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The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker

RawTV & Netflix - 2023


"The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker" is a gripping and extraordinary true story that will captivate audiences from start to finish. Meet Kai McGillvary, a drifter who becomes an overnight internet sensation when he saves a woman from a vicious attack. With his articulate demeanor, eccentric personality, and rugged good looks, Kai's story quickly goes viral, drawing media attention from all over. But behind the headlines lies a complex and troubled individual.


On the surface, Kai appears to be living a carefree, hippy-like existence, but beneath the facade, he's grappling with the scars of a traumatic childhood and ongoing mental health challenges. Just three months after his meteoric rise to fame, Kai finds himself at the center of a horrific event, claiming he acted in self-defense when he takes the life of another man. Now serving 57 years in jail for murder one, Kai is determined to appeal his case and prove his innocence.

As the film delves into Kai's tumultuous journey, it raises thought-provoking questions about the impact of internet fame, our insatiable thirst for new content, and the responsibility of those who consume and share stories online. It's a compelling exploration of the human psyche, shedding light on the complexities of fame, mental health, and the blurred lines between truth and perception. 

I was approached by Alex Marengo, representing Raw TV, to provide the graphics required to effectively convey the story of this modern crime narrative. In today's digital age, where the internet and social media play a significant role in any crime story, showcasing factual information and the mental states of various contributors becomes crucial. However, presenting this information in a coherent and visually appealing manner, while also maintaining the archival nature of the story, poses multiple challenges.


Additionally, the technical aspects of producing graphics for Netflix, including delivering in 4K resolution and the ACES color management system, presented a significant task. File sizes and fidelity of work were crucial to ensure that the graphics stood up to scrutiny and were suitable for viewing on various screen sizes via the Netflix servers. Maintaining consistent color management for archive and generated assets, while also avoiding visual distortions such as blurry or jagged recreations and broken lines that are common in 4K graphics with movement, was a top priority.

Dealing with multiple sources that required conversion to and from ACES linear EXR within After Effects proved to be challenging, as there is limited information available on real-world productions. While Netflix currently only accepts ACES linear as a delivery format, I found that stripping any color management from all assets that came into After Effects and working in a non-managed color space, which defaults to screen sRGB, was the most practical approach for edit previews. When it came to rendering, I switched to the ACES linear/2065-1 color space and transformed each composition with an adjustment layer from an input - sRGB profile to ACES linear, resulting in a mostly consistent delivery, with minor issues with certain archive elements.


Another challenge was recreating the social media and messaging apps that were in use in 2013, with limited reference material available. To address this, I conducted thorough research and adapted the designs to fit the context of the graphics. Leveraging the iterative and library-based systems in modern digital design tools such as Figma and Adobe XD was essential, with Adobe XD's integration and file management being particularly advantageous for these types of graphics. Being able to read PSD and AI files and pass them along as editable layers to After Effects for animation and color management is a game-changer. 

Building the components needed for various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and others, while ensuring clarity and accuracy in avatars, names, dates/times, and other design details, was a meticulous process. Creating non-repetitive social media profiles that do not exist proved to be challenging, but I painstakingly adjusted and optimized them for film use.


I also developed a custom workflow for scalable resolutions in the social media sections, allowing for flexibility in editing options and reasonable rendering times while maintaining pinpoint accuracy. I also experimented with a procedural animation setup within After Effects that could create stylized rotoscoping effects over inputted video or images, which I thought would be a perfect fit for the film's tone and aesthetics, but ultimately did not make the final cut. 


Throughout the 90-minute film, I produced nearly 20 minutes of content for use as overlays, while also managing the edit and shot lists and keeping track of the required archive, all within a small budget for this type of production. In total, I delivered over 150 GFX shots, often involving intricate and multiple design systems.

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