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Kansas City Visual Effects Artist Credited With Making The First Viral Video

Courtesy Photo
Bruce Branit
An image from '405: The Movie.'

Kansas City visual effects artist Bruce Branit and his former partner, Jeremy Hunt, are getting credit for making the first viral online video.

This according to no less a pop culture authority than Bravo TV, which is scheduled to air a segment about Branit and Hunt's video Wednesday on "Then and Now with Andy Cohen."

In 2000, Branit and Hunt made a three-minute video in which a computer-generated DC 10 lands on a California freeway. They posted it on what was a still-novel Internet:

Branit, who grew up in Fairway, Kansas, was living in Los Angeles when he and Hunt made 405: The Movie. The two had earned Emmy nominations for their work on the "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Star Trek: Voyager" TV series, but wanted to flex their own creative muscles.

They made 405: The Movie as a "calling card" to show off their visual-effects skills.

The response was fast and phenomenal.

"In about three months, it had 10 million views online," Branit says, "and this was five years before YouTube."

In the absence of social media, they spread the movie by putting it in a downloadable QuickTime file and sending it out via email.

"It became viral by people emailing other people saying, 'Check this out' with a link,'" Branit says.

Perhaps more entertaining than the video itself is Branit's highlight reel of national TV news announcers amazed at what was possible for a couple of guys with this new technology:

After causing a sensation, Branit and Hunt secured representation from the powerful Creative Artists Agency, which wanted to represent them as directors. They spent a few years developing two feature films that, for various reasons, have yet to materialize.

"That's Hollywood," Branit says.

But thanks to the connections, Branit made in Los Angeles, his visual-effects company grew. He moved back to Prairie Village 10 years ago, and Branit FX has done work for "Lost," "Breaking Bad," the Fox series "Fringe;" NBC's "Revolution" and several other shows.

Meanwhile, he's still making his own films, and they're still going viral.

In June, Branit's video about a spider crawling out of a man's ear earned millions of hits and stories on Buzzfeed and elsewhere. Another one, supposedly shot from an airplane seat looking out the window, shows a drone clipping the plane's wing. That one inspired a Mashable story headlined: "Hoax alert: A drone didn't hit a plane taking off from New York."

"Both of them were horrifying," Branit says, "but they suddenly started spreading. About four hours after I put the spider thing online, I started getting emails — maybe 20 within a minute — from companies looking to license it. It's very different from the days of 405."

The subject of what actually was the world's first viral video remains up for debate on the not-so-new-anymore Internet. But over the past 15 years, people never have stopped watching 405. Branit guesses it's been seen at least half a billion times.

"Maybe even a billion," he says.

Branit says he has a few ideas about what makes a video go viral — not that he's going to share them.

"At the point where I finish something, before I put it online I generally have a pretty good feeling whether it's going to work or not," he says. "I kind of think I know the specifics of it. The general point is: It has to do with emotion."

C.J. Janovy is an arts reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.

A free press is among our country’s founding principles and most precious resources. As director of content-journalism at KCUR, I want everyone in our part of America to know we see them and we’re listening. I work to make sure the stories we tell and the conversations we convene reflect our complex realities, informing and inspiring all of us to meet the profound challenges of our time. Email me at cj@kcur.org.
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