You may well remember the video called “Golden Eagle Snatches Kid” that first appeared in December of 2012, it was a viral sensation getting nearly 42 million views to date and was featured on all the main internet blog sites and on numerous TV news networks too.
It was of course quickly debunked as a hoax, however there are few that will deny that it was a good one and that it captured the internet’s imagination.
In a recent BuzzFeed article, the four Canadian film students who were responsible for creating it and the lecturer at Centre NAD, (a technology university in Montreal) Robin Tremblay speak about the clip and why it was so damn popular.
Tremblay set the students a task; to make a viral hoax video. If their video garnered more than 100,000 views, the students would get an A. I don’t think anyone had any ideas about what grade to give them if it got 42 million!!!
Four of Tremblay’s most industrious students, Normand Archambault, Félix Marquis-Poulin, Loïc Mireault, and Antoine Seigle, set to work and the “Golden Eagle Snatches Kid” is the result of approximately 400 of hours of their efforts.
Discussing the nature of the course, Tremblay said: “The students have to shoot live-action, integrate 3-D effects, and make it so believable that it can look real…But I was always trying to think of new ways to teach it. New ideas. I think, ‘Oh, maybe I should try a prank film.’”
So though the main goal of Tremblay’s class was to teach his students how to effectively use software to create 3D visual effects, his assignment also became a lesson in what we as people find interesting and why. It is an example of how a short clip can take on a momentum of its own and become something that has us all watching, sharing and discussing.
The students’ themselves were not prepared for the what was going to happen once their video was uploaded to YouTube, for even the most confident and accomplished of students could not have imagined how quickly the video became popular – receiving 17 million views in the first day alone!
Marquis-Poulin, 23, said; “I still don’t understand how it went that big…I go from step one to the final result. I see all the work we did. I can’t comprehend somebody on their phone, watching the video, saying, ‘Look at this! An eagle catches a baby! That’s awesome.’ I can’t imagine how many people had this moment. It’s weird.”
For Tremblay, the aim of the game is to ensure his students are as adept at utilizing these effects as the movie studios that they will hopefully end up working for, however there is another audience to cater for of course and that is the YouTube audience that these young students managed to grab in much the same way as the eagle grabbed the kid in the video! Globally we watch approximately 4 billion hours of YouTube footage each month, so for the people who can set themselves aside from the mundane and the menial – there is a huge potential audience out there!
After toying with several ideas that ranged from exploding pigeons and a plane landing on a busy Montreal street, the students finally settled on the eagle snatching kid idea.
They decided that the eagle would be more “subtle than a plane” as people would be more likely to question why they didn’t hear the roaring engine of Boeing 747 touching down on a busy highway, whereas a child being grabbed by a huge bird in a park could easily occur unbeknownst to all. The idea of giant birds attacking humans in this way is seeping in mythology, folklore and is not entirely impossible, which is one of the reasons why their clip was such a success.
They filmed the clip in the 500-acre Mount Royal Park using a baby name Jacob (who was a friend of Seigle’s child) and then over the next month, the footage was put through 3 different types of software; Autodesk Softimage (a 3D modelling app where they created the eagle and baby), Autodesk Maya (used to texture the eagle’s feathers and enhance its realistic appearance), and NUKE, a post-production program that digitally composited the different source material and helped to give the studio quality footage a rough, homemade feel to it.
Despite the impressive nature of the video, in true YouTube nature, the race began to try and debunk it. That was started by a YouTuber called Cyatek aka 17-year-old Tiago Duarte from Barcarena, Portugal. For Duarte, who spends a lot of time playing realistic video games and tinkering on photoshop, the video didn’t really sit right. Because everyone seemed to be believing it, (the top YouTube comment was something along the lines of “’If you want to say this is fake, you better provide some proof.”) Duarte knew it would not simply be enough to say it was a hoax, he had to prove it. He downloaded the clip and put it through video editing package Sony Vegas Pro 11 and providing a frame-by-frame analysis of the video and highlighted its faults. Some people still tried to deny that Duarte had a point, but that’s the nature of the game!
YouTube’s trends manager Kevin Allocca is an expert on the viral video, he has identified 3 main things that a video needs if it is going to be a hit, they are; “tastemakers (those who decide what is cool, and spread it), communities (such as Reddit), and unexpectedness (which a bird-brained kidnapping has in droves).”
He said; “If there’s anything we like more than watching outrageous footage of the impossible, it’s discussing and reacting to outrageous footage of the impossible.” Elaborating on why he believed that the Canadian student’s video lingered and continued to amass views even after it was debunked, Allocca said it was because it gave people “a topic for us to engage on and debate with each other about. We know that videos depicting the seemingly implausible — especially in nature — can become very popular. Add in the fact that there’s just a lot to react to and that tons of blogs and news sites were embedding the video, and you’ve got a recipe for viral success.”
To read more about how these four film students’ class project turned into a worldwide phenomenon, click here.