Sitting in his workspace in Rossmoor, California, Zachary King and his team are battling floods and playing with fire. Or at least, they are making it look like they are. 3D printers at their disposal, they are engineering visual illusions that King likes to call ‘practical magic’.
Out in the digital stratosphere, his weeks-old video on magic tricks for travel (converting a globe into a neck pillow, squishing a suitcase so it fits between your palms) has already amassed over 1,75,000 views. With over three million followers on YouTube and 21 million on Instagram, King has spent 10 years honing the skills that allow him to conjure visuals that look like magic but are actually masterful applications of his editing prowess.
“It was a take on a Steven Spielberg, or the brilliance of George Lucas, really,” he says about his aesthetic and emphasis on special effects. Visuals from Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones pushed King towards film school, a journey that quickly transgressed into the the digital space a decade ago.
King forayed into the digital world when he started uploading videomaking and editing tutorials on YouTube, helping his then audience of almost 50,000 master Final Cut Pro (hence the nickname Final Cut King). A stray comment on one of the videos changed his path.
“My audience asked me one question: how can you take these visual effects and apply it to a story?” he recalls. So, he joined hands with college buddy Erin to make his very first viral video in 2011: Jedi Kittens . Featuring two light-sabre wielding, duelling kittens, the video — replete with special effects that showed the cats performing impossible stunts — amassed three million views in 24 hours.
“We couldn’t believe it. Going viral was something we’d seen happen to other people, never us,” he explains.
The success of that video prompted King to join Vine, where creators only had “six seconds to make an impact”. With growing acclaim in the influencer community, he started receiving offers for brand deals and collaborations.
What is in a medium?
Today, with a team of 20 and a transition from Vine to Instagram (with an active YouTube presence), King believes that the current digital world is “a whole other animal”.
“Each medium is its own learning,” he says. “While YouTube is great because of how much time it allows, that’s even more time to lose the audience’s attention span. On the other hand, mediums like Vine and Instagram have been amazing exercises in creative control and prioritising content — they’ve been like my training grounds.”
How to build a following
Ask King what the ticket to a viral video is, and you might receive a counterintuitive response.
“It’s simple — don’t try to go viral,” he advises. “Instead, focus on quality content. You can’t get complacent, you have to constantly evolve.”
Inspired by the works of visual effects artist Andrew Kramer and Film Riot (Ryan Connolly’s web show that explores filmmaking), and the continuous innovation by platforms like Disney and Pixar, King cites his follower base as his largest motivator, not the views.
And then there is mentorship. He is passionate about sharing his trade tricks with young, new-age digital influencers. To do that, he has teamed up with Apple’s video training collaboration program, Today at Apple, where he will host sessions on video editing, sharing his knowledge about the same technology that he picked up from the Apple genius bar when he started out.
“Creators nowadays are in their teens, sometimes at an age where they can’t judge what good content is and why they’re creating what they are,” he says. “As people who have experience and seen a bit of success, it’s our job to show the next generation that if you put out good content, you will attract an audience. It’ll take longer, but it’s more sustainable, more rewarding.”
This newfound role as a guide is one of King’s largest passions as he envisions a new-fangled digital world for his two kids to grow up in. But where does the real magic happen?
“In my home, in front of my kids, at the kitchen table, sometimes. I love doing the most basic magic tricks for them, watching them freak out,” he laughs. “After all, that’s where the magic all began.”
Follow on Instagram @ZachKing