Eerily authentic video footage of UFOs hovering in the evening sky over Haiti and the Dominican Republic appeared on YouTube on Aug. 9 and immediately garnered millions of views and reams of discussion on out-there conspiracy sites such as Above Top Secret. While some of the more, um, open-minded commentators made pronouncements such as "Having seen one myself this close once in daylight ... I'm not gonna call it a hoax" and others immediately called marketing high jinks (warning to marketers: the online hoax as an ad genre is over; audiences can see them from miles away -- even when they're not there), almost all marveled at how convincingly rendered the UFO scenes were.
As first revealed by the Los Angeles Times, the videos were the work of commercial and music-video director David Nicolas, who acted alone. The French director and provocateur, represented by international production company Partizan, is known for his animation work through the directing unit Numero 6, highlights of which include lauded music videos for Super Furry Animals and Superman Lovers and the "Super Sub" spot for Coke. For Nicolas, the UFO videos were an atomic case of procrastination gone horribly right. Nicolas had been working on an animated feature called "Peter the Astronaut" for Partizan. While in New York visiting his girlfriend, he became fascinated with UFOs and began creating videos featuring alien spacecraft while messing around with a new software package. He returned to Paris with scant progress on "Peter" but shared his UFO work with Partizan head Georges Bermann, and an idea for a second film was born -- this one about a pair of kids who create a UFO hoax online and the chaos that ensues. Bermann and Nicolas are collaborating on the script for the UFO feature being produced out of Partizan.
Nicolas created the much-debated, all-CG videos with a MacBook Pro and off-the-shelf software including Vue 6 and Lightwave and posted them in early August under the name Barzolff814. The director says he posted the videos in the name of research and social experimentation and took pains to create craft that didn't look like the work of human hands. Within days ET believers and mainstream news outlets alike were aflame with speculation as to the clips' origin and authenticity. "Haiti" has racked up more than 4 million views on YouTube (its success eclipsed only by Miss Teen South Carolina's trenchant analysis of U.S. America's education system on the month's most-viewed list). Nicolas says he was surprised at the scale of the reaction. "If I had known there would be so much scrutiny, I would have worked harder on it," he says with a laugh.
If there's a lesson here for any creative or marketing entity, it's that the value of a bit of creative free play cannot be overestimated. But mainly the UFO saga is just a wee illustration of an oft-quoted (by me) bit of John Hegarty advice: Do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you.
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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and Creativity-Online.com.