Behind The Scenes

Film4 On-Air Refresh 2014: Alex Barber

05 Sep, 2014 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Film4 Channel, Idents

In our penultimate interview taking you behind the scenes on the new set of idents that launched earlier this week on the Film4 channel, we talk to Alex Barber who served as the Director of Photography on the project. You can watch one of the idents that he shot below, this time from the ‘Woods’ scenario, and then read on for our interview with Alex.

Alex Barber on joining the project…

I was approached by [producer] Liz Arnott at Channel 4 with a treatment of an upcoming project she had going on for Film4. I’ve worked a few times Channel 4 and have always loved both the process and the result, and in an age when it can sometimes be difficult to find good, inspiring creative work this sounded great. I made myself available for a meeting with her and the directors from ManvsMachine. The meeting went really well and I immediately loved the project. Although it took a little while to work out shoot dates we stuck with it, and finally worked it out.

On working with ManvsMachine…

I hadn’t worked with ManvsMachine before but I was aware of their work, particularly for More4 and Nike, which I very much admired. The relationship from the very first meeting was great. Once we started chatting it was hard to stop. Our preliminary conversations were mostly about the method of what we were aiming for, then it was on to the films and what aspects of them we wanted to portray. When we got on set we collaborated very well and it was one of the more fun projects I have been involved in. We all took great delight in adding a little detail here or there, however subtle it may have been.

On lighting the different scenarios…

I think the cinematography was always going to be pivotal in the project. It was absolutely necessary to understand the different genres we were aiming to portray and take a little of each one to put in each scenario. Without that approach I don’t think that the idents would have the same impact. The approach I took was to light the individual scenes and sets as a static piece in the way one would normally light a set; to tell the story which has brought you there. I then treated the film reel technique that ManvsMachine were implementing as incidental, although there was a lot of checking the extremes of the move to make sure it wasn’t revealing anything it shouldn’t have. For the scenarios shot on sets, I left the basic lighting the same but tweaked different aspects of the lighting to highlight each of the different play-outs. With the exteriors we obviously used a slightly different technique, shooting at different times of day for the different endings, again highlighting the film styles.

On shooting on set vs location…

Each of the five scenarios were exciting to shoot, and each in a very different way. It is always good to shoot in a studio, as you have complete control. When you turn a light on it stays on, and it also stays in the same place until you make a decision to either move it or turn it off! But shooting on location also gives you a scale that you can’t otherwise achieve. Of course you have the elements which can play a big part in the process, but on this project we were very lucky that they behaved and only helped us. The wolves ident was really good fun, and it’s a good example of shooting on location. What really went in to it was a lot of smoke and luckily not too much wind to blow it away, the sun being in the right position (which we planned), and again luckily no cloud cover. All we needed then was a few well-trained wolves and a big hole to drop the motion control arm into, and it proved remarkably simple.

On the film references…

The films we referenced were many and varied. There are too many to list. I think if you watch the idents a few times over you will start seeing all of the references; a pool of light here, a prop carefully placed there. Sometimes they’re right in foreground so you move quickly through them, and sometimes they’re deep background so you have to look a little harder. The idea of paying homage to all the different movies was fun to execute. There were lots of good reference points, and was a great creative, collaborative process.

On the cameras used…

We shot all the idents on an Arri Alexa, which is a stable, reliable, and technically superb camera. The lenses changed throughout. We always shot on zooms so we had the ability to change size by the millimetre which enabled us to enhance the effect of the move in whichever location we were in or set we were on. When we shot in the staircase location I used a newer Angenieux zoom as I thought it was important to be able to hold detail in the skylight, without lens flare, which would cause the image to milk out. Obviously we had no control of the light above so we had to be able to work with whatever conditions we had. On the sets and other locations I used an older Cooke zoom which is slightly softer and warmer, and more likely to allow some light to bounce around in the optics, but which gave a lovely filmic feel.

Read more interviews with the creative team behind the Film4 idents.

Film4 On-Air Refresh 2014: Liam Paton

04 Sep, 2014 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Film4 Channel, Idents

We’ve been celebrating the launch of fifteen new idents on the rebranded Film4 channel every day this week by bringing you behind the scenes interviews with members of the creative team responsible for them, and today is no different. Liam Paton served as the composer and sound designer on the project, and he spoke to us about crafting the audio on each of the idents. You can watch one of the new idents below – this one is from the ‘Staircase’ scenario – and then read on for our interview with Liam.

Liam Paton on joining the project…

I’m the music director and main composer at Resonate, working out of a studio facility based over in east London. We write music and sound design for the broadcast, gaming and fashion industries. I was brought onto the Film4 ident project as the composer/sound designer responsible for all music and sound design elements, but there’s a small team of us here at Resonate that have worked on this project. We’ve worked with ManvsMachine (who directed the idents) quite a bit in the past, so there was a relationship and trust there from the off. I think that really helps with the creative process as you can trust your instincts and be slightly braver with what you suggest, compared to working with people for the first time. We always seem to go on a bit of a journey during the creative process and we like to work very closely with the directors as ultimately we are helping to realise their vision and how they want the viewer to feel.

On collaboration…

Quite a lot of the idents had been shot or worked on by the time we came on board, so we had visuals to work to straight away. There are projects where we get involved very early on in the production process, but sometimes this isn’t beneficial as you start to second guess what the visuals will look like and you never fully know how the music will feel until you start to lay it down to a rough edit. The initial stage was a collaborative process with the directors to lock down the musical references for each ident and the style we were after. We always like to agree on the overall approach and direction before we start to write anything ourselves.

On composition…

The second stage was then about composition and writing as much as possible. We had a lot of music to get through, because there were five different scenarios that all had the same intro within the set, but then lead into different musical play outs for each ending. There’s always a bit of back and forth with the directors and creatives as you start to work out together the overall sound of the idents and how they will work as a set. Initially we tried to keep the endings quite similar but we eventually decided that the world and tone is set for the first half and the second halves could feel very different while still feeling like they all came from the same place.

On contributing to a cinematic tone…

This was a really interesting project to be involved with as we wanted to keep the overall tone cinematic and, where possible, only use music to orchestrate and soundtrack all the idents rather than relying on heavy sound design. The idents have a number of visual references subtly woven into them so we tried to do a little of this musically, but I think we tried to keep the influences quite subtle so the tracks didn’t become sound-a-likes or feel like specific film genres e.g. horror, action, etc. I felt it was also important that we embraced a slightly smaller cinematic sound, with fewer instruments as this just seemed to fit much better with the visuals. There was a fair amount of development time that went into the film bar visual device that starts all the idents. We tried both music and sound design options, and eventually settled on the musical option as it felt like a real emotive moment rather than feeling too literal.

On other considerations…

We always listen to what has been done before to help get a sense of where the channel has been and whether we need to take cues from this, or look to do something new and fresh that is completely different. So yes, it was important to refer back to the channel’s previous idents to an extent. We also definitely had to think about the continuity announcements that would accompany the idents when they ultimately played on the channel, as that’s the context in which the music will be played out and you can’t have something overly busy that is just going to clash or get in the way. There were a couple of idents that featured guitars that we’ve mixed with this in mind to make sure they were not going to fight with the announcements happening over the music.

On recording the music…

We’re quite a small team. I was the main composer on the project working with another senior composer here called Andy Theakstone and our studio assistant Josh Shires. We brought in a lot of musicians to record violins, horns, piano, guitar, cello etc. to help realise that cinematic sound we were after. I wanted to make sure the overall sound was authentic and credible and wanted to rely as little as possible on sample libraries. You can’t beat the tone of a real instrument, as well as all the feel and character that the players bring to the parts we had written. We’re lucky to work with some of the best session players in the business so the music really comes alive once they get involved with the project.

On the finishing touches…

Once the recording begins we’re able to start developing the mixes and have a sense of how everything is coming together, and then when the picture starts to be locked down and finessed we’re able to start really crafting the mixes so they feel super tight to the picture. Towards the end of the project we then make final tweaks to the mix and any final adjustments to the composition; by this time we’re listening to the full set and checking they all work and feel like a family of tracks. All of the idents had their own unique challenges but overall it was a really enjoyable project to be involved with. The idents looked visually stunning, which always helps when you start writing the music to them.

Read more interviews with the creative team behind the Film4 idents.

Film4 On-Air Refresh 2014: Simon Davis

03 Sep, 2014 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Film4 Channel, Idents

To celebrate the launch of fifteen new indents on the Film4 channel, so far this week we’ve already spoken with the Creative Director and Directors of the project to find out more about how they were made. Today we’re taking you behind the scenes again as we speak to Simon Davis, the production designer responsible for designing and building the sets on the ‘Doorway’ and ‘Corridor’ idents. You can watch one of the ‘Doorway’ indents below, and then read on for our interview with Simon Davis.

Simon Davis on boarding the project…

I’ve worked on many projects over the last few years with 4Creative and have a good relationship with a number of directors and producers there including Liz Arnott who was the producer on this project, and the Creative Director, Dan Chase. When I came on board as the Production Designer for the Film4 idents I had to design the sets based on a briefing from Mike Alderson and Curtis Baigent at ManvsMachine. It was a very clear and great looking brief, full of cool and detailed references, and that meant that the design process and getting things approved by the guys was relatively quick as I had all the right information to start with. We did tweak the colours a little on the corridor set and added some finer details here and there as the project progressed, but generally they stayed close to my original drawings.

On building the sets…

Once the designs were approved we then built the two sets in Stage 5 at Black Island Studios in Central London. It took about a week of pre-build before the lighting and camera guys came in to set up. We probably had a construction team of between eight to ten carpenters and painters, plus a rigger for a couple of days. I also had my art department team of three or four at the studio throughout the build as we were still searching out materials and props as the sets were being built. It was a large scale set build and don’t think that it could have been done any quicker than a week. It allowed us the opportunity to consider colours, finishes and the finer details in the sets, which quite often, when the studio build time is less, we don’t have the time for. The Doorway set was generally constructed from standard timber flats, and the Corridor set was constructed from a heavyweight fireproof plywood.

On incorporating film references…

It was important that both the corridor and doorway sets had a very filmic look to begin with, before necessarily being film specific, but the idea was to incorporate a number of film references into each set. Some are more obvious than others, and we also added in some very subtle, but pretty accurate props to reference particular scenes or sets from a wide range of films. Curtis and Mike had a lot of input for the film references from the start and we all developed more ideas as the project went on.The main inspiration for the corridor set came from Barton Fink and The Grand Budapest Hotel, and then we had a few props in the hotel set such as the room service trolley from Ghostbusters. In the Doorway idents the bath we used in the bathroom was almost a perfect match to the one used in the original Psycho. It took considerable time looking at various film clips and stills, picking out things like the bath, and then trying to find them. Our very heavy cast iron bath was finally found at an architectural salvage yard.

On the biggest challenges…

The actual set build went relatively smoothly, so sourcing the props and fittings that we wanted became the most challenging part due to the time that it took. The three different setups within each set generally didn’t cause that many problems as a lot of the changes could be achieved with a few tweaks to the prop dressing. The were a couple of exceptions; that tilting of the pendant lights in one of the Corridor idents was achieved by using a cleverly constructed rig that allowed them to be puppeteered individually. Then there was the burning of the Corridor set…

On setting fire to the Corridor set…

It was something had to be considered early on in the design and build process. The columns along the side walls, for instance, are there to incorporate and hide some of the flame bars. It was also important to have the construction team liaising with the SFX company for other specific requirements, such as using the correct fire resistant materials and fire retardants where necessary. It was great to see the set finally finished after a long design and build process, but I was fine with seeing it all burn on the day. It was quite exciting and it looked amazing.

On building a physical Film4 logo…

Originally we decided to just build a timber version of the Film4 logo that would be used as a point of reference for the flames to move around in the version of the Corridor ident which sets on fire, and then the post production team would make the final logo to be used in the film. Once we got to the shoot though, we painted up the logo and positioned it on the set and let it burn. It worked pretty well as it was, so I think it may be our logo in the final shot, rather than a VFX version.

On the finished idents…

I haven’t actually seen the final indents yet but I’m really looking forward to seeing them. I enjoyed the process of making both sets, so it would be difficult to choose a favourite. The Corridor set was impressive in its sheer size and the fact that we set fire to it, but stylistically I like the Doorway set.

Read more interviews with the creative team behind the Film4 idents.

Film4 On-Air Refresh 2014: Mike Alderson & Curtis Baigent, ManvsMachine

02 Sep, 2014 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Directors, Idents

To celebrate the launch of a new set of idents on the Film4 channel today (!), we’re featuring a new ident online each day this week alongside interviews with some of the creative talent behind them. Today we have an interview with Mike Alderson and Curtis Baigent from the Design & Motion Studio ManvsMachine, the company responsible for directing the 15 new idents. You can watch one of the new idents below, and then read on for our interview with Mike and Curtis.

On becoming involved in the project…

Our relationship with Channel 4 goes back to when ManvsMachine was founded in 2007, and in recent years we’ve picked up a couple of Cannes Gold Lions and a D&AD Yellow Pencil working together on More4, 4seven and E4 identities. We became involved in the Film4 project after a successful creative pitch, which covered all on-air aspects of the brand from idents to OSP and beyond. The initial brief from Dan Chase was pretty open, even throwing up the possibility to look at the logo mark itself. However, we strongly felt the current logo is synonymous with Film4′s considerable reputation, so should not be changed just for the sake of it, but potentially refreshed.

On the pitch…

It was our intention to create a film channel, not a TV channel. This became our mantra. The brief clearly stated a need to cater to ultimate film buffs and occasional action movie fans alike. We developed a custom motion technique that would span graphic and live-action elements to give the package a visual signature beyond the logo. The original idea behind the technique was a contemporary take on a classic film strip/projector effect, but instead of being static, every ‘frame’ has its own life, depth and time. Our solution anchored around a visual device/technique that could run through all elements of the branding, from idents to simple logo animations, and typography. We tested this technique by mocking up a logo in a black corridor in 3D and passing our camera through, and the ‘living frames’ device was born. This simple test became the basis of everything we did from that day until delivery.

On selecting the five scenarios…

We wanted to create cinematic idents that supported the films on the channel, that was something we strived for from the get go. It was a pressure we put on ourselves. At the very beginning we had a huge number of potential scenarios. We narrowed it down to five that best represented an even cross-section of the film world, but, of course, there are a handful of those other scenarios we’d still love to make. The scenes had to be flexible enough to contain multiple play-out scenarios but ambiguous enough not to fall solely into genres. We carefully crafted a range of scenes to elicit a variety of different moods: the Gas Station and the Woods scenarios were shot in California on location, the Corridor and Motel idents were shot on specially-built sets shot in London, and the Stairwell was shot in a beautiful Victorian seaside hotel in Brighton.

Each ident begins ambiguously before seamlessly branching off into one of three possible endings, making minimal adjustments to shift the mood dramatically. Each scene is constructed of a vast array of film references; from the iconic to the obscure. We took every opportunity we could find to pepper the indents with references. We didn’t set out to pick specific films or filmmakers to reference – it needed to be a broad range. The challenge was instead to find references that felt natural in the scene.

On stop-motion…

The idents evolved quite a lot, organically, over the process but in essence they are very much in line with what we set out to make conceptually, presenting the Film4 logo in various locations. We wanted to embrace and champion the Film4 logo and brand, as its associations and reputation are second to none. Stop motion was used in the animation of the logos and was driven by the technique itself. In each frame of the filmstrip technique the logo is actually sitting still in the space and it’s not until you see the frames moving past the screen in quick succession that it appears to be animated.

The technique involves a camera moving down through the ceiling plane and then through the floor plane. We shot this part and then stitched together a sequence of these to create the technique. Due to the camera having to pass through the ceiling and floor planes of the shots we couldn’t shoot in existing locations like a motel or hotel corridor. We had to build sets that were raised up off the ground, dig huge holes in car parks and forests & at times create our own canopies/ceiling planes.

On blending live-action footage and visual effects…

The amount of VFX varies from ident to ident, but we would say it has come out well balanced; an even blend of film craft. We tried to keep as much as we could in-camera, practically augmenting locations with things like additional trees, manually puppeting elements such as ceiling lights and a rolling tyre (the art department scored a perfect 10 with that skilled manoeuvre), as well as using practical effects like pyrotechnics (it’s a strange feeling burning something down that you’ve painstakingly created). Then in post-production we pulled the filmstrip technique together, built the logos, and created a staggering array of additional effects and elements ranging from the very subtle (a single light short circuiting) to the very prominent (smoke and fire simulation on the rolling tyre and a grand piano tumbling towards camera).

On the finished idents…

We hope viewers will simply just watch and enjoy them. We want these to be for anyone and everyone, not just the most knowledgeable of film enthusiasts. If viewers watch it and think “hey, I really liked that one,” then that’s a job well done. At the same time we would love it if certain people also enjoyed the repeat viewing, spotting different references, nods to different directors, subtleties in the ways we branch off into different moods in the sets etc. We enjoyed making all of them, but the Californian Gas Station and Woodland locations were probably most fun to shoot.

Read more interviews with the creative team behind the Film4 idents.

Film4 On-Air Refresh 2014: Daniel Chase

01 Sep, 2014 Posted in: Behind The Scenes, Film4 Channel, Idents

This Tuesday, Film4 channel is unveiling a new set of cinematic on-air idents, and here on the blog we’re taking you behind the scenes for a series of interviews with the creative team who’ve worked on them from concept through to broadcast. We’re also delighted to give you an advance look at one of the idents ahead of the premiere on the channel tomorrow, and we’ll be posting new videos on the blog throughout the week alongside each of the interviews. You can watch the first of the new idents below, and then read on for our interview with Daniel Chase, the Creative Director of the project…

Daniel Chase on the genesis of the project…

I’m the Head of On-Air for Film4, overseeing all promotions, interstitials and on-screen presentation that appear on the channel, and I direct and edit a chunk of the work too. I’ve been in this position since 2005, and in fact directed the last on-air channel rebrand in 2006. I’ve been pushing for a refresh since around 2011, but it was never seen as a priority until the end of last year. With the current look being close to eight years old at the time, we got the go-ahead to develop a new approach.

On directing the previous set of idents…

They came about from a statement from a previous Network Creative Director, Brett Foraker, who one day, while looking at a round of concepts, said ‘’Stunts… in slow motion?’’. From that I developed a number of scenarios, which were based around events familiar from numerous films, but by shooting them in extreme slow-motion we see them as they’ve never been seen before. It seemed natural that each one would have a moment of impact and that worked perfectly as the point at which the logo would be introduced, effectively splitting the screen into four segments each of which showed a fresh angle of the action.

The whole approach echoed Film4’s editorial policy of seeing films in a new light when on the channel. We shot the initial batch in 2006 in the UK, adding to them in 2008 with a selection shot in and around Los Angeles. I think they achieved the goal of all good TV idents, which ultimately is the ability to be watched endlessly while at the same time form an indelible connection to the brand.

On the new approach…

I’d been trying to find a new way to do a ‘Behind the Scenes’ approach. It’s something we’re all familiar with but I wanted to subvert it and see it afresh. It fits with the brand, especially if you include the production side. We used that brief as a jumping off point just to see where it could go, and initially we looked in-house for the new creative for the idents.

However, we had always intended to use an external company to design the on-screen graphics, promo endboards, break bumps etc. (known as the on-screen presentation, or OSP for short), and one of the companies we approached, ManVsMachine (who have also worked on More4 and 4/7’s on-air identities) asked if they could pitch for the channel idents as well as the OSP. Their idea was thrown in to the mix and I selected a short list of approaches which I then ran by my department Heads, Chris Bovill and John Allison. Together we agreed that ManVsMachine’s idea was the most exciting, and since then I’ve acted as Creative Director on the pre-production, production and the on-going post.

On the successful pitch…

When ManVsMachine returned with their initial OSP ideas they had a rough proof of concept video which struck a note with everyone we showed it to. It had a familiarity about it while also being something no-one had seen before. I pinned it down to being ‘A digital reinvention of the filmstrip’. Ultimately the OSP was revised to work in a similar way to the idents. Once the concept was approved, we asked ManVsMachine to develop it further to show how the logo will be revealed and how each of the scenarios would play out. Because the square of the logo would now be suggested by a space in the location, ManVsMachine produced a mood board which our location manager used as a blueprint when looking for places to shoot.

On developing the concept…

There were three key scenarios we immediately agreed on, that felt inherently cinematic – Corridor, Staircase and Gas Station – whereas Woodland and Motel Room came out of ManVsMachine showing me potential designs. During this time we realised we could extend the amount of idents by having 3 different endings for each beginning, and suggestions for these came from ManVsMachine and 4Creative. We’ve effectively used Mike Alderson and Curtis Baigent at ManVsMachine as freelance directors on the project since then, while the idents have been produced by 4Creative, our in-house producer being Liz Arnott who has kept the project going through thick and thin.

On the finished idents…

I hope that they will be viewed on a number of levels. As overall pieces, I think they’re beautiful to watch, then there’s the obvious references and homages to moments of cinematic history, and beyond that there are small things that only the most dedicated film buff will notice. Ultimately they should endorse and reflect Film4’s dedication to the world of cinema. I’m very happy with them – they’ve been a long time coming and it’s great that they’ve received a positive reaction from everyone we’ve shown them to. But I couldn’t name a favourite, the others might get upset.

Read more interviews with the creative team behind the Film4 idents.