Space Makes Us Safer: The story behind the Dayton-made video that caught J.K. Rowling’s attention

Demonstrating that social distancing works has been a challenge for government officials and public health organizations across the nation. When people are losing their jobs and unable to see loved ones, it can be difficult to understand how staying apart is helping.

That's when Real Art, a Dayton-based marketing and technology company, came to the aid of the Ohio Department of Health. They hatched a brilliant idea to show Ohioans exactly how social distancing works using none other than mouse traps and ping pong balls.

PHOTOS: Behind-the-scenes look at how that incredible ping pong ball and mouse trap video was created

The result is a 30-second video that opens with a single ping pong ball dropping down onto a seemingly endless field of mouse traps, placed tightly together. Each trap has its own ping pong ball precariously balanced on top. As the single ball drops, it sets off a chain reaction, causing the balls to fly in all directions. One small ball caused a ripple effect of chaos and destruction.

The scene resets to the same set of mouse traps, except this time, they are carefully spaced apart. When the single ball comes down, it gently bounces in between the traps and doesn’t hit a single one. It’s a clever way to demonstrate that “space makes us safer.”

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The ball got started, so to speak, when Arundi Venkayya, chief communications officer at ODH, reached out to Real Art to help with the campaign. She had worked with Real Art in a previous position, and knew they could produce quality work quickly.



The company was tasked with coming up with a visual to communicate "social distancing works, keep it up Ohio!" Andy Nick, the design director at Real Art, pitched the idea of the mouse trap video, and just a week later it was completed.

Fun fact: It took two days for Nick to drive to every Dollar Store in the Dayton area to buy up all the traps he could find. “If anyone has mouse problems right now ... my bad!” he said.

The Real Art team needed a large empty space for the shoot, and the idea occurred to them to use one of the currently empty performing arts spaces downtown.

Real Art had just finished helping rebrand The Victoria Theatre Association to “Dayton Live,” so they called in a favor with Dayton Live president and CEO Ty Sutton.

“They were gracious enough to let us use the Mathile Theatre in the Schuster,” Nick said.

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The shoot took two days to complete, the first eight-hour day resulting in only one shot. They shifted strategies, built smaller grids to film close-ups, and focused on the end-shot where the traps have been distanced.

“Most of what you see in the final video is actual footage. I was really surprised at the amount of people who have reached out asking if the video is CG,” Nick explained in our interview.

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The video is a true feat of patience and production skills, yet what was even more extraordinary was the response. Within 24 hours of releasing the video on social media, it racked up over 9 million views, even getting the attention of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved “Harry Potter” series. “This is such a memorable, effective bit of imagery,” she tweeted while sharing the video with her followers.

When we caught up with Nick about the video going viral, he said, “We're really happy with the response! We do a lot of work that we love, and we get to work with a bunch of awesome brands, but helping the state of Ohio during this crazy time — that takes on a totally different meaning. Of all the projects we've done lately that have really blown up, we couldn't be more proud that it's this one.”

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He also credited the entire Real Art team with making it so successful.

“Even small projects like this need a lot of hands, although we're especially proud to say we produced this video while maintaining social distancing, and with the smallest on-set crew possible. Most of the time, there were only three people on set,” he said.

The Dayton company is proud of its team, but also the entire state for beating the odds, and keeping the coronavirus from spreading.

“We're incredibly proud of Ohio for how we've led the nation,” Nick said.

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