The Big One, in Graphic Form


Preparedness Now
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KCET is collaborating with the California Earthquake Authority to raise awareness and provide resources to help you prepare for an earthquake. California Earthquake Authority is a publicly managed, not-for-profit, privately funded organization that provides residential earthquake insurance and encourages Californians to reduce their risk of earthquake damage and loss.


Imagine a magnitude 7.8 earthquake tumbling along the San Andreas Fault, then rolling through downtown on its way toward the ocean. If it's too boggling to even picture, take a look at Preparedness Now, a short video directed by Art Center College of Design grad Theo Alexopoulos that outlines the grim aftermath of a devastating quake.

Made in collaboration with USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project as part of the Great Southern California ShakeOut when LA residents are asked to duck, cover and hold, the video exemplifies the energizing power of design-based visual communication. Its deft orchestration of photos, illustrations, statistics, music and voice-over renders a stark picture of devastation but does so in an way that communicates clearly and effectively.

"I'm really afraid of earthquakes," admits Alexopoulos, who grew up in Los Angeles. "During the Northridge earthquake, I woke up with my bookshelves falling on top of me and fires burning just down the street. It was a very frightneing experience!"

Alexopoulos began the project with a 25-page brief from the USGS that presented the scientific picture of a large-scale earthquake and its devastation. From there, he initially tried to synthesize the key facts into a one-minute music video. However, he decided he needed to convey more information and he wanted an approach that would appeal to a broader audience. He also needed to find the right tone. "I wanted an element of fear to scare people, but I also knew the video had to end by giving people a sense of empowerment."

Music plays a key role in the video. "The music drives the story line emotionally," Alexopoulos says, explaining that he worked closely on the music with hip-hop producer Josh Temkin. "The visual style is the evolution of stuff I've been doing lately, including photography and collages. And the type in the video was all taken from typesheets bought at a flea market in LA, which kind of gives the video a homegrown feeling."

The video's strength is in finding a balance between communicating a lot of statistical information, but doing so quickly and in a visually interesting way. Alexopoulos says that this graphics-oriented form of communication is becoming increasingly pervasive. "You see it everywhere online, especially with the huge number of viral videos that were produced around the election," he says. "When you have complicated ideas - as you do in science and politics - this form works very well." He sites videomaker Simon Robson and his short What Barry Says as one inspiration. "It's very political, has a strong point of view and uses very powerful graphics," he explains.

Now that the project is finished, is Alexopoulos calmer or more nervous about an impending earthquake? "It's funny - I'm fascinated by just how simple some of the preparedness measures are. They're obvious things - having a fire extinguisher, having some water... These very minor steps will really improve your quality of life. And my own fear? I guess doing the project has made me confront that fear, and I feel more confident now."