This Year’s Christmas Eve Dance Was a Painstaking “Labor of Love”

Northland Church

Senior video producer Marcus Rhoads spent more than 50 hours animating thousands of video frames by hand to bring the “Spirit Break Out” dance to life. He has no regrets.

Q: The “Spirit Break Out” dance number was beautiful, Marcus! How did this come about?

A: Well, we were inspired by a video from a Japanese motion graphics performing artist called Enra that we found on YouTube. The idea was to use dance and motion graphics in tandem to share the profound thought of heaven coming to earth via the manger.

Q: How much work did it take to pull everything together?

A: A lot! First, we held several rehearsals with the dancers to lock in the routine, which was recorded and used to keyframe every individual element ...

Q: Wait. Keyframe? What does that mean ... in English?

A: Ha! For example … If I want a stream of particles to fly from the dancer’s hand while it’s swinging, I have to track the movement of her hand, frame-by-frame so the particles will follow her movement.

Q: So you animated each and every frame … by hand?!

A: Yup. A total of 6,420 frames.

It was probably 30 hours of keyframing and another 20 or so compiling all of the effects. There is software for automating the keyframing, but I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. To get a fluid, life-like feel to the motion, I ended up placing all of the keyframes by hand.

Q: Can you break down the process for us?

A: Sure, we started by capturing the dancers during rehearsal:

Then, the effects were animated based on their movements:

Finally, we put them together:

Q: Amazing! What software and projection did you use?

A: Warning: “Geek speak” ahead ...

We used Adobe After Effects with three main plugins: Trapcode Particular, Starglow and Form. The main video you see is front-projected, and there is also a video being rear-projected on the screen to add a warm glow and hide the shadows when you are viewing off-axis.

We used a 20,000-lumen projector for the front projection. (FYI. That’s bright!)

Q: So, you didn’t use motion capture to keep the dancers in sync with the effects?

A: Nope. There is a front-projected video as well as a rear-projected video that were perfectly synced to the music. It was then the job of the dancers to rehearse their cues over and over until they could hit every spot, every time.

Q: So which came first, the dance or the video?

A: That was actually the most difficult question when we started planning this. Ultimately, the dance was created first with ideas in mind of what the video would look like.

The first time we put the dance and video together in rehearsal, a lot of the animations didn’t line up; it took a while to determine which places the video needed to change and how the dancers needed to change their movements to match the video.

Q: Well, it turned out amazing. Kudos to you and your team.

A: Thanks! We’re very happy with how it turned out. It was a real collaborative effort that took a lot of people and a LOT of hours paying attention to every detail. Ultimately, our goal is to worship God and point people to Him. So it was a “labor of love,” for sure.

Watch the entire Christmas Eve 2015 service here. Got questions for Marcus that weren't answered here? Email him.


Spirit Break Out
Words and Music: Luke Hellebronth, Tim Hughes, Mykes Dhillon and Ben Bryant
Vocalist: Michelle Alexander
Dancers: Samantha Solberg and Lex Rodriguez
Choreography: Sheri Metcalf