For the second year in a row I was invited to help create the digital backdrops for the musical numbers at the Tony Awards. Theater was such a big part of my high school days, so getting to build animations for Broadway’s top acts is a real joy for me.

For those of you who want to keep up with my work, here’s the four pieces I worked on (all hopefully cued up correctly):

The Opening Number with Neil Patrick Harris


This year marks my second “collaboration” with Neil Patrick Harris (ok, it wasn’t a collaboration per se, but I’d like to think he and I would get along). I created the bright red/orange/yellow backdrop with the buildings, the spinning rays, and the big lightning-bold-burst-thingy…unfortunately at the last-minute they replaced my original buildings with what you see in the video.

From what I hear the buildings changed not because they didn’t like what I created, but because they thought of something new they’d rather have at the last-minute. I’m not upset though, the final animation looked fantastic, and I’m happy with how my big, bursting-lightning-bolt-thing looked behind that giant award statue!

Phantom of the Opera


This was by far my favorite backdrop to work on. The set design is gorgeous and all the little details you can only see up close eerily highlight the themes in the story. I mostly worked off of still images of the actual Phantom stage, but I did do quite a bit of work with a particle generator (Trapcode Particular) to quickly generate an endless sea of candles and fog.

Bring it On


The majority of my time was spent here. I’ve heard Bring It On was actually a really good stage adaptation (who knew), but the stage design didn’t translate as well to a digital backdrop as it did with Phantom. There were lots and lots of changes and revisions, but in the end I’d say it made for a fun number.

I’m especially proud of the three orange overhead girders. I can’t take all the credit for them, but if I didn’t know any better, I’d say they were real set pieces and not digital projections.

A Christmas Story


This was the least involved backdrop I worked on. The only thing I created was the lighted arches in the far background, and even then, my animation was stopped on a freeze frame through the majority of the song. The other background elements were taken from still photos from the actual Christmas Story stage.

A big thank you goes out to Brandon at Design-o-Matic for welcoming me back to work on this amazing show, and of course, Greg Dunn and Kiley Butler (of Unseen Things and AreaOne respectively) for helping hook me up with this gig.

This was my first time using Adobe’s Creative Cloud services. While I didn’t get a chance to use all the new (and long overdue) features in After Effects CS6 (like 3D camera tracking, and feathered masks), there were some welcomed performance improvements…even if you can’t turn off that obnoxious auto-render feature.

Dan Baker

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Dan works out his social anxieties by producing and directing films. He's a proud New Mexican, and prefers green over red.

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