The Making of 'Exodus'

Dana Newell

30 April 2021

When producing a trailer and graphics package for a teaching series at City on a Hill, the Communications team (staff and volunteers) come together for an initial creative brief. We discuss the sermon themes and title, but as far as creative expression is concerned the approach is often "anything goes".

This ‘no ideas are off the table’ approach is great for brainstorming in the first step, allowing creativity to flow freely from the team. Soon after, with my ‘producing hat' on, I quickly identify the budget and scheduling restrictions which helps us put together a document to pitch our top three most doable ideas to present to the teaching pastors.

For this particular brainstorming session, we discussed narratives which involved graphical mixed media design, live-action with visual effects comped into the space, and abstract 3D models - symbolic of the overall message of the book of Exodus. Did we want to be literal, or expressionistic? Focus on one story, or put together a hype-reel montage of the book? The brief was wide open!

For a book like Exodus, which contains so many rich historical narratives, it is easy to get overwhelmed with which story to focus on or which direction to go. For example, we didn’t want to focus on the plagues in our 45 second trailer and miss out on the parting of the Red Sea, or baby Moses in the reeds. It’s also so tempting to want to do a historical short film - but who has the budget for that!?

The concept which finally landed was this:

“The trailer will feature a pictorial montage of the amazing stories told throughout Exodus in a linear fashion. Each story is summed up in one mixed media frame. Using a collage overlay of artwork/video we cut between each story.

We hear the locust, the red sea crashing, God giving Moses the Ten Commandments, the burning bush, etc. We resolve with a climatic frame of fire and smoke filling the screen.“

We had a ‘style’ and a basic ‘story’ but we needed to unpack the narrative further. We needed a beginning, middle and end. For this particular concept, the narrative was pretty straightforward. We followed the Exodus story chronologically. I wrote down the main events in the narrative, along with a key verse and a list of potential visual elements that could appear in each scene.

We chose cinematic music that had that an epic battle sound to it. It needed to start strong but also needed somewhere to go. The music achieves this by gradually getting faster and faster until eventually it ends with a bang and hollow out wispy sound - which made me think this could be the sound of God in a cloud.

The design team then visually interpreted the script into Photoshop designs. The team worked hard sourcing images and video content that could fit together to create an image that captured each scene.

My personal favourite was the way the design team incorporated text and Egyptian hieroglyphics into the design. For example, the ‘Eye of Ra’ was meant to symbolise the power of the Egyptians and the slavery of the Israelites. Or the ’burning bush’ which meant to symbolise Moses’ encounter with God.

Another design element that you don’t usually see in montages is the integration of video content. I think it’s the way that the video is incorporated here that really gives life to the scenes.

Animation is where the next-level of feeling happens. Our animator really made the graphics dance with the music which helps the audience to become swept up in the emotion of the drama. The text appears on screen and is gone before you have time to read it. A deliberate choice, acting more as a design aesthetic to intrigue the viewer with an array of hidden meanings. We felt the bold text and the images themselves are enough for the viewer to grasp the story and key message. As the saying goes, a picture really does speak a thousand words.

There are so many hidden gems revealed throughout the animation. For example, a skull is used as a transitional element that comes after the golden calf, which demonstrates the punishment for their sin.

The trailer for ‘Exodus – A Story of Freedom’ included scenes which we felt were the key turning points in the narrative: Israel’s journey from Egypt to the wilderness; their physical slavery to Pharaoh; their spiritual slavery to idols. This is a story of the amazing way God rescued Israel and dwelt among his people.

We hope our trailer has inspired you to open the book.


Director/ Producer: Dana Newell

Designer: Dave May

Animator: Ria Fernandez

Creative Director / Executive Producer: Dom Macaluso

Production & Design Assistant: Lauren McNeill

Dana Newell