Greene King has collaborated with House337 to launch a campaign for their very first craft beers, “Level Head” and “Flint Eye”. Directed by BlinkInk’s Balázs Simon, the film focuses on Britain’s quirky past, but also speaks to a new generation of craft beer lovers in a very special way.
Bridging the company’s 200-year heritage with their first venture into the world of craft beer, Balázs’ project uses play of light and shadow to create a 360-degree projection through 355 die-cut beer cans. laser individually. The boxes were then brought to life with stop-motion animation to bring the story to life, while a light was placed inside each box to project the cut-out artwork.
This technically challenging project played with the laws of the universe, as it relied entirely on light. In order to create sharp shadows, the light had to be placed the perfect distance from the wall it was reflecting off. This meant calculating the anamorphosis of hand-drawn illustrations, meticulously programming motion controls, and building custom rotating light rigs in a blacked-out studio. Although the process allowed for errors – which had to be carefully controlled and avoided – it also revealed an unexpected ghostly quality in the way the light reacted, elevating the final film.
LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to Balázs about the meaning and realization of the campaign.
LBB> What was the brief of the campaign and what were the first conversations around it?
Balázs > Greene King has a huge heritage – they have been brewing beer for centuries. Their new line is their first foray into the craft beer market, so we wanted to highlight how the brand’s history culminates in something for today’s times (in a craft way of course!).
In the beginning, we talked a lot about using a woodcut style and cutting wood veneer animation. This in itself would have been very interesting to do, but I felt that we needed a stronger link with the product, and I wanted to highlight its modernity. We kept the heart of the idea, but instead of using wood, we created a 360 degree projector from the beer can, with captions sprouting from it.
LBB> The craft in the film is incredible! Why did you decide to opt for stop motion and what message did you hope to send with it?
Balázs> It was a very logical decision; we wanted to combine traditional craftsmanship with modern technologies to reflect on the heritage and know-how of the brewery. It was the perfect way to piece together some old legends (the brewery is located in Bury St Edmunds, hence the historical references in their branding), while creating something contemporary and fresh. By doing it frame by frame for real, I wanted to acknowledge Greene King’s age-old dedication to brewing.
LBB> Do you think stop motion is becoming a mainstay of storytelling in advertising?
Balázs> You could ask a similar question with “Will AI kill creative jobs?”.
From a certain point of view, the answer is yes. You’re already starting to feel like you can spend a decade perfecting your craft with software that does something similar in an instant. Soon, algorithms will be able to mimic not only artistic styles, but also the thought processes that lead you to the result. Will AI then become the main pillar of storytelling?
I may be overly optimistic, but I don’t think that will be the case. In my opinion, people will always be interested in others, and that’s the main driver of all forms of communication. We will always want to see what others think or feel and experience reality, regardless of the digital achievements around us.
The human experience has progressed to a state where it is simultaneously in an “analog” and “digital” world, and this affects the stories we would like to share. Modern stop motion is an exciting middle ground where these worlds can coexist seamlessly. The idea of this duality is already a main pillar. Just think of the desire to inject a human feel into CGI productions (like the stop-motion of “Cash In Cash Out” for Pharrel Williams), or to add a digital feel to live shoots (like the camera of linear motion control moves into ‘HUMBLE.’ for Kendrick Lamar, or the airy, light feel of Burberry’s ‘Open Spaces’).
LBB> Tell us more about the animation process that went into the movie!
Balázs> Even though the idea is something very simple (light in a can), getting there was an elaborate process! In the end, everything we were doing had to be very mathematical, to make it work. So we created an accurate 3D preview with close-to-final camerawork and surroundings, and the 2D animators drew the animation directly on top of it. This way, we were able to pitch the idea to the client early on, and we also made it easier for the animators to focus on their craft. They didn’t have to worry about technology, they just had to draw things where they wanted the light to hit the walls.
Once the 2D animation was done, we projected them onto the surface of the can. The algorithm took into account the angle of view, the shape of the environment and even the occasional wobble of the can. This anamorphosis was then laser cut into sheets of metal, which were hand rolled into 355 individual cylinders.
We rebuilt the set based on the 3D drawings, and once everything was done, we went to the studio. We had to place the motion control platform so that the real camera sensor exactly matched the virtual sensor we used for the calculations. It had to be millimeter perfect and took days to perfect – with multiple back and forth between the animation software and the camera, often taking virtual measurements and transferring them to the actual setup.
The creation of the light configuration was so complicated that it is its own story. To get sufficiently sharp shadows on the walls, we needed a light source that was as small as possible. But the smaller you go, the less light it will emit. We had to do three to four second long exposures to properly expose the scene, so we had to black out the entire studio space. The animators were working in almost complete darkness and, due to the limited diffusion of the LED, they couldn’t even see the whole image projected onto the walls, only a small fraction of it. For each frame, they had to dismantle the box, replace the metal sleeve and position the new one with very high precision.
It also took 120 animated DMX channels to get the right color transitions in the environment, even turning the DP into an animator!
LBB> What are the illustrations inspired by and what story did you try to tell with them?
Balázs> The illustrations are inspired by medieval woodcuts and the art of anamorphosis by Hungarian artist István Orosz. We wanted to keep the quirky fun of older engraving styles, while ensuring that it was still possible to laser cut them into aluminum. So the style is also a combination of old and new: drawn by hand, but mapped to sheet metal by bespoke ray tracing algorithms. They show the brewery’s connection to ancient English legends, such as the beheading of King Edmund.
LBB> Who was your target audience for the campaign and how did you make sure to reach them?
Balázs> We wanted to target a younger generation, while acknowledging the brand’s history and acknowledging its established fans. I wanted to create a feeling that there’s a lot of excitement to be unpacked here, with images they’ve probably never seen before. Instead of focusing on ordinary scenes that you associate with beer, we took a more sensory approach.
LBB> What was the hardest part of executing the film? And what was the most fun?
Balázs> A generally difficult thing was to do everything without seeing what you were working on! Because the whole story is made of light, everything could only fall into place when we assembled it on the set and turned on the LED. This tiny light was the focal point of the whole production, and it was the hardest part to create.
Max (the DP) had an insane amount of LEDs to try. Once he found a super strong one with a large spread, he removed his lens and replaced it with an adhesive sheet, in which we burned a hole of less than 0.2 millimeters with a laser. Andy (the rigger) designed a custom socket for this LED, and we put it on a little motor with a slip ring, creating something like a headlight. Rotating the light exactly on axis retained its small diameter, but expanded its spread to 360 degrees on long exposure. On top of that, it had to sit in space with sub-millimeter precision to project the story without unwanted distortions.
While it was the hardest (and crucial) thing to do right, it was also the most fun, seeing all of our efforts make sense and actually work!
LBB> A final thought?
Balázs> Whenever I talk to people about this project, there is always a question that comes up. Why don’t we just use CGI?
It is good. In a sense, we could have made, visually, a very similar film. But I think it wouldn’t have told the same story.
I’m in love with reality, and what I hate about animation is that it’s so hard to “stumble into things”. When you’re filming live, you can often afford to be inspired on set and try things you weren’t prepared for. You are faced with chaos and your task is to create structure. I try to approach animation from the opposite direction – I’m constantly trying to find chaos in structure.
When we planned the animation, we didn’t know what kind of secondary highlights we would get from the inside of the can and the colored gels. This unpredictability added a lot of value to the film. These quirks of our weird machine made the footage quite glitchy and ghostly as it tried to summon past legends. It has become fleeting, lingering between reality and something intangible. We would never have achieved the same thing with a CGI approach.
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