Made in Frame: Artemis 1 Goes to the Moon and Back
Two years ago, the newly formed Oxcart Assembly created the distinctive broadcast identity package for the NASA/SpaceX Launch America collaboration, marking America’s return to manned space flight.
Now, NASA’s newest program, Artemis, is rebooting the US space program with the launch of the SLS rocket on November 15, 2022, carrying the Orion capsule, which orbited the Moon for 25 days before executing a picture-perfect splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Central to the design mission for the on-air coverage is, once again, Oxcart Assembly, who took us through their visionary creative process from the show’s opening sequences to the on-air wardrobe worn by the hosts and commentators.
With collaborators ranging from Tyler, the Creator’s streetwear company GOLF WANG to Converse, Velcro Companies, and more, we’ll see how refreshing the image of one of the most iconic American institutions takes a crew of dedicated contributors—with Frame.io acting as mission control.
A new generation
The significance of the Artemis program can’t be understated. While Launch America saw NASA astronauts return to space, the rocket itself was manufactured by SpaceX.
Artemis, however, represents the return of NASA rockets to space, the first since the sun set on the Atlantis space shuttle program in 2011. More importantly, Artemis (named for the goddess of the Moon and the hunt, and twin sister of Apollo) is the next phase of humanity’s return to the Moon—not only to visit, but to establish a base there in order to learn how to live on other planets. Beyond that, the program has its sights set on Mars as the next destination.
After a decade in which the American space program has been largely dedicated to the research conducted at the International Space Station, along with exploration based on the unmanned image-gathering drones like the Mars rover Perseverance and, most recently, the James Webb space telescope, a new generation will finally experience the thrill of watching humans walk on the Moon since the Apollo mission ended in 1972. And this time, the humans will be a person of color and a woman—another historic first.
Capturing and creating these new history-making moments is no small task. But Oxcart Assembly, a fearless and intrepid group of creatives, are always eager for a challenge. Digging back into humanity’s fascination with the cosmos, they also produced two jam-packed 90-second broadcast opens for both the launch of the SLS rocket and the return of the Orion capsule.
A bold new look
With the Artemis program ushering us boldly into the next golden age of the American space program, it’s fitting that NASA has decided to update its branding. For anyone who’s a space enthusiast, the familiar bulky space suits have been the de facto standard basically since the inception of the program in the 1960s, transitioning from mylar to white to pumpkin orange. That is, until the Launch America astronauts sported the Starman suit, created by a Hollywood superhero costume designer, with vague echoes of the sleek interior of a Tesla.
Similarly, the on-air teams covering launches were always dressed in a somewhat unadventurous style—business suits or white shirts with ties in the Mercury and Apollo days, moving into khakis and solid-color polo shirts during the Space Shuttle era.
Oxcart Assembly principal creative, Tony Gardner, had already begun the process of updating the on-air look for the Launch America project. Tony—whose illustrious career spans creating the Daft Punk robots to special effects makeup and prosthetic design for movies and television, to directing music videos, and (recently) to branding for missions to outer space—talks about their discovery process for Launch America.
“We started with a bunch of very old school pencil sketches just to get the broad strokes of the wardrobe lines,” Tony says. “Then we took photos of the actual announcers at the desks, and we Photoshopped different design options onto them so that we could see the look of the jackets in their environment. From there, we worked with a costumer who does wardrobe, primarily for ballet. She knew all about choosing fabrics that allow people to move smoothly without the apparel creasing and folding.”
By all accounts Launch America was a success, and according to Oxcart co-founder Jeff Jetton, “We basically built the foundation of how we work on assets like this. When we were awarded the Artemis project, I think NASA trusted us to bring something that was compelling to the public. At that point we started to have thoughts and ideas about how to make it even bigger. We thought about working with somebody in the fashion world that has a pop-culture following within streetwear so that it brings another component to the cultural zeitgeist.”
A dedicated crew
Oxcart Assembly approached Tyler, the Creator’s streetwear brand, GOLF WANG, to launch the new look for the future.
Jeff and Tony were already fans of Tyler, and had a connection to him through his PR team. When they approached GOLF WANG to collaborate, it immediately felt like a natural partnership.
“The great thing about them was that they worked at the same pace we did,” Tony says. “We come from the film business and work differently from some manufacturers, but they were very gung ho about this collaboration and also embraced the challenge of the deadline, which was refreshing.”
Tony joined forces with GOLF WANG designer Phil Toselli to come up with an appealingly modern look for a venerable institution that will continue to evolve over the course of the subsequent missions. Using a color palette that departs from “just” the customary red, white, and blue, Phil, a longtime Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator user, worked through design iterations with Tony, bringing in the color explorations for the new palette, which they refer to as the horizon gradient.
“We have a small team, just me and a couple other designers, and we talked about the brief and just went for it,” Phil says. “We put together a few pages of ideas in our language and our vision with no restraints. We just presented what we thought and what we wanted to do.”
Enter NASA executive producer and showrunner, Sami Aziz, who was there to help push creative boundaries while still hewing to NASA presentation guidelines. His goal for the textiles was to create a look that could, from this launch and through the subsequent launches, appear purposeful and curated.
Possibly the most relatable—and desirable—piece of apparel created for this launch involves yet another partnership. Converse, one of the most iconic athletic shoe brands in the world, was also brought aboard to collaborate on an ultra-small lot of GOLF WANG-branded Chuck Taylor 70s.
In decades past, some of the astronauts could be seen wearing Chucks with their regulation flight suits, but having on-air talent sporting them was one of the bolder moves in this package. How small was the lot? Approximately 15 pairs, none of which are (yet) available to the public—even though the team has received bids from sneakerheads in the five-digit range.
Other components included the Ebbets Field Flannel jackets along with the embroidered patches made by A-B Emblem that would be fastened to the jackets, hats, or sneakers with the VELCRO® Brand SLEEK & THIN™ fastener to easily customize the apparel for different phases of the mission from liftoff to splashdown.
Made across America for planet Earth
For brands that manufacture and distribute internationally, one of the key mandates from NASA was that everything had to be made in America.
“I don’t think anybody is fully used to producing in the US, but we were able to get that done with flying colors,” Jeff says. “It was funny because a lot of these organizations have worked together in the past, so even though it added an extra level of complexity, it was a really cohesive effort.”
The team also wanted to use materials that would leave less of an environmental footprint, and brought in fashion designer and textile pioneer William Calvert, who is CEO of RTV (Return to Vendor). The company creates infinitely recyclable mono-material from discarded nylon reclaimed from both the sea and land.
“It’s great because they’re recapturing things that would go to the landfill and making these beautiful fabrics,” Phil says. “And they’re made in the US, so it’s a double positive for this project.”
“Theoretically, we could grind all of these elements up and recycle them into garments for future missions,” Jeff adds.
But what also could have added another element of complexity—that of physical distance—didn’t. “We were all over the country,” Jeff says. “Converse and Velcro Companies are in (or near) Boston and GOLF is in Los Angeles. Ebbets is in Seattle, A-B in North Carolina, and we’re in LA and Florida, so there was a real need to do everything virtually. Frame.io allowed us to work remotely to produce actual physical products without some of the decision makers being able to feel the tangible product.”
Phil was responsible not only for design but also for putting together all of the specifications for the various manufacturing partners. “I’m comfortable working in Illustrator—that’s how I build all the flats. And then I create PDFs for the non-designers,” he says.
“I wasn’t even familiar with Frame.io before this project, but Jeff uses it heavily. He created these incredible mood boards and compiled a lot of things and sent links—and it was pretty neat. Then we had to build tech packs, which are basically like blueprints for the factories to work off of.”
The tech packs were an elaborate undertaking, considering how many different elements were required for the wardrobe component. “We needed to build a flexible system to interchange patches for different segments of the mission, and some of it was embroidered so there are separate files for each individual element.”
“There are so many pieces that go into creating just one garment. In a normal scenario, somebody would go to the factory to oversee this, but this visual language all had to be translated digitally, everywhere,” Jeff says. “I’m even still surprised that we pulled it off.”
A (very) brief timeline of history
So what about that 90-second broadcast show open? Motion graphics designer Erik Loften (who also worked on the Launch America team) initially thought they would have approximately a month to put it together, something Jeff describes as “maybe the heaviest lift Erik has ever had in the dozen years we’ve worked together.”
“Once we awarded Oxcart the contract, my initial outreach to them was that we wanted to tell a NASA story in relation to the Moon,” Sami explains. “Launch America was NASA’s story in relation to space astronauts and the ISS. But we wanted this one to talk about humanity’s fascination with the Moon. And it wasn’t just about humanity, but also science, teasing the idea of Artemis ending on Mars, but bringing it back to Earth, to the present-day launch.”
The team ended up having far longer to work on the project, given that the Artemis launch took place in November after several delays. But even with the extended delivery schedule, it was still a fairly monumental undertaking.
“We have to reach an audience that’s broad, diverse, and complex, and have to do it with imagery that communicates the story to anyone watching,” Jeff says. “Since humans have looked up at the skies, there has been a desire to understand and explore those places. So it’s a tall order to boil down all of human history and its relationship with what’s out there into something that a viewer can consume in a minute and a half. Plus we wanted to represent different continents, cultures, and time periods.”
“Since humans have looked up at the skies, there has been a desire to understand and explore those places.”
As Erik and the team began to conceive of how the open would work, they storyboarded it out into beats. But going all the way back to the beginning of humanity living on Earth made it too long.
“It was tough during storyboarding,” Sami says. “I really wanted Oxcart to be involved collaboratively and didn’t want to just say ‘This is how we’re doing it. This is the exact timeline I want.’ I wanted us to spitball back and forth and figure out the best way to tell this story.”
Pivoting to an open that begins much later in history, with references to Copernicus, and compressing the timeline to get quickly to NASA and the space program, the team worked extensively with NASA’s chief historian, Brian Odom, who helped them source imagery for the many milestones, and Karen Fox, who helped them from the science perspective.
“Our first launch America video was more of a two-and-a-half-D scrolling system that moved across the screen,” Jeff says. “This time, we wanted to take it a step further. We’ve always been fans of The White Stripes and some of our favorite music videos use an infinite zoom effect where you’re going through one shot into another in a three-dimensional kind of way. Figuring out how to bring that to life was a challenge but also exciting because it was also paying homage to music videos we love.”
“I immediately start every project with After Effects, even if it’s just stills,” Erik says. “I work so much more in that program than any other. For this one I also used Photoshop a lot, and Cinema 4D. I hit the ground running to make a minute and a half animation initially, but even with the launch getting pushed back we completed the 30-second animation within one month.”
In this case, Frame.io came into play as an asset management system. “The gap between Launch America and Artemis was about eight months. I still had quite a bit of stuff on my desktop in my folders, but I had to pull from Launch America quite a bit and it was so easy to go back through Frame.io and find where we left off than it would have been if I was going through my folders,” Erik says.
Erik also found that it was easy for him to keep all the versions he created along the way. “There were maybe 40 versions,” he says. “It was huge.”
And, of course, they were using Frame.io to collect feedback from the many stakeholders. “There are a lot of people that weigh in for different reasons about what should be represented and what visuals and what kind of story we’re telling and what Moon missions we should feature,” Sami says. “But when you watch it, it looks clean. It’s perfect, it works.”
The original intention was for Oxcart to deliver the full open along with the 30-second cutdown. “The short version is used for briefings because we have a lot of them for this mission, and then we have the long version, which is for all of our major live broadcasts,” Sami explains.
But Sami was so happy with the original pieces that he asked Oxcart for a version especially for the splashdown broadcast, incorporating new footage from the launch. And, because Erik was so organized, he was able to comply without it being too heavy of a lift.
As Jeff explains, there are really two distinct components to the Artemis project, with two very different workflows. But what united everyone creatively and logistically was Frame.io.
The Oxcart-Artemis Frame.io project is an elegant and intuitive collection, with one folder containing everything required for the broadcast open, and one containing everything for the wardrobe. From briefing documents, decks, and mood boards to cuts of the opens; from design layouts and tech packs to recordings of group meetings and transcripts, everything was centralized in Frame.io and easily accessible to anyone who needed to reference the information necessary to do their jobs.
Frame.io also gives the team the freedom to stay connected while they’re juggling multiple projects. “I’m shooting a music video right now as well, and I can pull up the latest edit and look at it while going over our work for Artemis at the same time because the work for all of our projects is on Frame.io,” Tony says. “It’s so convenient, it’s ridiculous. I think sometimes we take it for granted.”
“It’s so convenient, it’s ridiculous. I think sometimes we take it for granted.”
To the Moon and back
It’s almost impossible to quantify the impact the Artemis project will have on the future while we’re here in the present. Because if we’ve seen anything from this example, it’s that looking back contextualizes the historic importance of today’s events. But there’s no doubt that this mission is one of those moments in history that will represent another beat in the story as it continues to unfold.
The enormity of it isn’t lost on this team, who regard this opportunity with a combination of gravitas, incredulity, and humility. “This is just the test mission,” Jeff says. “There are no people on board, but in a year or two, when there are two souls on that rocket that goes around the Moon, the entire world will be paying attention. And then when it actually lands and the first woman and the first person of color set foot on the Moon you’re literally talking about a global moment that will have 100 percent attention on it.”
“And it doesn’t stop there. We’re setting a stage here for a set of feats that are unparalleled in human history. To play a part in styling it and creating visual identities is mind boggling. It’s humbling, it’s nerve wracking, but it’s also a labor of love and an honor.”
Phil echoes Jeff’s amazement. “When I first heard about this project in January, it struck me. ‘What did you say? We’re doing what with NASA?’ And then we started doing the Zoom calls. I met Jeff and his team, and then we started talking with actual astronauts on Zoom, and at that point I was kind of losing my mind because every kid grows up looking at space and spaceships and how cool it is. And to be talking to the people that are actually doing it?”
“What did you say? We’re doing what with NASA?”
So if, on the surface, it seems unusual that a streetwear company would find itself working with NASA, the combination might not turn out to be as odd as you’d think. “This project was really a perfect mix of collaboration with two very different entities that came together and worked out a really cool end result. Our team working together internally with Jeff’s team was great. I couldn’t ask for more,” Phil says.
For us at Frame.io and Adobe, it proves that when you put together a group of like-minded people who aren’t afraid to push boundaries, there’s no limit to what’s possible. You can even help them tell the story of going to the Moon and back. And that’s kind of mind boggling and humbling, too.