When a group of property developers wanted to bid for an exclusive redevelopment contract, they needed a promotional pitch that would blow the competition away.
Enter Uniform, the multidisciplinary design agency tasked with creating a vision of the regenerated area. Drawing their inspiration from the site's past and balancing it with their vision of the future, Uniform's designers created a promotional film like no other.
As the home of EMI records during the 1950s and early 1960s, Blyth Road in Hayes, Middlesex, was one of the bastions of British music. But in the 50 years since EMI moved out, the area sank into a wasteland. In its film, however, Uniform has injected much needed colour and life back into the quarter.
Setting the tone
"The key to the film was capturing the vibrancy and excitement of the site's musical past, putting the beat back into the area without overshadowing its architectural elements," explains creative director Laurie Jones.
Uniform managed this by creating a three-minute-long film using a mix of animation, 3D graphics and photography. The finished montage was built around The Tremeloes' Here Comes My Baby, which sets the swinging 1960s tone Uniform was keen to capture.
Central to the film is an animated shaft of colour that flies through the frames in time to the sound track, christened 'Jeff' by the Uniform team. "We used the music as the vehicle, and Jeff - the flowing embodiment of the music - acted as a musical reference, animating anything he interacted with," explains Sam O'Hare, senior designer on the project. "Anything and anyone Jeff touches becomes animated by the music, and brings life to the scene."
The film creates a pastiche of references that drive home the history of EMI's ex-headquarters, including The Beatles' Abbey Road cover, Singin' in the Rain and Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. "We've worked on urban redevelopment projects before when we've detailed a run-down site and showed what could happen with investment and regeneration," says O'Hare. "This time, we tackled things from the other way around."
It was obvious to the nine-man team that there would have to be a human element in order to create vivacity and life. To do this, the team split the project into two stages. The first involved shooting the stills of the site, before enlisting 3ds Max to model the landscape and buildings using the application's native tools alongside specialist scripts written by O'Hare.
"We shot the people against greenscreen, captured straight to Premiere Pro 2, and then keyed them out in our HD suite afterwards," says O'Hare. "We dressed the people in block colour to make the process a little easier, then used Combustion to key the uncompressed footage."
The resulting keys were cleaned up, again using Combustion, before the shapes were imported into After Effects to be coloured and treated. The final compositing of all the scenes was passed through Combustion once more before being mastered.
"For the DVD itself, we used VRay to render the 3D space, and relied pretty heavily on a little plug-in for the Mac called Ghost Trails, which we used to animate Jeff's tail," O'Hare continues. "His tail is made up of a hierarchy structure of nine shapes, each with individual tails, which I rigged up so that by animating the central shape, I could direct the others."
The finished project took eight weeks to complete, involving six people on the 3D side and a further three working on the 2D and animation. The results are startling for two reasons. The first is that as a promo film for an urban regeneration project, the finished product feels more like a music video than a corporate proposal, while at the same time utilising some striking techniques and a well thought out and genuinely entertaining storyline.
"The style is slightly hyper-real, it all appears bright, clean and new," says O'Hare of the finished product. "The film is designed to generate some excitement over the possibilities of the new development, showing its history, proposed use and future." And, of course, to put the beat back into EMI's former headquarters - which is exactly what Uniform's film does.