Project diary: fun with dioramas

Created to coincide with a Superbowl ad for Hyundai’s new 4x4, Stinkdigital’s Epic Playdate experience required an effortless blend of model-making and digital prowess

Brief: To help inform and educate PC, tablet and smartphone users about the benefits of the new Hyundai Santa Fe using a cross-plaform website.

THE DESIGN BRIEF
Mark Pytlik, Stinkdigital

Our design brief was based around the idea that the Hyundai Santa Fe people carrier was primarily aimed at the kind of people who see raising children as part of a continuation of their rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, rather than a reason to end it. Innocean’s pre-Superbowl TV ad campaign was centred around the idea of a family going on an Epic Playdate using the Santa Fe – where it helps them become involved in hyper-realistic events like getting into a chase with a motorcycle gang, playing Space Invaders in the park and rousing some beasts at a natural history museum.

We were tasked with creating an interactive online companion to the TV campaign, but rather than engage online viewers by creating an interactive film, Stinkdigital came up with the idea of creating a whole new epic world using a combination of hand-made dioramas and animation.

Mark Borow of prop and set-maker McConnell & Borow perfects the look of a diorama between shots

The TV ad communicates the idea of ‘epicness’ really well because it’s an agglomeration of crazy events are strung together so that the whole thing feels really big. Our approach for the interactive was to do the same, but with craft, so we built five dioramas that loosely mirrored the world that the family explores in the ad: we see the family’s backyard, a museum, a mountain, a skate park and a beach – each one of which relates to a different feature of the car. Those environments are, in turn, loaded up with games and other interactive pieces that the online visitors to the Epic Playdate website can explore. And just like in the TV the ad, the diff erent moments we created have different animation or design styles, the aim being to give visitors to the site a similarly epic experience, whether they were using a PC, tablet or smartphone.

Members of the creative team review footage from the day’s shoot

WORK IN PROGRESS

Because the project was so big around 60 people were involved from start to finish with their roles ranging from creative directors and creative technologists to developers and producers. Each of the dioramas was pre-visualised in 3D before being handmade and then filmed; while a post-production company did tracking shots for the Santa Fe that it wasn’t practical for us to shoot ourselves. We also employed an animation company, a pixel artist and a music and sound company to get the project done.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was getting such a diverse range of people working together in a way that enabled us to meet a very short deadline. At times we literally had seven different teams working on various aspects of the project, so we decided the best way to do this was not to take a traditional ‘waterfall’ approach to project management, but to have all of the people involved working on their own aspects of the task at the same time with a central team of producers coordinating it all. That was scary in the sense that the project only came together right at the very end, but is also ensured that things moved quickly. This enabled us to constantly talk about the project in the context of the assets we were making, which was a satisfying and tangible way to work.

Stinkdigital art director Morgan Harary discusses the shoot with two of his team mates

As the project progressed we held regular feedback rounds with the teams and with the client, with some aspects going through as many as 30 revisions to make sure they were right. There was a real desire on all sides to finesse the project, so even we had approved flat designs we spent time elevating them using subtle animation and motion.

CONCLUSION

When the Epic Playdate website finally went live on Superbowl Sunday we were really proud of what we had achieved, especially with the sheer level of craft involved. The dioramas and the games had a lot of love poured into them, and we hope the end users feel that too. We’re also pleased by the fact that the experience works across tablets and modern mobile phones – we loved being able to make an interactive film experience work across lots of modern platforms. Simon Cho, senior group manager, digital customer experience, Hyundai Motor America said: “The diorama approach worked as a great solution to showcase multiple features in a visually stunning and highly engaging way.”

Making adjustments to the Backyard diorama between takes

THREE LESSONS WE LEARNED
Various collaborators working to such a tight deadline made for a unique set of challenges

1: Automation is preparation

In an attempt to avoid the timesuck that comes with rendering out graded bandwidth assets for multiple platforms, we developed a workflow that glued it all together using a mix of scripts and folder actions.

2: Size matters

Our goal was to deliver the same structure and content to as many devices as possible. We understood the limitations of each platform, but considering them all together meant plenty of additional challenges.

3: Pre-visualisation is the key

Understanding the scale of the dioramas – how many elements we could fit into each one, while telling a story – was tricky. The solution was to create them in 3D first, before we built and filmed them for real.

Stinkdigital collaborated with illustration duo Brosmind to provide artwork for one of the Epic Playdate games