Close-Up: How other creative industries can inspire adland

What did speakers from the worlds of video games, comic books and production teach adlanders at a recent Canvas8 event?

What do Pat Mills, the creator of Judge Dredd, Kareem Ettouney, the art director of last year's hit computer game LittleBigPlanet, and Chris O'Reilly, the co-founder of Nexus Productions, who has created music videos and had a short film shortlisted for an Oscar, have in common?

Last week, they were gathered together by the consumer insight company Canvas8 to discuss the creative process. Campaign asked three attendees to draw some lessons from what they heard.

- Richard Neville on Kareem Ettouney, art director, LittleBigPlanet; co-founder, Media Molecule

While most games, films and other entertainments are built to express the makers' vision, LittleBigPlanet was designed around user-empowerment. It's a reverse of the norm: a single-minded focus on drawing out the audience's creative vision rather than on the usual flow of creativity from author to user.

Kareem Ettouney gave us an insight into how Media Molecule made a game that is inspiring other creative industries. LittleBigPlanet is a pretty simple platform game. You control a character called Sackboy, and run, jump and hurl your way through the levels. So far, so normal.

But it is also the social media nirvana we're all searching for. It is an extremely successful sandbox environment, chock-full of user-generated fun. There are a couple of dozen levels that come with the boxed product and more than a quarter of a million user-generated levels. People have recreated other well-known games using the simple tools provided. They've remade movies, they've hosted parties, they've invented sports - you'll even find elaborately created homages to Guns N' Roses in there.

To achieve this, Media Molecule researched the iconography of creation - the visual and emotional triggers that make people want to make things. Sellotape, cookie-cutters, fabric, Lego - all that easy, fun, constructive stuff. And not a sniff of anything techie. Kareem described their challenge: "How do we use technology and not be used by it?"

LittleBigPlanet is a standout example of truly user-centred design. No trickery, no persuasion, just a pure focus on inspiring people into action. As gaming, movies and the internet collide, the thing that fuses them together is the idiosyncrasies of the people that consume them. Media Molecule is refreshingly clear about what makes people tick: "If it's a bit wonky, fine. After all, we're all a bit wonky too."

Richard Neville is the managing partner of Spike

- Ed Southerden on Pat Mills, comic book artist

Both comics and advertising exist in the awkward territory of art for profit, and, therefore, it was no surprise that the fan boys in the audience were queuing up to glad hand the granddaddy of British comics. In his shambolic but brilliant talk, he mixed reminiscence about creating titles such as 2000 AD and characters like Slaine with impassioned calls to the assembled creative types to save the declining British comics industry from the geeks and accountants.

From Mills' perspective, these days the most successful works of "narrative art" come from industry outsiders, from people who aren't constrained by the production-line predictability of the publishing houses. He cited international hits such as Persepolis, which was written by an Iranian woman, to show that the untapped mainstream audience could still be reached but that the industry was crying out for fresh ideas.

The lessons to communications people are obvious. Good advertising agencies thrive by managing the inevitable conflict of making cash from cultural ideas. But in the interests of making a quick buck, it's easy to knock out the generic superhero comic equivalent - a 30-second ad, or a website, or another poster campaign. Also, like the comic industry, the audience isn't buying anymore - using interruptive media to push a half-baked idea down consumers' throats just doesn't cut it.

Outsiders are making the difference: the worlds of entertainment, design and web often run rings round the very agencies that should be shepherding and harnessing their creativity to solve brands' business problems. Outsider agencies are the future. People that can truly harness the worlds of entertainment and design to create honest and bespoke solutions for clients will be the Persepolis of the future. To quote Pat: "You need enough knowledge to make it happen, not enough to be constrained."

Ed Southerden is a senior strategist at Naked

- Nicola Davies on Chris O'Reilly, co-founder, Nexus Productions

Nexus Productions is a production company making eye-popping animations for ads, music videos and films, well known for its Honda "grrr" ad, among other top-notch works. Chris explored the blurring boundaries between film, gaming and graphic novels - with an animation slant.

The ubiquitous nature of technology is the leading topic where animation audiences are concerned. When digital is everywhere, it affects everything from the creative process right down to the narrative of the stories themselves. And with technology and interactivity unsettling storytelling, animators (and advertisers, in fact) need to move away from linear styles and become more inventive.

The "death of the director" was an intriguing theme that resonated with me. It's rather more complex than it sounds, but, essentially, it means that the author of a story is not always the first, or only, author. We've seen time and time again in an advertising context that people will interpret and tell their own stories. In fact, brands are increasingly opening up and engaging with consumers in a way that makes them feel like they are the author.

Chris talked about how we are now so obsessed with our digital lives that we often fail to connect with people in our real lives. Are we morphing into our own (virtual) worlds? With its ad "avatar" for Coca-Cola (tinyurl.com/cokeavatar), Nexus took language from gaming into an advertising world and explored the lack of real connection between people. While I love that my iPhone keeps me continually virtually connected, I'm happy to admit that the most meaningful conversations still, and will probably always, happen face-to-face (though not necessarily with a can of Coke).

It will be interesting to see how this intersection between fantasy and reality unfolds. One thing's for sure, for animation and advertising alike, these are creative yet experimental times.

Nicola Davies is a digital planner at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.

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