How the Greatest Show on Earth was cut down to size

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 12 July 2012 08:00AM

The director of the BBC's Olympic Games trail, Pete Candeland, explains how narrative and music informed the realisation of the animation.

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The BBC's marketing campaign and title sequences for its coverage of London 2012 depicts the UK as a giant stadium with Olympic athletes preparing and competing in quintessential British landscapes.

The animated trail, called "stadium UK", features the specially commissioned music track First Steps by Elbow. Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R devised the campaign and the animation was created by Passion Pictures and produced by Red Bee Media. It was directed by Passion's Pete Candeland. Campaign asked him to talk us through the process.

The Brief

The project first came to us about ten months ago at an early stage of development before the "stadium UK" idea had been solidified. We started by contributing a variety of script ideas and overall concepts.

RKCR/Y&R and Passion worked through these ideas together, refining and narrowing down the overall direction until RKCR/Y&R settled on the "stadium UK" concept.

The solidified idea triggered the first wave of concept artwork. These early visualisations of the core concept confirmed it as the right path to go down.

The Creative Idea

The greatest creative challenge in the film was in deciding how best to represent the athletes. We wanted to achieve a certain amount of stylisation while maintaining a strong level of appreciation for the athletes' remarkable dedication and level of skill.

It felt important to avoid going so far with stylisation of the characters that they wound up becoming superhero, or superhuman, cheesy. We also ruled out being too graphic and cartoony, feeling that this may come across as too lighthearted.

So, finding the tone of the film's characters, their look and how we would treat them became the focus of our approach.

We chose to also go down a "fine art" path and study anatomy the same way you would in a life-drawing class. This classic research model was the driving force behind the designs and the models of our characters.

The way our athletes would move was informed by this choice. We researched heavily and experimented with movement and muscularity in ways that were new and exciting for our CGI team.

Our environments and the overall look of our film followed this same methodology. The key to it all was to achieve a classic look with the use of modern techniques.

The Film

The greatest challenge with the story of our film was in creating a structure and a narrative that could be told equally well at a variety of lengths.

We were commissioned to make a two-minute, 40-second main film. This had to be editable to make a 90-second version, as well as a whole slew of shorter versions, including some that were only 15 seconds in length.

With this in mind, we chose to keep the narrative simple and mildly abstract. We kept the shots and camera moves short and simple, and made each scene its own modular story that we could combine time and time again in any number of variations. This really enabled us to cut the different-length films without them feeling like a compromised edit.

To do this, we edited extensively at a very early rough stage to establish whether or not this methodology would work. It meant that I would sit with my editor for hours upon hours scribbling and sketching away as we chopped and changed, constantly checking that we could tell one key story but had the flexibility to retell numerous other stories.

It felt important that we kept the narrative simple and familiar. We used a straightforward linear three-part story as our base: preparation; the starter's pistol that leads to the race itself; and then the dramatic finish.

Alongside this, we had the narrative of the UK being host and had to consider how we could set this up and develop it as an interchangeable part of the main film while marinating its own arc.

With this in mind, a more complicated narrative shape would have limited our options for shorter film versions. Here, again, it was felt that the simpler the story, the more flexible and interchangeable it was at different lengths.

The Music

I love having the opportunity to work with good music. As a film-maker, a good piece of music can help you so much in imagining and visualising the story. Music can really help to set the rhythm, tone, mood and even colour of your film. If you have a great piece of music, you are off to a strong start. And with the epic and beautiful track that Elbow composed, this is exactly what we had.

We had an early discussion on the overall structure of the film and how the music could work with it. We kept it pretty brief, but did describe the core progression of the film - that it would have a slowly paced build-up following the athletes' preparation, followed by a pistol shot that would launch the action and take us through the crescendo of the finish line.

The track came together just as we were editing the rough storyboard. Perfect timing for us, really.

I appreciate working with music, and being able to get a feel for the track itself as early as possible is fantastic. The music can give you so much if you get the chance to work with it early in the process.

While the animatic was getting fleshed out, we were able to hear all the developments in the music. We kept hearing more instrumentation coming into the music and it started to inform our decisions. Each time the music came in, it got better and better, and we had to keep changing our board to keep up with it.

When a new sound was introduced, we would often hear a movement or action within it that related to a particular action or sport. This often helped inform us as to what a character or athlete may be doing at that time.

I love to find ways to keep the track and the visual syncopated in an accurate way. We felt this harmony added to the film and was always one of our priorities as we put the animation together.

We strive to make these two elements work so closely together that neither the film nor the track overrides the other. The music works brilliantly without the film, but the film needs the music 100 per cent.

CANDELAND ON HIS CRAFT

I've always been interested in art, primarily drawing and painting - my interest in these areas sparked my love for animation and film-making. Comic books and cartoons were an everyday source of fun and inspiration for me also. I'd be trying to copy drawings and images from comics and cartoons all the time and would compare the results to the originals until I felt they were good enough.

The drawing thing led me into animation and a love for making characters move, live and breathe. I started as a 2D animator and soon I was feeding on all the new technologies and different ways to make characters move and do their thing. For me, it has always been about discovering different ways to make the drawings come to life.

I love that animation allows our imaginations to wander to new places and that we can realise these places and characters with animation and film. I always try to achieve something different each time I'm faced with a new project or film. Live-action films are now made by animators, and animation films are becoming more influenced by live film. It all just seems kinda fun to me.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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