The assignment was clear, if not exactly simple.
For their fifth-semester simulation workshop class, students at Montreal's Centre NAD were asked to create an Internet hoax by making a 3-D video.
If they succeeded in getting 100,000 hits on YouTube, they'd get an A.
As it turned out, Normand Archambault, Loïc Mireault, Félix Marquis-Poulin and Antoine Seigle did somewhat better than that.
By 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, their one-minute video of a gold eagle appearing to snatch a toddler from a Montreal park had gone viral exponentially – to the tune of five million hits.
The video was uploaded shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday, just after they screened it for their professors.
When officials at Centre NAD saw the explosion in Internet hits by the morning, they decided to immediately declare the hoax.
In the video, shot against the Chariots of Fire score by Vangelis, the eagle sweeps across the sky and then descends, plucking the toddler from the ground under the less-than-watchful eyes of his father. The eagle drops the kid a few feet away.
But neither the bird nor the stolen child are real – they were both created with 3-D animation and integrated afterward.
"We were given the assignment two months ago," Archambault said in an interview with The Globe and Mail Wednesday. "We sat down to look at other videos and decided to come up with something that involved animals and babies –those seemed to generate the most hits."
It was Seigle who suggested the baby-snatching scenario.
The school provided all the equipment and postproduction facilities needed to complete the project, which otherwise might have cost $2,000.
"Our teachers were superthrilled," Archambault, 22, said. "It's a great portfolio piece. We're very excited with that."
"I think it goes to showcase the incredible amount of work they put in here," said Claude Arsenault, Centre NAD's manager of communications and public relations. "The goal here is to see how far we can push 3-D animation. These students are being trained to work in film and television. If you look at a film like Life of Pi, that's the kind of skills they need. It wasn't about tricking people."
The four students, who are set to graduate this spring with a bachelors degree in 3-D animation and digital design, hope to use the video to find work in the industry.
Centre NAD, which opened in 1992, has trained more than 1,500 CGI professionals now working in film, television, postproduction and video games industries.