the blog

Goodbyes Are Never Easy

Air Force DOD
Aimie Burns was christened our Captain Director for this Marine Firefighting Project.

It is with both heavy hearts and excited anticipation that we announce the departure of our friend, colleague, and Rock Creek family member, Aimie Burns, as she embarks on the next adventure of her career. Aimie is moving on from Rock Creek at the end of this week as she has accepted an exciting new position as a Producer/Editor with Discovery Education’s Corporate Education Partnerships Video Hub.

During her time with Rock Creek, just a few of Aimie’s highlights include filming on the nuclear submarine USS Boise and the USS San Jacinto, a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, experiencing the everyday workings of the TSA, filming car-chase scenes with the Border Patrol, spending weeks filming training with Air Force firefighters (and then donning bunker gear afterwards), filming on the Waccamaw River from kayaks, photographing infants for the USDA, and of course her many years of award-winning work with the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County

All bunkered out!

Of course, we would be remiss not to mention Aimie’s Emmy nomination for her documentary, Peace Through Education: Stealing the Light, about Mohammad Khan Kharoti and his mission to build a school for boys and girls in his war-torn home village of Shin Kalay, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

We know that Aimie is at just the beginning of a long, exciting career and will go on to do great things! We at Rock Creek are proud to have played a part in her growth as a producer, filmmaker, editor, and overall wonderful person – and we’re appreciative of her significant part in the growth and success of Rock Creek over the past dozen years. We’ll miss you, Aimie and wish you the best of luck on your new adventures! Don’t forget the little people!

Rock Creek Production Company Video Team
The Rock Creek Family

The Power of Pre-comps in After Effects

Real talk about post production — a lot, A LOT, of thorough planning and organization goes into even the simplest of animations. One way to make an animators’ life more enjoyable and organized (in After Effects) is by pre-composing layers. As an editor/motion graphics editor, I can proudly say that I use pre-comps in every single AE project I work on. Pre-composing is immensely useful for managing and organizing complex compositions. Essentially, you gain more power over those layers — and who doesn’t like that?

In After Effects pre-composing is: “the process of packaging a series of layers into a new composition”. It’s essentially the same as grouping layers in Illustrator or Photoshop. Here’s the keyboard shortcut in AE to pre-compose: Command+Shift+C.

Here are some things you can do by pre-composing:

Pre-composing a single layer is useful for adding animation, effects, transform properties, or masks to that layer and that will then be applied to all of the layers within — resulting in cleaner animation that’s a bit simpler to obtain.

Pre-composing multiple layers places them in a new composition which replaces the layers in the original composition — resulting in a more aesthetically pleasing composition that’s a little easier to manage.

Apply complex changes to an entire composition — You can create a composition that contains multiple layers, nest the composition within the overall composition, and animate and apply effects to the nested composition so that all the layers change in the same ways over the same time period.

Here’s an example of how pre-comps are essential. This is a “simple ‘ol” 17-second-long animation that I created for the EPA WARN project we produced in 2018.  

Now let’s dig in —This pedigree chart is a quick and easy representation of how in just these 17 seconds, multiple pre-comps (and pre-comps nested inside pre-comps) complete this animation.

The second pedigree chart is a slightly-more-interesting visual repetition of the complexities of this animation.

That’s just a small glimpse into the mind of a motion graphics editor.  One take away from all this post-production mumbo-jumbo: Command+Shift+C (Mac) is your friend.

Our Newest Camera – Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro

Director of Photography and Camera Operator film two-camera interview
Steve Agnew and Mike Chirieleison filming a two-camera interview at ANDE.

We are excited to announce that we have added the Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro to our cinematic camera toolset. This camera continues to blow us away with its vast dynamic range and image quality. It’s already been put to the test with shoots in Colorado, Massachusetts, Indiana, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington D.C. The more we use this camera, the more we love it, and we can’t wait to use it with you on your next project!

But don’t just take our word for it, below are some links to videos featuring renowned cinematographers talking about their experiences with the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro.

Cinematographer Roy Wagner recently filmed his feature Stand! Using the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro. Wagner is also known for TV shows and films such as; A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, House, Quantum Leap, and Elementary.

South African documentary filmmaker, Garth de Bruno Austin describes his experience using the link of Blackmagic cameras during the production of his recent documentary film, Disunity.

On The Road Again…

We’ve had a busy start to 2019, despite the government shutdown.  Luckily, our Department of Defense clients are fully funded and our commercial clients have kept us hopping.  In addition to local shoots at the Supreme Court, Quantico, and in our Herndon, VA production studio, we had productive trips to Longmont, CO and the Boston area where we had a two-fer:

Two cameras with Dana Dolly and Teleprompter

Interviewing Dr. Selden, the inventor of ANDE’s rapid DNA identification system.

As part of our well received series of Small Business Innovation Research “Success Stories” we visited ANDE, a company that makes a portable, ruggedized, and rapid DNA identification system where we interviewed the inventor, Dr. Richard Selden and shot loads of broll in their facilities and labs.

Two camera interview

Interviewing US Air Force personnel about their work in rapid acquisitions, responding to some of our nation’s most urgent threats.

And the second part of our Boston excursion was devoted to our DoD contract to produce a series of videos on the Urgent Acquisition process.  We spent a couple of days at Hanscom Air Force Base interviewing subject matter experts and gathering valuable broll.

NCC Director Jeffrey Rosen speaking about the First Amendment.

Producing a video on Religion and the First Amendment with NCC Director Jeffrey Rosen.

Following Boston, we took a quick trip to Philadelphia to shoot another in our series of First Amendment videos geared towards high school students for the National Constitution Center.

We’re thankful to have had such a busy start to the year and look forward to what the rest of 2019 has in store. We won’t be slowing down in February as we head out to Indiana, then Alabama, the Pentagon, and back into our studio again for several weeks of filming!

2018 Year-in-Review

Rock Creek Production Company Video Team
The Rock Creek Family

We thought we’d take a few minutes and look back at what a fun, interesting, challenging year 2018 was. Think of this as our annual Christmas letter but without any mention of the kids.  

The year started with the opening of our new production studio in Herndon, Virginia. Bigger, better, faster, brighter, quieter and right across the street from the soon-to-be Herndon Metro. We’re excited about the possibilities the space has to offer for our projects and our clients. We’ve been super excited to welcome back our pal Writer/Director Martin Spitznagel and his creative approaches to courses for the Defense Acquisition University.

January also launched the start of an exciting project for NASA, featuring the space agency’s approach to encouraging small businesses to bring their tech innovations to NASA for funding. We seem to have become experts in telling the stories of small business innovations. Other 2018 projects include stories about EksoBionics – a California-based company using external skeletons to aid industrial workers doing repetitive tasks, but also helping stroke and spinal accident victims learn to walk again. Our other small business innovation project was a profile of the outdoor company MSR who are working to create the world’s best portable water purification systems.

Speaking of water, 2018 saw more great projects with the EPA’s Water Security Division. This year’s shows included a promotional video to encourage small water utilities to join their state’s Water and Wastewater Agency Response Networks; a short documentary highlighting the Los Angeles Water Authority’s efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change; and an educational video about the hazards of cyanotoxins to drinking water supplies. 

Springtime in Poland – both Steve and Tim took trips to Poland with Defense Logistics Agency Producer Nutan Chada to document preparations for joint military exercises in Poland and the Baltic States. As an encore Tim, traveled with DLA to Trondheim, Norway in October to film the US Marine Corps’ participation in a NATO exercise. 

But let’s circle back to summer fun. We made a lovely little video for Camp Ton-A-Wandah that got more than 20,000 views in less than forty-eight hours – definitely the most since the video of Tim base jumping from the Washington Monument. 

Summer also saw the start of long-term studio support and editing for Amazon Web Services. In July we were super excited to welcome Braun Film and Video as cohabitants in our studio space and office warren. 

So, Ben Franklin once said, “An investment in education pays the best interest,” and we’ve been working hard in class. We’ve been busy creating stories for the Virginia Tech Adaptive Brain and Behavior Destination Area; Carnegie Mellon University and The National Science Foundation’s programs for policy makers; working with the Hatcher Group and the National Assessment Governing Board to create a series of short videos on the importance of national educational assessments; and CINA – George Mason University’s DHS Center of Excellence; but the A+ experience was definitely filming Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan for the series of videos we’re producing for the National Constitution Center on the First Amendment.

And then…winter came. For three brutally cold days in December, we provided production support and crew for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on a story they were creating about undocumented workers in the Christmas tree industry. We also followed Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, an inspiring young hip-hop star and environmental activist as he prepared for and participated in Senator Bernie Sanders’ Solving Our Climate Crisis National Town Hall.

Whew! Thanks for taking a minute to look back with us. 2018 was a great year and we’re really stoked about the challenges and opportunities headed our way in 2019. Get in on the fun. Bring us your next challenging, inspiring project and we’ll be happy to put our productions skills to work for you. 

Wrapping Up 2018 With A Bang with CTEC and DAU

Before enjoying a restful holiday season, Rock Creek recently wrapped up our 2018 with a fun and exciting three-day production at our studio in Herndon.

Our client, CTEC, required five different sets; a cubicle-filled office environment, a break room, a small conference room, a small private office, and a reception area for one of their online video training programs for federal government employees. When we moved in at the beginning of 2018, this is the exact type of project we envisioned our new studio being the perfect environment for. With its over 5,000 sq. ft. of space, we’re able to build and host multiple sets at once.

Director of Photography with camera on jib for federal government training video

Director of photography with camera on a jib for federal government employee training video

Last year proved to be a very busy year for Rock Creek and CTEC. We helped produce several video training series for the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), including one requiring a bit of special effects work where our main character traveled 10 years into the past to pay himself a visit on his first day on the job.

Special effects example for federal government employee training video

Rock Creek always enjoys the new and interesting challenges that our clients provide, and we encourage everyone to think creatively when approaching us with an idea for a script or seeking our creative input.

We look forward to seeing what other types of sets and environments our clients need for their productions in 2019!

Sound Recordist with boom microphone and camera on dana dolly slider for federal government training video


We’re excited to see our most recent video for the EPA is now online. Working with the Horsley Witten Group, Rock Creek created this short educational video to help EPA promote Water and Wastewater Agency Response Networks. WARNs are mutual aid and resource sharing agreements that help utilities respond in emergencies or help with routine maintenance. Shot on location at several water treatment plants in Asheville, NC, we used a light-hearted but factual approach to dispelling some of the myths around WARN membership. Check out the video below and let us know what you think.


Camp Video reaches 20 Thousand Views

Last summer we were fortunate enough to spend some time “working” at Camp Ton-A-Wanda, creating a promotional video.

This video recently reached 20,000 views on Facebook and was shared 179 times.

Camp TAW Facebook

Watch the video below:

And if you want to find out more about Camp Ton-A-Wanda, check out their website:

Working with Aspen X

Rock Creek was busy in 2017 working on a variety of projects in support of the Aspen Institute’s Youth & Engagement Programs capturing interviews and gathering footage to create social media and promotional videos.

In March, we followed a group of high school students through tours in and around DC, highlighted by a curated visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and we spent a day with the students at the Gala Theater in Mt. Pleasant as they engaged on issues of Race and Equity.

Nationals Park was a beautiful setting for our next gig with Aspen Youth and Engagement.  Over 300 high school students participated in One Day University – interacting with college students, hearing lectures from college professors and working with mentors to start the college application process.

In July and August, we helped document and promote Aspen’s Young Leaders Fellowship program, shooting at various locations on the National Mall in DC, at the Watergate Hotel, at the Kennedy Center, as well as in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood where the Fellows engaged people on the street to learn about gentrification.

Within 24 hours of shooting, we turned around a quick teaser video that Aspen used to promote the event through various social media channels, and then we’d take a little more time to provide polished videos supporting their marketing and promotional goals.

DOD Marine Firefighting

Over the past few months we’ve been working on several marine firefighting training projects for the Department of Defense and the US Navy. One of the great things about our job is that we are often given unique opportunities, and this work was no exception.

Air Force DOD

Aimie Burns was christened our Captain Director for this Marine Firefighting Project.

While at Norfolk Naval Base we were granted permission to film on board the USS Boise, a Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine. It was the first time many of us had the opportunity to explore a submarine. Even though the “cool” factor was off the charts, it proved an extremely challenging environment to work in, as every space was tight.

Filming inside the USS Boise

Shane Peters and Mike Teeters take a moment to breath recirculated air inside the USS Boise.

Firefighters on the USS Boise

If filming in a submarine is difficult, try being a firefighter in full bunker gear with a breathing apparatus on your back, pulling a charged fire hose and navigating those cramped spaces. Props to them!

In addition to spending two days on the USS Boise, we also filmed on the USS San Jacinto, a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser. This ship seemed enormous in comparison and we felt we could spread out, even though we were still working in constricted spaces. The shipboard crews and base firefighters working with us were helpful and enthusiastic and did everything they could to ensure we captured what we needed.

marine fires

This project focused on teamwork between on-board and shore-based firefighters to fight marine fires.

This project also took us to the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point in Wilmington, NC where we spent four grueling days aboard the SSG Edward A. Carter, a commercial container ship. Even though we were told this was a “small one” in the world of container ships, it was still an easy five-minute walk to get from the bow to the stern – they said it was nearly four football fields long! Needless to say, we got our steps in that week.

rock creek filming

A job well done! Mike Chirieleison, Amie Burns, and Tim Phillips