.  

“Last year, I had a concept to explain how the ASUCD legislative process works,” Chakravarty said. “I went up to Jillian, and I asked her if she wanted to work on this project. I had an idea where I wanted it to be drawn, and charts and branches. We created this video and it was our first animated video. And then this year, when I became Executive Producer, I thought there was a lot we could do for graphics. It’s good for explaining hypotheticals or breaking stuff down. So I made a call out for animators and we had an incredible turn out. We saw their skills, and it was fantastic they were so good.”

The Unitrans video, with over 20,000 views on Facebook, was Aggie Studio’s first dominantly animated video completed by the new animation team. It took an entire month and a half to complete.

“[The Unitrans video] was a leap of faith,” Nguyen said. “When Shubah started the department, we didn’t know how to animate. So when the animators would have their meetings, it was like they had their own language.”

According to Chakravarty, there were five or six animators on the team who took a great lead in the creation of the video.

“They put together mood boards and style boards,” Chakravarty said, “Every single one was in the same style, they picked all the same colors. I think that video was the pioneering force in the animationa realm for us. I also think it set the bar very high. If I could show the ideal process of how to make a video that was it. It was the only video where it came out exactly the way I pictured it.”

Not only did the aesthetics come out according to plan, but the purpose of the video, too, represented the true purpose of Aggie Studios.

“A lot of our videos are about clarifying a concept, telling a story, telling the student body they haven’t heard before” Chakravarty said. “Unitrans is something almost everyone uses, but there is so much we don’t know about it. To make a video that explains it in a few minutes, everyone’s knowledge goes up a little.”  

For Wong, videos like this give back to the university as a whole.

“It represents who we are and what we do for the university,” Wong said. “Some videos have blown up based on viral content, but I think it represents us the most. We are here for you and this is what we do.”

Such vision has even reached national recognition. This year, Aggie Studios entered two of their videos in the American Advertising Federation awards for the first time, taking home multiple awards.  

“I’m so proud of this,” Chakravarty said. “It’s a huge award. We started off in the local level, the greater Sacramento area, and in the student section. We submitted the Sunset Fest campaign and the ASUCD legislative process explanation video. The legislative one won Silver, and Sunset Fest swept and won Gold for Integrated Brand Identity Campaign, and we won Judges’ Choice and People’s Choice. Then we moved onto Regionals, and we won Silver in that, so now we’re going to Nationals. Nationals is the top tier of everyone in the country. The one that hit the most was Judges’ Choice and People’s Choice. The judges were top industry professionals and people were all the people who attended the event.”

With an animation team solidified and awards under their belt, Aggie Studios will continue a trajectory of creating innovative quality videos concerning student life.

“I want to continue representing the student voice, making videos about what it’s like to be a student here and in Davis,” Chakravarty said. “The dorms, the activities, where to eat. Our tagline is ‘Your Source for All Things Aggie,’ and I want to embody that to the max. I want to be a source for students by students.”

Written By: Caroline Rutten — arts@theaggie.org