Computer Arts catches up with Noah Harris to find out how Precursor Studio went about creating the surreal on-air look for Channel 4's digital entertainment spin-off, E4.
Computer Arts: What was the original brief given to you by E4?
Noah Harris: We were asked to refresh the E4 on-screen information delivery system - the menus, promo endboards etc. It might not sound that exciting, but E4 is an interesting brand in the way it is presented graphically. The channel collects E-stings, short idents created by budding artists and animators, through a competition every year. The idents stay varied in tone and style because they are created by a range of people.
The menu space is actually a bit more than just information, before our refresh there was a journey through a relatively abstract 3D space populated with screens containing imagery of shows and faces from the channel. This element acted more like a branded ident really.
CA: How did you win the pitch?
NH: We realised that many viewers associated the consistent menu space with the channel. So while initially wondering how we could make updating a menu system fun, we also realised we had quite a lot of room to play and look at how we could associate this part of the channel with E4's tone and attitude.
We have a strong understanding of television branding. We try and push the boundaries of normality and do something new when we approach a project. It is as important to keep ourselves interested in a project as it is to have a happy client at the end of the job.
We come up with a strong base concept or idea - something that responds to the brief in an interesting way. We never really start with a look or style and then lead the project from there. I think it's much more interesting to work in this way.
CA: Blimey, it's a mess inside E4!
NH: It certainly is! We decided to take a two-sided approach to the E4 refresh. There is a super clean 3D logo space - a traditional pompous logo presence. But when the camera travels inside the logo it is like a Tardis and you find yourself in an anarchic and slightly surreal world. We liked the idea of giving E4 a sense of place. The channel has quite a specifi c attitude - irreverent, funny and a bit brash - and we really wanted to make this visual. We created three mini worlds based on odd scenarios called Wiener, Teddy and Paranoid Pikeys (my favourite).
CA: How were the graphics created? You worked with Rushes - how was that?
NH: We designed the inside world with a very illustrative feel. We wanted a complete contrast with the squeaky clean outside space and for the inside world to have a very fresh, off-the-cuff feel. But we also wanted to be able to take dynamic journeys through the space, so we needed to build the worlds in 3D. We normally animate everything in-house, but we decided to team up with Rushes on this project. The timescales were tight and we wanted to use their expertise to get the look we wanted exactly right.
We storyboarded the scenes and drew most of the elements we wanted to include in the scene. We built some 3D models here at Precursor and Rushes built some at their end. Two of us then went and lived in the Rushes 3D department and directed for a couple of weeks.
CA: You've worked on stings and interstitials for a range of broadcasters. What's the secret?
NH: I'm not sure that there is a secret, but it helps to have a good understanding of how the TV industry works. Before Precursor, we had all worked independently in TV branding and moving images for some time. I think a lot of TV graphics rely on overblown CG to impress. To us it is better to have a core idea that informs the end visual.
INFO To find out more about this work, and more, visit the Precursor Studio website.