Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Nickfluence Animation Challenge DEBRIEF

Hey, everyone!

A few things before I begin:
First, sorry this took so long to upload. I ran into technical difficulties, and the holidays happened. I wish there were a super beautiful way to present all my data in a fun way, but however it works out is what you get.
Second, this post may ramble, so just bear with me.
Anyways, enough disclaimers. Enjoy whatever this is.

   Let's just cut to the chase here. I wanted to give a full debrief on the whole Nickfluence thing so I could unpack it and process what happened, because I think there's a story here, and it needs to be told.
   So let's begin with a little context.

   I keep up with a great news source for things going on in the animation industry called "Cartoon Brew", and I heard that Nickelodeon and Get Schooled (I think they sort of help kids with education in a fun way) were offering some kind of scholarship for young animators in this article, so I sent them my email and didn't hear anything for a long time.
   I think it was around a month or two later when I got an email from Get Schooled encouraging people to sign up.

   So what was this all about, you ask? This was the "'What's My Nickfluence?' Animation Challenge" hosted by Nickelodeon and Get Schooled. It was a competition where anyone ages 17 to 24 could participate. Contestants must create an original animated film up to 3 minutes long that basically shows their "Nickfluence", meaning how Nickelodeon has affected their lives. I won't go into specific rules unless I need to, so the full rules are online here if you want to take a look. Basically, contestants were charged to make an animated short that shows that they love Nickelodeon, either by using Nick characters or an original short. This was also for Nickelodeon's 25th anniversary.

The stakes?
   There was a High School and a College pool of contestants, each with different Grand Prizes. Each pool had the same People's Choice prize though. The High School Grand Prize was a Wacom Cintiq drawing computer with Adobe CC software, the College Grand Prize was a $25,000 scholarship to the college of their choice. The People's Choice prizes for both pools was a "Swag Box" full of Nickelodeon and Get Schooled merchandise worth $500 USD.

   I didn't know if I was going to actually enter for a while, but I eventually decided to jump in, thinking, "What the hey, why not?" I think I started working on my short about a week late though, which is too bad because I really could have used that week.

The animation portion of the competition began on July 20th and went until September 14th. During that time, contestants animated their shorts as quickly as possible. I could go into detail about the process of animating my short, but I think I'll just save that for a later post if I have a lot to say. I just ended up using all the reference I could from short clips of the cartoons I used, but tweaked many of them in different ways. I'm new to animating, so it's what I had to do. I copied a lot, but I didn't roto anything.
   I decided to make my short feel fun and energetic to exemplify what I think Nickelodeon is all about. I didn't want to get sappy and emotional and pretend like my life was deeply moved by TV because it wasn't. I like cartoons, and Nickelodeon has undoubtedly had an influence on me, but it's not to the point that I would get emotional about it. But I can honestly say that Nickelodeon is fun,  so my short was meant to show that and to celebrate their 25th anniversary.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to fully clean it all up or color it. Like I said, I really should have used that week that I spent fussing over if I should do this or not. But overall, I like the short. For my very first animated short film, I'd say I did alright. I submitted my short that night with around 3 minutes to spare, no joke. It was a long night.

Here's my "finished" short. 

   And this is where the real story begins. Remember, I had no idea how big of a deal this was going to be to me until several weeks later. At this point, I was just happy to have finished and submitted my first animated film.

The People's Choice competition

   When all the contestants submitted their shorts, they were posted on the to be voted on in the People's Choice competition. While the Grand Prize winners were to be chosen by the Nickfluence Crew themselves based on their judging criteria, the People's Choice Prize was up for grabs to whomever recieved the most votes by November 15th.
   So what I'm going to do here is chronicle this competition for you to the best of my ability, from beginning to end.

   On the first day that the People's Choice site was open, I started watching all the other shorts feverishly, because I really wanted to know what I was up against. I already went into detail about my favorite films in a previous post, so if you want to know my opinions check that out, especially if you were a contestant.
   When looking at the shorts, the spread went from zero effort, to amazing. I wrote down a tier list putting myself somewhere near the top. I don't think mine was the best, but considering the entire competition in the College section, I was at least top 10.
    ANYWAYS, I digress.

   On the first day, I voted for myself. It was the first vote anyone put on the site. And surprisingly it stayed that way for a whole day, because the site had a coding mistake that only allowed one vote-per-short, instead of the intended one vote-per-IP address, per day. I talked to web programmers I know and emailed the Nickfluence Crew to tell them what was up. They said they were working on it. That day, only "My Nickfluence" and myself were able to get a single vote. I had my moment of fame at the top spot with the "Current Winner" banner.

   On the following day, however, the site was repaired and the voting began. Soon, people began to take their places. The front runners then were "Mugman at the Driving Range", "Thank You" and "Don't Give Up". I was making something like 20 votes a day I think, while they were making 50 or 60. I still have notes calculating their average votes per day, and I remember marveling at how they could possibly be getting that many. I was so naive. ;)

When it all began

   It was on Oct. 1st that I decided it would be fun to keep a detailed record of all the votes. So I created two Google Sheets documents, one to keep a line graph to show votes over time, and another to keep a  Bar Graph to show the current standings. I updated the line graph every day at 10:00 am and updated the bar graph whenever I wanted to. I now have an entire spreadsheet of the entire voting period, minus the first 3 days (I had to estimate those numbers). I can see every vote of every short for 49 days.

Here's the raw data

Here's the line graph, showing votes over time

Click the arrow button (next to the text box) to advance the graph day by day, or just click "Automate".

   So anyways, let me continue with the story. You should keep an eye on the graph, so you can see the data as I reference it.

   It was on Oct 6th when things went from a voting competition to a war. I talked about this in my last blog post.
  On Oct 7th I woke up and realized that "Don't Give Up" had made the first major move in the game. She made over 300 votes in one day. This was unprecedented, and it gave her a big lead (or what was considered a big lead at that time).
   It was also around this time that I became involved with getting to know the other contestants through Twitter. I was able to make contact with Priscilla and Christina, creators of "Don't Give Up" and "Thank You" respectfully. This is where a lot of the drama comes from.
   Without going into too much detail, Christina seemed to be so stunned and frustrated by Priscilla's quick rise in votes that she basically dropped out of the competition, and accused her of cheating. I was not able to console her, and I actually didn't want to, because I knew that she was major competition, so I actually needed her to give up. And gave up she did.
   I was also in contact with Priscilla, and I got information from her about how she wasn't cheating. She was using "word of mouth promotions". Basically, she was going viral in her own circles of influence. Very interesting.

Just for the record, I'll lay the cheating allegations to rest right here. I never once encouraged anyone to cheat. I only had friends show me that it was possible a couple times, but that only probably amounted to a tiny amount of votes, like at MOST 5 votes. Anything else was not on my watch. The only way to "cheat" would be to use Proxy servers to vote multiple times on one device. This is actually kind of an arduous process, and actually isn't a good way to get a lot of votes. I don't think anyone in the competition benefited from doing that, and I certainly never encouraged anyone to do that. I wanted an completely honest victory. So that's off the table.

  On Oct. 8th, while I was walking to work, I thought intensely about this. At that time, I had 271 votes, and Priscilla had 1,190, and she was moving much faster than me. The way I saw it, I had a serious choice in front of me. I could either not take this very seriously and most assuredly lose and hope that I get chosen for the Grand Prize, or I could take this as serious as I possibly could and have a chance at winning the People's Choice Award. The People's Choice competition was the only thing I actually had any control over, so I knew that if I was going to have a chance at beating Christina and Priscilla, I would have to do everything within my power to get more votes (other than cheating obviously). And in that moment as I was walking to work, I made the decision to try and care more than any other contestant. I was going to have to make my own big moves if I was going to get ahead. And I made a promise to myself that was not going to break: I was never going to give up, no matter what.

And from this point on I was 150% involved. Make no mistake, I was totally obsessed with this competition. It was seriously the #1 thought on my mind for 49 days. Nickfluence was the first thing I thought of when I woke up and that last thing I thought of when I fell asleep. It's also worth mentioning that I had just finished reading "Ready Player One" and it somehow felt like I was competing for Halliday's Treasure or something. But anyways, more on my obsession later. 

   And move I did. When I got to work (I work at a school district as a classified substitute helper), I got the receptionist to send out an email to the whole district to vote for me. Unfortunately, this didn't really give me the boost I wanted that day, but my resolve was strengthened. I was willing to talk to whoever I needed to in order to win. This was serious.

   Judging by the data, I think it must've been on Oct. 9th or 10th, but on those days, I began to move much faster. I remember being at a small party with my extended family and watching as my votes began to spike. At that time, I hit 3rd place under "Of Dragons and Men" and "Don't Give Up". 
   So what did I do? I asked my brothers to advertise for me on their places of influence online. My older brother to his sites, and my younger brother to his. This gave me a huge boost that night. I had already been sharing to Facebook and Google+, but tapping into their power was what I needed.

   And that was the secret. It isn't so much about getting people in the real world to vote, that only amounts to small-time numbers. What you really need is to go viral online. If 200 people vote and each of them shares to 200 of their own friends, then that's potentially 40,000 votes. That is the kind of power that Priscilla and I were able to tap into during the course of this competition.

  Anyways, it was the morning of Oct. 14th that I took second place. And the battle basically became between Priscilla and me. She stopped talking to me on Twitter, and I can only assume why.

   Things were looking good for me, and I began to urge everyone even harder to vote like they've never voted before.
   It's such a weird feeling trying to pull the reigns on this imaginary machine. I would sit down on a computer and turn on Facebook, Twitter, and my charts, and I'd try to make inspiring tongue-in-cheek speeches to try to encourage people to vote. And I would watch as I would make 1,000 votes in a day. It's like this weird faith thing where I just willed it to happen and it would happen.

   Unfortunately, I had a really bad couple days from the 15th through the 17th, and it started looking bad, but like I said earlier, I was never going to give up. But on the 18th, I got back in the swing of things and started making around 1,500 votes per day again.

   Oct. 17th: Priscilla spikes up 2,653 votes. WHAAAT?
   Oct. 18th: Priscilla only makes 206 votes. OMG YES!
   Oct 19th: Priscilla makes 3,386 votes. DARK DAYS! SUPERNOPE! 
(The site also crashed on this day.)
   From then until the 27th, things went regularly and we both held the status quo. We were both making around 2,000 on a bad day, 3,000 on a good day, 4,000 on a great day, and 5,000 on an amazing day.

   What happened next was awesome. On the 27th I decided to share to a bunch of random Facebook and YouTube pages. I shared to Rhett and Link's Facebook page, and threw out a Graigslist ad (I don't think the Cragslist ad did anything). That day I mad a whopping 6,911 votes, which was the single biggest spike in the entire game.

   Around the 30th is when we started to wrestle for 1st place. I actually took the lead on the 31st sometime around 4:30-4:40pm, but lost it by the following morning.

It's also worth noting that the site was having issues all along the way, maybe due to server overload from so many votes. It was on the flux from the 27th-31st.

Oct. 31st, 4:20 PM

   On November 4th, I got the lead at around 3pm and held it until the end of the game.

Nov. 4, 3:30 PM

 Priscilla seemed to have lost her resolve because her votes suffered dramatically. Part of me felt bad, because I didn't want "Don't Give Up" to give up. She had been the only one steeled enough to fight this hard this long. But the other part of me was more than happy to crush her and take the prize myself. I was amazed that I was able to get this far, and I wasn't going to flake now.
   I made a stupid move though. In a subtle way, I popped off before the game was over and sent Priscilla a message on Twitter with some congratulations and asked to ask her some questions for this blog when it was over.
   If she read it or not, I don't know because she's never responded, and I respect that. But whatever the case, that day her votes spiked up 5,090 and I was completely terrified. By that time, I was starting to slow down as my voters were probably feeling like I was guaranteed the win, so this was a massive gain towards me, and I didn't know if her momentum would continue or not. If it continued, she definitely could have won.

   But her momentum didn't continue, and after that final breath of defiance against me, her campaign sighed its last and flat lined (a moment of silence for Priscilla's campaign).

Here's the final tally when voting was officially closed.

   And that was the end. I won the People's Choice competition. There was a little bit of drama afterwards too when I seriously panicked because I didn't know if I could provide Nickelodeon with the additional information they wanted from me, but it all got worked out.

What's this all about?
   I guess the even better question would be, "why are you so obsessed with this?" And I'd say that is a very good question, and it's something I've been thinking about a lot since this all started happening.
   I think this has taught me a lot about what makes me tick as a person and what makes me excited. As I've grown up, I've been honing in on what I like and don't like and how I actually function as a person, and my conclusions so far really make sense of my past and hopefully my future.

   I know for sure that above all things I like making of. I like things like animation and video games and sports and drama and music and books and whatever, but what I like more than those things is learning about the making of those things. I am totally fascinated by learning the secrets behind how things work and how they have been under your nose all along influencing you without you knowing.

   For instance, take a look at a big pop song you like. It's really great, but even greater is learning about how humans are inherantly drawn to certain BPMs (Beats Per Minute), and most pop songs sell better when they use tempos that match common heart-beat rates, or that match marching speeds (so you match the music when you walk).
   Or when you learn that painters and even animation artists have methods of subliminally leading your eye across a page in a particular way. It's like a beautiful form of mind control.
   Or when you learn about how classic video games were designed to "teach" you how to play in the first 15 minutes without saying a word to the player, just subliminally.

   I'm not joking when I say I'm fascinated by this kind of thing. I went through a phase in high school where I would buy weird music instruments like dulcimers, didgeridoos, and jaw harps partly because I liked playing them and liked the wow-factor that it had with friends, but mostly because I was fascinated by how they made different sounds and what about them enabled them to make different sounds. I studied how sound waves were produced in something like a banjo, and why they sounded different than a guitar. How does pairing strings with a resonating chamber versus a drum head affect its sound?

   In the past, I've also been captivated by the way that stories work. A story can impact you infinitely more than just information. I could say "Love changes everything" and you'd say, "Okay, whatever", but I could make a powerful film that shows that, and it could change your entire life. And it's because stories have a way of letting you come to conclusions on your own, without letting you know that it's being fed to you all along (that would break the illusion and ruin the magic trick). It's like the movie "Inception", ideas are more powerful if they come from within, not from the outside. And stories have that power.
   And this fascination draws me towards certain people. I love finding a stand up comedian or someone on a TED Talk who is able to show you information in a way that immerses you and makes you care. It's amazing.

   I've come to believe that this is core to who I am as a person somehow. I love making of. I don't know why, but I do more than anything.

So how does this relate to Nickfluence?

   This relates because during the course of the competition, I found myself completely obsessed with this process of plotting against invisible people online and getting up early to chart numbers on a graph. I don't like numbers. Why do I love this so much?
   I think I have a couple answers. For one, I think that I love scheming. Like I said earlier, I like the way that people can have a subliminal influence on someone else that is meaningful, and that you can discover the inner workings of something to learn why it affects people. And I dream of the day when I can make a film that will make others feel the way I feel; I want to immerse people in a world of my creation and have them feel the way that I want them to so I can communicate with them.
   It sounds like some kind of creepy thing if you think of it, but it's what authors and filmmakers and musicians and painters do for a living. 
   And relating back to Nickfluence, there's something about scheming that is really fun to me, and I love going off alone and making diabolical plans (all in good fun) to win a competition.

   But I think a bigger answer is that data can create a story. For anyone who just looked at the Nickfluence page every now and then, they would see that they are or aren't in the lead, and that the leaders have too many votes, and that would be the end of the story for them. But for me and those who watched my chart, there was a drama going on. There was excitement. The moment that I started recording the data, it became much more.
   And I think this goes for more than just this competition. Look at any census information or survey, they paint a picture in a unique way that just talking to your own circles doesn't do. In fact, I'm certain that there are tons of stories yet to be told in my own neighborhood, and that if I was weird enough I would start recording things like cat or bird populations or something and I'd have something interesting on my hands.
   And also, there's the way that I was able to simply choose to make this a thing. For most people in the competition, this wasn't that big of a deal, but because I made a decision to care, I cared. And because this wasn't something I was told to do, I did it all myself. And that made it meaningful to me. This was like my own little experiment, my own little game to play, and play it I did. That was super fun to me.

And I like the way that the prize was made more valuable by the game it took to win it. I had no idea what was in the "Swag Box", and I really didn't care. It could have been a lump of coal and I would have adored it just as much, simply because I won it. That's a powerful idea, that the trophy is in the mind, not in the prize.

   So I guess the message here is that you can make your own fun out of almost anything, and the drama and excitement is out there--yours for the taking. The trophy is in your head, not in your possessions. What makes things valuable is not just what they are, but what they mean to you.
  But mostly I think this was a learning experience for me. I found myself obsessed with something simply because I chose to be, and because this was something that appealed to the kind of person I am at the core: someone who apparently likes scheming and seeing the secrets of how things work.

Thanks, everyone!

Thank you to Get Schooled and Nickelodeon for putting this on and being so generous, and answering my nervous emails!

Thank you to all the contestants who worked hard to animate and submit their shorts. It's hard work, keep it up!

Thank you to those People's Choice contestants who battled for the top spot. I had so much fun scheming about how to defeat you all, and I hope we can all have a good laugh about it. No hard feelings! You are all amazing!

And a special thanks to all those voters who faithfully voted for me every day. I literally couldn't have won without you guys. Thank you so much!

(And thanks to Shawn for helping me with programming the charts for this blog.)

I can't thank everyone enough for making the Nickfluence competition as fun as it was. I'm even thinking about trying again next year... Eh. We'll see. ;)

Please check out my next post to learn more about what was in the Swag Box!




  1. So you're basically saying you were being a pathetic ass hole on purpose the whole time? Get off your high horse. Your short was all over the place. No quality whatsoever. Your posts from Twitter to your blog had my eyes rolling so many times I thought one eyeball would eventually pop out.

    1. If you don't mind my asking, did you also enter in the contest? If so, which short was yours?