Last year I invented an aeronautical research company called Aeolas International. Their sole purpose was to take my Youtube personality hostage and post videos of their scientific findings. Ideally people would think that this was actually happening and I would eventually become mega famous. This didn’t happen exactly as planned, but the process of diving deep into a self initiated project was terrific and something I would highly recommend. I’m excited now to get a chance to further explain the project; the motivations behind it, the process, and what eventually unfolded.
Some of you may know that I am also a musician. Most of the work I have online is design related, but I also maintain a Youtube page where I mainly post covers of my favorite songs. I’ve been posting over there for about 2 years now and some videos have done quite well (150K + views). Most chill somewhere around 15K. Overall it’s been a great way to get my musical side out there and generate a fan base. An example of a “normal” pre-Aeolas video is below.
At the end of last year I decided it was time to switch it up. I was enjoying my periodic recording sessions, but I wasn’t nearly as into it as I was when I started. The market had become significantly more saturated with cover artists and I felt like I was just one of thousands of people doing exactly the same thing. Initially, I felt like I was distinguishing myself with higher quality recording techniques, but even this became relatively commonplace. After an intense brainstorming session, I decided it would be best to invent an old aeronautical research company called Aeolas International that would take me hostage. I didn’t really have much of a plan beyond that when I started.
The first thing I needed to do was create the company that would eventually play the role of captor in my parallel world. I knew I wanted them to have something to do with outer space; I had always wanted to design space graphics and I thought this might be a cool way to go about it. Unfortunately, it didn’t make a lot of sense to have an aeronautical research entity capturing obscure Youtube stars. The story would be that they were once a successful exploration outfit (British firm, based in Japan, because why not?) that was on the brink of bankruptcy due to a disappearance of government funding. To try and regain their place in stars, they would pursue what they felt to be a more lucrative scientific avenue: human based research.
As they were led by a eccentric and very unusual scientist (Alastair Case), the way they determined to go about their comeback was to pick, locate, and kidnap a Youtube musician and then transfer him to their research facility. Eventually they would force him to do specific things for the existing Youtube audience (his subscriber base). What they would learn from these experiments, they weren’t sure, but Dr. Case was positive that this fringe research would catapult them back into the public conciseness. I was chosen because I had an existing fan-base of approx. 5000 subscribers (at the time) and they couldn’t locate any of the more famous acts. This would make it easy for their research to reach thousands of people quickly.
From the point of view of my project, my existing fan-base was a lot of the reason I thought this idea was going to potentially go far. I thought if I could make it weird enough, my 5000 subscribers would be just enough people to get it to catch on. I wasn’t really sure how or why it would catch on, but I thought the concept was unique enough to get some attention. This may have been true a number of years ago, but after stunts like lonelygirl15 etc, it wasn’t as unique as I had hoped. The other issue was that my subscribers were such because they enjoyed my music, and weren’t necessarily down to follow along with a LOSTish kidnapping plot.
Since the company was starting from scratch, the first thing they needed was a name. At the time, I had just read this article on naming techniques. I have a massive Illustrator document cataloging the tons of brainstorming I did around this framework. I wanted the name to sound vaguely scientific, ideally be six letters long, and have an overall mysterious vibe surrounding it. I perused a lot of Greek mythology early on, which is where I came across the god of wind, Aeolos. I love words that end in “los” and conceptually the word made a lot of sense. As the company was designed to conduct research in space, anything having to do with flying, air, or…well wind made sense (though there is no wind in space…).
Of course “Aeolos” is a very popular word out there in the world, and I was worried calling the company this would cause it to get lost in the mix. I changed the spelling to Aeolas for a couple reasons: 1) less brand clutter and confusion, 2) I thought it encouraged the correct pronunciation of the word more so than the los ending (A – O – LAS), and 3) I could get the domain. (Only problem is “Aeolas” has some unfortunate alternate meanings on Urban Dictionary, which we learned of well afterward haha.) I added “International” to the end because everything sounds cooler with International at the end. Alex International, done. Ghostly International, woot!
Once I had the name, I needed a symbol. Above you can see some of my early iterations (shapes, colors, and even the old spelling). I started with a name that began with a “V”, so everything was vaguely V-shaped to begin with. When I changed the name to Aeolas, I flipped the symbol so it resembled more of a spacecraft flying through the air. You can see above that the initial renderings of this change were very crude. After countless refinements on the spaceship shape, I eventually ended up with the version you see below. For the first couple weeks of the project, I was using this one with the spaceship reversed out of the black background. Towards the end I stripped the background and left it as just three simple shapes. I felt like it was much stronger simpler.
As the project was underway, I began using the logo on my website as well. Anyone familiar with the Aeolas situation recognized it as the Aeolas logo. Anyone that hadn’t seen the videos just assumed it was my personal logo (the spaceship also looked like an A, so this made some sense). I was (and still am) happy with the mark — it was the result of a really long refinement process and I like the idea of having a personal logo.
I also ended up trademarking it — mainly because I thought it might be a good idea when I started using it for my business — but also to have the experience of working with an intellectual property lawyer and the copyright office. My favorite part was getting the absolutely massive packet of other logos that slightly (ever so!) resembled mine. Pretty much any logo with an A contained within a circle was included (the purpose of which was in case the Copyright peoples found any of them to be too similar, we would have the arguements against prepared already).
To increase the legitimacy of the fake corporation (as well as gauge the popularity of the project), I created a website that described the history and present state of Aeolas. The website was built using Squarespace and was basically just a landing pad for anyone curious enough to explore further. I didn’t want it to be so obvious that the company was fake. I tried to make it feel as realistic as I could, without leaving out important information that curious browsers might be after. The best part of the website was that it encouraged interested parties to apply for employment with Aeolas International. I received somewhere around 5 resumes of actual scientists looking for work (in addition to countless “WTF” type emails).
I also made shirts (which you can still buy!), signage, and PSA style videos to flesh out the Aeolas universe. The most exciting thing for me was the TV Spot which you see at the beginning of this post. Like the video for MNU (from District 9), I wanted the Aeolas video to feel super generic and filled with stock footage. It had to feel like every other cookie-cutter corporation publicity video. To accomplish this, I used a number of stock video clips and a low quality selection of stock music. The hardest part was the voice over. Luckily for me, my friend Phil knew a professional voice over actress and she recorded the script I prepared for her. I felt like this touch really helped push it over the edge. I still can’t stop laughing when she says the Aeolas tagline, “Running the human race”.
Important to note is that all of this development, conceptual and otherwise, was done before the launch of the project. When the concept was set loose on the Youtube community, all of the background work was complete. Once we posted the first video, everything transitioned into “plot” development. My friend Phil Mills (who you know from the Wes Anderson video) was my primary collaborator throughout this process. We would get together and just think of the most ridiculous things we could possibly do. We never would write anything beforehand — everything was done on the fly — if it made us laugh, we included it. The only exception was the very first video, which we knew had to be done right. (Make sure to watch until at least 1:03!)
The first time I introduced this project into my Youtube universe was with the “Kidnap Video” as we referred to it. I knew it had to pack a lot of punch because it was the lead off video for the whole concept. We decided it would be best to booby trap one of my videos — that is, make a new video that appeared to be a normal cover song, but would turn into an Aeolas PSA after a minute or two. The way the transition would occur was I would be tackled, out of the blue, by a masked man and a group of biohazard-suit-wearing scientists. You can see in the video above, about 1:03min in, I get laid out by my roommate Blake posing as a Aeolas goon. We put out a mattress for us to land on and I bought a cheap $50 guitar to be used in case it was destroyed (it survived). To maximize random viewings, I chose “I Got a Feeling” to cover because it was the #1 song at the time.
After my capture we felt it was necessary to show where I was being held and show what it was Aeolas wanted with me. In the next video, Dr. Case took us into my cell and convinced me to play a cover of an Alphaville song (which had recently been released again by Jay-Z. Another strategic song choice). In the video, I am visibly irritated and confused having just been kidnapped for no discernible reason. While most people that watched it probably skipped ahead to the song, my favorite part was the sound design of the beginning sequence. We were filming in my friend’s basement where it is especially quiet and not at all “lab” like. To combat this, I spent a lot of time browsing Free Sound and downloading appropriate samples. There are probably 30 separate sound clips that play in that first scene.
After the Aeolas promo video, the next episode involved a John Mayer cover followed by Dr. Case responding to some of the comments. This one was ton of fun to film because most comments on Youtube are completely absurd. Even on my normal videos that comments can get pretty hilarious. We picked a few and responded to them as if Aeolas took every comment VERY seriously.
The last video we did was one without music where Aeolas attempts to mate me with a Youtube fan that they had identified and captured as well. The idea was that her comments had led them to believe that she wanted to “make babies” with me. In their minds, this was as much evidence as they needed that she was a viable candidate for spreading my musical DNA in case I ever escaped or perished.
By the time I released this video, popularity of the project had significantly declined. It was the first time I had ever uploaded a video without any of my own music in it, and my audience base was noticeably irritated. My total numbers were consistently down about 1500 daily views from normal. While this did bug me, the lot of us were having such a blast with the project that the general agreement was that it would be worth going “down with the ship”. Numbers were down but morale was up!
As both Phil and I got busier and busier with the ends of our respective semesters, I started to slowly transition out of the full on combination videos, into normal cover videos with just “Presented by Aeolas International” leading them off. Our original plan was to end the story with me escaping (or being replaced). I had thoughts to drive to the Salt Flats where I could do some clever filming and make it look like the Aeolas compound was out there in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately we never officially ended the series — if you go to my Youtube page now, things are back to normal (+ the MKII…) and view count is back where it used to be. The slow transition out of the Aeolas world (sans conclusion) was mostly due to our own hectic schedules.
To film the videos I used a Panasonic PV-GS250. Everything was edited in Final Cut and color corrected in Color. This project was one of the first times I used Final Cut extensively. After the countless hours I spent working on these videos, I now consider myself extremely competent inside of Final Cut and Color etc. It was a really great way to learn both programs. Stylistically, I think we were mostly influenced by LOST and the Dharma Initiative. The amount of mystique that surrounds that organization was what we were going for with Aeolas. Of course there were many differences. First, Alastair Case was based on more of a Michael Scott type character; oblivious to the fact that he is being egregious etc. We also were treading a line between attempting to make it feel realistic and making it obviously ridiculous. In retrospect I think we should have chosen one of these and gone with it. I spent a lot of time trying to make each video feel as much like Aeolas actually existed as possible. From the sound design to the voice on the PSA, every detail was considered. Mix this with the absurdist plot and you have an interesting (albeit confusing) combination.
It started as an attempt to get famous. Well…sort of. Phil and I would often discuss how we were having so much fun that we could care less what ended up happening with the project’s reception. At the time, I was in school, but was spending most of my time working and thinking about the Aeolas project. There was no one in charge and it was a great opportunity to exercise our creative muscles. In the end, it was basically a massive self initiated project that crossed multiple mediums (design, film, photography, writing) that I can include in my portfolio (I guess to be filed under “identity”?…”kidnapping?”).
The bottom line for me is that self initiated mega projects are the ultimate. If you have the time (even if you don’t), I would highly recommend embarking on a ridiculous project.