Freeview Play - "Set Yourself Free"
Directed by Bjorn-Erik Aschim, Sam Brown, and Sam Taylor
In Late 2014, The Line and Electric Theatre Collective were approached to direct a series of animated ads that would launch Freeview’s new on-demand service, Freeview Play.
This job would be our biggest advertising project to date, and bring together a team of over 45 artists at Electric’s London studio. The scope of the job was huge, with over 25 unique characters to create, crowd sequences featuring hundreds more, and an entire city to build from scratch.
The challenge was daunting, but we jumped at the opportunity to create a world, and tell a story full of characters that people could believe in.
We met with Leo Burnett’s creative team and began the process of fleshing out the story with them. They were extremely open to collaboration, allowing us to bat ideas back and forth and explore various different story avenues. What soon became clear was that the most compelling part of the story was the relationship between the good television, and the girl. Their journey, and their budding friendship provided a counterpoint to the evil regime, and an emotional backbone to our story. We put together an animatic that laid out our vision for the script.
At this point we were joined by Sam Brown, who became the third director on our team. Sam bought a wealth of experience to bear on the project. His energy, warmth, and a fresh set of eyes were greatly appreciated, and we learned a huge amount from working with him. As well as storyboarding all three of the companion films, Sam helped us extending the launch film from one minute to two, tightening the script and augmenting it with many of his own ideas.
We were extremely lucky to have an incredible team of visual development artists on this job. We had a great number of characters to design in a very short period of time. In all our team ended up producing over 700 individual designs during the period of preproduction. We started with very rough sketches, loose, impressionistic renderings that capture the spirit of a character, their styling and silhouette. This would then be handed to a 3d artist to sculpt, to continue to develop into the final model you see on screen.
We knew we needed a character that would be unique, appealing, and instantly recognisable. We got in touch with the extremely talented, Manddy Wyckens who came up with hundreds of different designs for our hero. Manddy's loose style and appealing drawings were a perfect starting point for our 3D team. She was able to capture the kindness, sensitivity and the sense of adventure that was needed from our hero.
A loyal companion to our main character, a bundle of joy with a frantic energy and endless curiosity. Manddy Wyckens and 3D modeller extraordinaire, Frederik Storm helped us design this character.
Probably the biggest challenge of all of the characters was this one. What do you do when essentially, your character is one big glowing rectangle. We went through hundreds of different versions of this guy in search for our perfect hero.
First initial animation test by Jesus Parra
Rough 2D animation blocking by Bjorn-Erik Aschim
Art Direction and Environment Design
For the art direction of the film we wanted something that would combine a charm and handmade quality with a sense of cinematic scale and atmosphere. What we landed on was the idea of replicating a model world inside the computer, complete with all the imperfections of stop motion animation. We had been keen for some time to combine our design skills with Electric Theatre’s uncanny ability to make computer generated things look real, and this project provided the perfect opportunity for us to combine our specialist skills.
Concept Design by Manddy Wyckens
While we were pursuing a realistic approach, it was important to us that there was a strong, underlying sense of design throughout. Bjorn-Erik Aschim led the environment design for the project. He developed an aesthetic that caricatured reality with a kind of crooked, off-kilter cartooniness. This aesthetic had to be rolled out, and kept consistent in every detail of the film, from the smallest prop to the largest exterior location.
We were sure that we wanted the environments to have a distinct sense of place. The location of the film had to be set somewhere that felt like a typical mid-size British town. We went to work in earnest assembling all the reference we could find. Luckily for us we were designing a world that looked very similar to the world on our doorstep, we started noticing the world around us with greater detail than before. Journeys to and from work became research trips, as we snapped images of victorian terraces, post boxes, lamp posts, cars, busses, and trees.
Hull Town Square
As we were making the film, we realised that a town square in the UK is quite different from a town square in other parts of the world. We wanted to move away from the typical European looking square and find something that would feel more British. What we noticed, is that a lot of UK town squares aren't actually square. We trawled long and hard through Google Maps before we found a town square that felt right. We eventually landed on Hull and decided to model our square on that. It had the right combination of old and new architectural styles, as well as the requisite space to accommodate the legions of troops that would be marching through it.
For this project, it was important to show a clear progression from a dark oppressive world into a bright and optimistic ending without it being too kitsch or gaudy. We decided to set the film in the early hours of the morning before the sun had risen. This gave us the chance to make the opening of the film have a dark cold night-time vibe and allowed us to slowly progress through to a bright sunrise with lots of warm tones and happy feelings that was required from the ending. A particular challenge with the colours was making sure that our characters would stay clear and in focus throughout the film that would have so many details and elements to look at. Bjorn worked closely with the lighting team at ETC to retain the clarity and intent from the colourkeys, making sure our heroes did not get lost in all the intricate detail of the final picture.
Another key set was the girl’s house. Manddy Wyckens and Kristian Antonelli produced artwork that showed how we could introduce her personality before we even saw her on screen. Her house, wedged between the harsh city structures felt warm and human against the dilapidated street.
Originally, the film explored a much darker tone, with a Hero TV saving the day in dramatic finale atop a television tower. It was ultimately abandoned for a lighter, different take on the story.
Our animation team on Freeview were an unusually talented and creative bunch of people who bought a huge amount to the project. They took on the task of creating a movement style that felt reminiscent of stop-motion animation, whilst still achieving subtle performances from the characters. We stylised the characters’ movement by introducing a variety of imperfections and limitations to the process. In fact we ended up going even further in many cases than stop motion animators would, in order to move it away from computer animation.
Concept animation by Aziz Kocanaogullari
Directors Sam Taylor and Bjorn- Erik Aschim at The Line, Sam Brown at Rogue
Production Serena Noorani at Electric Theatre Collective
Production Kate Hitchings at Rogue
Bjorn Erik-Aschim, Sam Taylor, Manddy Wyckens, Kristian Antonelli, Sébastien Iglesias, Neil Ross, Wesley Louis, Jonathan Djob Nkondo, James Hatley, Tom Flavelle, Fréderik Storm, Mike Shorten, Sylvain Marc
Max Taylor, George Wheeler
Adam Jeffcoate, Guillaume Cassuto, Sylvain Marc, James Duveen, James Hatley
Producer Serena Noorani & Sian Jenkins
2D Leads Taran Spear & James Belch
Flame assist Ant Walsham, Paul Wilmot, Andrew Stewart
Nuke Bernardo Varela, Sherin Mahboob, Alex Grey, Alex Prod’Homme, Marco Baratto, Marko Perendija, Pat Wong, Chris Fraser
Max Van dee Merwe
Tim Mccourt, Sam Taylor, Denis Bodart, Bjorn Erik-Aschim
Bjorn Erik-Aschim, Tristan Ménard, Nicolas Loudot, David Gibbons
Colourists: Aubrey Woodiwiss and Lewis Crossfield