In 2015, as Channel 4 was about to undergo a major rebranding, its in-house agency 4Creative sent out cases containing the blocks of its logo to directors, asking them to reimagine the broadcaster’s identity. Dougal Wilson was one of those directors, and though he didn’t win the pitch he held on to the case. Two years later he returned to Channel 4 with the blocks and built them into a giant.
That giant is the star of Channel 4’s new idents, which premiered on Tuesday during The Great British Bake Off final and take the brand into its next chapter. The character embodies the channel’s values while bringing the logo back to the people of Britain through four charming and emotional stories.
It is a creative step change from the previous idents that aired in 2015 as part of Channel 4’s rebranding, which tore the logo apart. Those abstract spots, directed by Academy Films’ Jonathan Glazer, saw the deconstructed logo blocks discovered in other-worldly situations, from a shaman’s mystical dance to a mountain with magic crystals.
The 2015 idents were heralded for their bold creativity, but 4Creative wanted the new ones "to feel like a bigger expression of the channel," says creative director Dan Watts.
The agency’s idea was to bring the logo blocks out into the real world and get the UK’s diverse population to interact with them. Wilson came up with the giant character – a large-scale representation of the logo with a human personality.
"The first time we saw the idea, I started to cry," Shananne Lane, 4Creative’s executive producer, recalls. "It’s incredible how it has so much warmth in it."
But bringing the giant to life was no easy task. The character had to demonstrate values such as creative risk, diversity and inclusion, youth and alternative voices – while still being warm and relatable.
"The challenge was Dougal was keen that [the giant] felt real but also heavy and physical, and didn’t descend into a Pixar character animation style," says Diarmid Harrison-Murray, 3D creative director at MPC, who helped create the visual effects. "It was important to delivering the emotional message that it felt part of the real world."
Wilson would come in with a miniature version of the giant that had been 3D printed and stuck together with Blu-Tack, playing around with the animators to dream up scenarios that best suited the character.
"We did some early tests where it was a bit more athletic and able to jump over things, but it sort of broke the charm of it," Harrison-Murray says. "It was the more subtle animations that gave us scope to express the different personalities that Channel 4 was interested in conveying."
4Creative and Wilson went through many possible stories before deciding on four that would convey Channel 4’s ideals, be practically feasible for the giant’s size and scale, and entertain viewers.
"White cliffs" shows the giant carrying a diverse group of people to shore, to promote diversity and inclusion. "Football" sees the giant playing a game with kids as a celebration of youth. "Wheelchair racing", in which the character lags behind disabled athletes, is part of Channel 4’s championing of disability. "Fanfare", where the giant wakes the neighbours with his loud call, reminds viewers of the channel’s alternative voice.
The team shot the films over eight days in various locations around the UK, from Liverpool to the Peak District, "showing off Britain in all its glory," Watts says. They cast many real people in their real professions, including policemen, a rocket scientist, the wheelchair racers and schoolchildren.
The shoot presented an interesting technical challenge, Lane says: "Dougal had to get great performances out of the cast while leaving a big space for a giant that hadn’t been made yet."
On top of that, the weather seemed to be conspiring against them, she adds, recalling days of torrential rain and strong winds. But despite the blustery shoot, the resulting spots paint a neighbourly and joyful portrait of Britain.
The narrative is enriched by the soundtrack, which pays homage to Channel 4’s heritage by remastering the Fourscore track from its original 1982 ident created by Martin Lambie-Nairn. Wilson composed the remake himself on his guitar, which is what viewers hear in the final spots, and the song is echoed in the giant’s mnemonic call.
In the end the giant achieves what the creators envisioned. 4Creative describes the animated logo as gender neutral, strong yet fallible, shiny but a bit weathered, beautiful yet flawed. Or as Harrison-Murray says, "[The giant] is good. It means well but it is also disruptive – it’s kind of naughty and it does what it wants."
Much like Channel 4.