Through meticulously planned film shoots, computer-generated visuals additions and editing, the fantastical and farcical comes to life like magic.

An alarm clock unleashes Pac-Man to chase a man down the street, ensuring he gets to work on time. A glowing UFO descends on an unsuspecting pedestrian, only to reveal itself to be about the side of a dinner plate.

“The videos can be incredibly misleading. Some videos that seem ridiculously simple are actually really complicated,” said Denver McQuaid, a Center Grove native and visual effects wizard. “Videos that only show a few minutes or even seconds can take hours if not days to do.”

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McQuaid has spent the past four years specializing in visual effects and motion graphics. He has developed a robust following on social media with his video content blending eye-catching visuals and humor.

He has more than 27,000 followers on Musical.ly, a video social networking application, and one of his creations that he shot while visiting Times Square is featured in an ad for the app. The video has more than 3 million views.

The Center Grove native was part of Ball State University’s prestigious Digital Corps, creating video and graphics for the college as well as clients from around the country. His work has been featured in marketing for such brands as Nike, Jordan and the Smithsonian Institution.

Now that he’s graduated from college in December, McQuaid is preparing to enter one of the most artistically innovative industries in the world.

“There are all of the big projects that he did, but I’d almost say some of his greater contributions are the smaller projects, where we’d have something that was good, and by Denver providing the icing on the cake, it’s make that good project great,” said Brandon Smith, director of academic project support office, which oversees Digital Corps. “He’d give you that little something extra to make a project better.”

For more than four years, McQuaid has dedicated himself to expanding the potential that visual effects can have.

Visual effects differ from special effects, which most people interchange as the same thing. Special effects in films or commercials involved actually staging the car chase or explosion being shown.

On the other hand, visual effects involve details or scenes completely generated using sophisticated computer programs.

“There is a difference. But if they’re done well enough, you can’t tell a difference,” McQuaid said. “It’s kind of a double-edged sword. To be a really good visual effects artist, your work has to go unnoticed.”

McQuaid tries to post a new video on his varying social media feeds every Tuesday. Most weeks, the ideas for his work will evolve from weird places.

Before Thanksgiving, he created a short where he drew a turkey on a dry-erase board, tracing his hand like kids do in elementary school. When he was done, the drawing came to life, waving, gobbling and flipping over.

To get into the holiday spirit, McQuaid posted a film of a mischievous Elf on the Shelf pelting him with wrapping paper unexpectedly.

“I try to think of things that are relatable at times, or random ideas that would be cool,” he said.

As a child, McQuaid was fascinated by the effects that he saw in movies, particularly the computer-generated images. But his interest wasn’t just awe; rather, he wanted to learn how visual effects were made.

When a robot would move on screen, he focused more on how the designers made the gears, wires and pieces that made it look realistic.

“If this was a real robot, how would that work?” he said. “I liked these cool effects, but I didn’t know what they were. Then I figured out that I could do it on my computer.”

McQuaid started playing around with a computer program called After Effects, which allowed him to do some video editing and manipulation.

The first thing he did was make a video of him using a Star Wars-style light saber.

“That seems to be where everyone starts, and then I slowly progressed from there,” he said.

As he learned more about the technology, he attempted more and more challenging projects. He would find tutorials online showing how to create new effects, and would work until he could replicate the visuals himself.

McQuaid was a part of the CGTV in high school, Center Grove’s televised announcement program. One of his favorite projects was to make a video for the unofficial Center Grove student tradition is known as Jorts Day.

Students wear jean shorts, often comically short and tight, on the Friday before Senior Week at the school. McQuaid made a video that appears to show pairs of jorts running by themselves through the halls of Center Grove High School, with no bodies to guide them.

“People liked it at the time. It’s still my grandma’s favorite video to this day,” he said.

During his freshman year at Ball State, he was hired to work on the Digital Corps, the school’s creative bureau.

“When he came in, he was one of those students who had a lot of great skills. He knew more about the industry and about video production than many of our applicants,” Smith said. “But more importantly, he had that spark inside that tells us that this is someone who wants to be creative and push their boundaries, who wants to learn more.”

When Ball State was chosen to put together multi-media coverage of Indiana’s bicentennial in 2016, McQuaid did editing work on that. The university unveiled a new marketing campaign, “We Fly,” and he has been creating all of the title cards and intros and graphics for that project as well.

With 2018 being Ball State’s centennial year, he in charge of motion graphics for an immersive project to make a documentary about 100 years of the university. He created motion graphics for the project.

“If Denver had any free time, he was putting together some visual effects trick to make himself better and improve his work,” Smith said. “Some of that we could leverage for the work that we did for Ball State, and some of it was just to show us this cool thing he did over the weekend.”

His success at Ball State, as well as his growing social media presence, captured the attention of others in the visual effects industry.

During the summer, McQuaid was hired as an intern for Los York, a creative agency that has created content for companies such as Nike and Jordan Brand. His second week on the job, he was part of one of the largest shoots that Jordan Brand had ever done, which included an opportunity to film and work with Blake Griffin, the NBA star from the Los Angeles Clippers.

“Being my second week on the job, they threw me into it. I felt confident in myself, but I didn’t know why they felt confident in me,” he said. “That was a crazy opportunity, and it didn’t stop all summer.”

With his degree from Ball State, McQuaid plans to move to Los Angeles to do freelance work for major design firms. Two that have offered him jobs include Los York, as well as subcontractor work for Zach King, a YouTube personality and filmmaker.

“It’s really cool, since I have the experience and connections to Los York, but then my work was interesting enough to Zach that he wanted me to work with him,” McQuaid said.

The McQuaid File

Denver McQuaid

Home: Center Grove area

Age: 21

Occupation: Freelance video effects specialist

Education: Graduated from Center Grove High School in 2014; graduated with bachelor’s degree in telecommunications-digital video production from Ball State University, December 2017.

Social media handle: @DenverMcQuaid

Website: denvermcquaid.com or instagram.com/denvermcquaid

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.