There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all formula for going viral on YouTube. Whether the video is recorded on a cell phone, or utilizes expensive cameras and drones, the only sure-fire recipe for success is that the subject matter has to resonate. In the case of Andrew Levitt, Taylor Gray, and Jacob Phillips, they considered how our reliance on personal electronic devices often limit our ability to live adventurously in real life. So they decided to make a video which reflected that.
On paper, their mission was quite simple. Ever since Apple changed their operating systems from cats to California locations in 2013, the wallpapers have reflected the varied terrain within the Golden State. Thus, they'd set out on a three-day road trip starting in San Jose in an attempt to recreate all the Apple wallpapers including Mojave, Sierra, High Sierra, El Capitan, Yosemite, and Mavericks. They've since followed that viral video up with a clip that details how they shot Catalina, the island off the coast of Los Angeles that is Apple's latest macOS.
We caught up with Andrew Levitt to discuss the video that took his YouTube channel from 720 subscribers to just over 73,000 in two months time.
How did you come up with the idea?
I came up with the idea for the project in January 2019. My TV screensaver shows different locations around the world. One day my roommate and I were watching the photos change and I was telling him I had been to a few of the photos (e.g., Zion, Yellowstone). My roommate said it would be cool to visit all the places. And then I thought it would be even better to recreate the photos. But then I thought those photos aren't recognizable enough. So I went to my computer to look up the world's most recognizable photos, and as it turned on I saw my screensaver and knew what to do. The Apple wallpapers are on every device. And I knew some of the photos had been taken in Yosemite. So I looked up all of them and conveniently the most recent photos were all taken in my home state.
What was pre-production like?
The project wasn't filmed until July because I wanted to do it right. I knew out of all my ideas, this was the most likely to go viral. So I planned and waited until I had the right team and knew exactly how to get it right.
We researched each location through online forums and Google Earth. Some spots we didn't know exactly where the photo was taken from (macOS Yosemite, macOS Mojave), so it took some searching. We got lucky and stumbled across the exact location of macOS Sierra. The entire week for the first road trip was like a fun scavenger hunt.
The first video ended with a bit of a teaser regarding macOS Catalina. How did you pull that off?
macOS Catalina took the most amount of planning. We knew the photo was at the West End of Catalina, which isn't near the two cities on the island. We considered booking a helicopter flight, but decided it would be too expensive. We also considered renting a boat, but there was no where on that side of the island in October to rent from. We also felt getting a boat or a helicopter would be too easy and the video would not be interesting enough.
We were also worried about whether or not a drone could get far enough out to get the shot. We considered renting an Inspire 2 drone, but it would be too large and heavy to carry on a multiple-day backpacking trip. So we settled on hiking around 15 miles out to the West End and hoping our Mavic 2 Pro would be enough (accounting for range, battery life, and wind). We had three full days on the island to get the shot at sunset.
What did you learn through this process?
Apple has an incredible team of artists behind its macOS creative team. I wish I knew more about how they choose the location for the next operating system and how they capture each wallpaper. Regardless, I have a new appreciation for the effort that must go into scouting and capturing each photo.
What advice would you have for someone that wants to do something similar?
It doesn't take much to be able to go on trips like this! My friends and I rarely fly; we explore our area. If you split gas between a few friends, it can be extremely affordable. I think, too, people often give excuses why they can't do what we do, but we have been going on trips like this since a young age. All it takes is finding a flexible career that allows you to set aside the time and money. If you can't find the time for a week-long trip then go on a weekend getaway!
From a practical standpoint, what kind of gear did you pack? The Death Valley experience had to have been brutal.
Lots of water. The majority of weight in our packs on the Catalina trip was from carrying water. And in Death Valley we made sure to drink at least a gallon each day. We packed lots of camping food (e.g. beef jerky, ramen, hot dogs). This also helped us save money. If you want to see our camera gear, here is a link. The photos were taken on a Nikon, which isn't in that list.
Do have any idea how Apple shoots wallpapers that change colors throughout the day?
Photoshop. I assume their photos have a degree of photo manipulation to look so perfect. Since macOS Mojave and Catalina are dynamic wallpapers, I bet Apple had a team of artists working to digitally manipulate them to look like the day is changing.
In the future I want to continue to make YouTube videos with my friends that showcase travel and adventure. We're hoping to up our production soon and have a budget to travel outside of the United States. Until now everything we've done has been out of pocket.