Animation house Studio AKA has created a sequence of shimmering golden dots of light for the BBC’s Olympic Torch Relay trailer and titles sequence.
Title: Olympic Torch Relay DNA
Director: Kristian Andrews
Production Company: Studio AKA
We caught up with the studio’s senior producer Sharon Titmarsh on how AKA evolved the creative brief.
The initial brief was to create a sequence that directly referenced the 2012 Olympic torch design - created by BARBER OSGBERBY – and that we should focus on the strong graphic signature created by the Torches stand out feature; namely the 8,000 perforations representing the 8,000 people who will carry it on its journey around the UK. This idea informed all the initial concept visualizations from the AKA directors who took on the project brief and sought to create an impressionistic world wherein everything on screen would be rendered in shimmering golden dots of light. It was an exciting script that captured all our director’s imaginations and we submitted a lovely range of different ideas. We looked at some quite hard and graphic approaches before leaning towards a more impressionistic and organic look which balances the clarity of the dots with a more beautiful and ephemeral world. It was AKA director Kristian Andrews who finally caught the concept of having the whole world being conjured by points of light in a single drawing which we all loved and so set the tone for everything that followed.
What was the biggest challenge working on this project?
By far the biggest challenge was finding the combination of techniques that we needed in order to implement the vision we had for the trailer and titles sequence. The simplicity of an image created entirely from points of light belies the difficulty in controlling and shaping what was essentially an endlessly self- generating burst of random particles. Cue an intense round of R&D, which offered up as many problems as it did solutions, but which in due course enabled us to work out a set of techniques that we could work with.
To create the pictures we had in mind, there were various complicated stages that each of the scenes would have to go through to achieve the end result and each needed to dovetail with the next, so that the particles emitting from the torch would gel with the particles on the characters, despite following very different rules in how they were emanating. We had to embrace the fact that such randomly generated particles are always in a state of flux - being renewed and replenished as they constantly emit from the source (i.e. the torch) - so we had to create particles with different traits according to their use.
The ones we used on the characters were given enough definition to be recognisable, and at the same time allowed to retain a look of constant change as they moved through the scenes. Elsewhere we specified the dots and specs of light with quite different characteristics, but always with the view that they had to work side by side. For the rest, it was about taking away as much detail and information as was possible, to avoid the temptation to smother the frame in imagery or detail. The scenes were composed to try and convey some quite large spaces and volumes of people, but with an eye to minimising the on screen information that delivers the picture. To that end there is a lot of suggested space, flares of light and subtle camera motion within the frame, which all helped sell the depth, and richness of the images.
The BBC Olympics trailer is always pretty high profile - but especially so this year! What was it like working on such a prestigious project?
Like a lot of people, the Olympics had managed to sneak up on us largely unawares – despite or maybe because of the saturation coverage which the London games have generated – but we were very aware that as the trailer was to highlight all the coverage by the BBC of the Olympic Torch Relay and would be aired for approximately 10 weeks in the lead up to the actual Games, that we needed to make sure we delivered on the hopes that the agency had for the sequence. It was a tricky brief so we were delighted, not to mention slightly apprehensive, to win the pitch and carry the torch (so to speak) for all the parties involved. But the process was a very collaborative one both with the creative team from the agency (RKCR/Y&R) and also the clients at the BBC who allowed us to work out our process and trusted us as we walked them week by week through our production stages.
In terms of the technical side of things, how were the torch bearers created? Was it entirely in computer or were they modeled on real runners (for example using motion capture)?
We looked at a myriad of ways in which we could bring the project to life and initially nothing was ruled out. We did think of using motion capture in the production process and even veered towards rotoscoping live action runners at one point - but realised that as everything would actually be driven by the choreography of the torch and flame throughout the sequence, we would still need to augment every frame we tried to capture. So instead we opted for a more direct key frame animation approach as our cornerstone. We did shoot some runners for animation reference and (on what felt like the coldest day in January this year) we set up a shoot in Highgate Woods using a mixture of male and female runners to give the animators some pointers to work from, especially in some of the relay crossovers.
We chose to allow the performances to remain stylised and not too realistic as the nature of the final images called for something a little more impressionistic in any case. What also became apparent was that the core movements of the runners was only the foundation of a complex layering process that wove together the various light & dot particles effects and all the final compositing and grading manipulation. The emphasis was therefore spread very evenly across the entire team.