TG4 has always occupied a unique, forward thinking and sometimes controversial space in Irish television. As a broadcaster at the forefront of change, repeatedly pushing boundaries, the channel's 25th anniversary was one to be celebrated.
Director Lorcan Hynes took on this exciting task, intertwining elements of realism, nostalgia and subtle fantasy with VFX from Pete Rysptra of Daydreamer VFX. Encouraging its audience to view from an alternative, reminiscent perspective, we are taken down a journey of discovery and historical importance against a backdrop of moving music composition by Denis Kilty.
To find out how this spot went from brief to reality, LBB speaks with the talented trio: Lorcan, Pete and Denis.
LBB> What was the brief from the client and what was your initial reaction to it?
Lorcan Hynes, director> The brief from the agency (The Tenth Man \ Dublin) was instantly exciting. The initial concept was great but different to the film we eventually made. I took a risk and pitched a version with a lot of changes. My approach was more narrative and character-focused. It was pretty out there!
Luckily the creatives were super open to building on the original concept. The agency deserves huge credit for being so open and supportive. It was a fantastic collaboration.
Denis Kilty, music> The purpose of the film was to mark the broadcaster's 25 year anniversary through a unique perspective. TG4 occupies a unique space in Irish TV culture - it was the first channel to broadcast a gay kiss, the first to air Breaking Bed in Ireland - it has always been forward thinking despite being smaller than the other broadcasters, and has cultivated an incredible history of being different.
Our brief was to encapsulate that journey through a surrealist celebration of iconic moments, captivating subject matter and the magnificent beauty of rural Ireland. When I first saw the script, I knew it was ambitious - but had the potential to be a landmark piece of Irish film.
Pete Rypstra, VFX> On seeing the treatment we knew we had to do it. There were many scenarios where we would need to bring the nostalgic images from TG4 into the worlds that Lorcan created. Our initial chats got us really excited about how we could integrate those images and what aesthetic we could bring to them.
LBB> What was your creative vision behind this project?
Lorcan> The film is really about perception. TG4 has this unique perspective on Irish culture and identity. In essence, the film is an invitation to experience another view. I wanted to recreate that feeling when perception changes, particularly exploring the power of that experience when we open ourselves to the undiscovered. The character goes on a kind of emotional journey as he explores several worlds, each representing the various sides of TG4.
Ultimately it was about unfolding the narrative towards an ending that hopefully feels like a moment of realisation, the kind you gain from experiencing a new perspective.
Pete> Lorcan wanted to integrate the TG4 elements as tastefully as possible and find a visual language that fit within the scenarios. We knew at the outset that there was some subjectivity to how the holograms would feel. We didn't want something that felt too Star Trek or Star Wars so we had a little fun exploring different references and finding our own. Each moment was from a different time in TG4’s history and we wanted to subtly reflect this.
LBB> You see a lot of emotion through the ad, how did you work with the actor to bring this out on set?
Lorcan> Working with Dónall Ó Héalai was a real pleasure, he’s an incredibly talented actor who’s quickly gaining a big reputation internationally. We talked a lot about the narrative and character in prep. Dónall also did a massive amount of his own preparation to bring the part to life in an authentic way.
On set, we really just worked to ensure we were striking the right tone in each scene and explored subtle moments in his performance. I don’t think he had one bad take the entire shoot. He’s the type of actor who works incredibly hard at his craft. As a director, that level of commitment is fantastic to work with.
LBB> From an aesthetic point of view, what was your vision for the overall look and feel of the ad?
Lorcan> Visually, my aim was to do something pretty ambitious. I knew I wanted the film to look and feel classically cinematic. I drew a lot from late sixties / early seventies films. My instinct was the spot would need to be paced carefully, sometimes holding on shots for longer than usual. It’s a choice I knew I had to commit too early on to give the film a sense of weight.
The surreal elements also needed to feel like a natural extension of the story. There’s a lot of VFX in the final film. We worked very closely with the team at Daydream VFX, who are awesome. The guys spent hours on the smallest textures. Huge credit also to Jennifer Connolly, the post producer with Penco Post on the project. As the film becomes more intense, the characters' experience grows more visceral. Denis’ score and Mark Hill’s sound design really helps bring those moments to life.
Overall I wanted to make something that had a type of old school grandeur. I’m a huge fan of commercials from the 90s. That period had so many iconic spots which felt like true creative statements and not just vehicles to sell a product. For me, it was about trying to capture some of that same bold spirit.
LBB> You’ve got some great locations in the spot, where was it all filmed?
Lorcan> Finding the right locations was hugely important. Steve Annis (DOP) and I spent a lot of time discussing options and worked hard to find places we knew would feel cinematic on camera.
We shot on location, mainly in the west of Ireland. I’m originally from the west, so I was delighted to get home and shoot in places I love. It’s an amazing region to shoot in. I highly recommend it!
LBB> Denis, what was your inspiration for the music behind the piece? What pointers did you have for the mood and narrative of the spot?
Denis> I composed a score that moves like an organic murmuration of sound - it's a blend of traditional Irish music, surrealist ambient textures, and cinematic grandiose. I wanted it to follow and shape the mood of each scene - particularly as we jump from location to location like a dream, or hallucination.
LBB> Pete, how did you draw upon your VFX skill set for this spot?
Pete> Every scene in this spot had its own challenges and required something different. Mixed weather conditions on the shoot meant the storm section required plenty of digital matte painting, sky replacement and additional fog/atmosphere. We also applied various holographic and TV looks and brought a still image to life (Pegg).
LBB> What were some of the challenges you faced during the project?
Lorcan> There were loads, haha! I think the biggest challenge is always staying true to your original intention. It was a massive production. We shot five days across multiple locations produced by my company, Abstraction Pictures. We had a brilliant PM, Liam Ryan, and coordinator Crista O’Gorman, who navigated a lot of logistical challenges.
Personally, the biggest challenge was time. My incredibly supportive partner and I were expecting our first baby a few days after we were scheduled to finish post-production, so I was really on the clock. Thankfully our son Arthur arrived just last week. Both he and mum are safe and well, he’s beside me as we speak.
Denis> The score required both scale and restraint - it was important to craft it as a storytelling device, not just a standalone piece - I wanted it to embody the mood and aesthetic of the different locations as we pass through the dreamlike states. It wasn’t difficult, more of a puzzle to solve as the VFX, sound design and visuals came together.
Pete> The project was fairly ambitious for the time we had once the post started. We've been here before many times and love a creative challenge.The shots of Dónall walking in the fields were particularly difficult to achieve as the weather was all over the place on the shoot.
LBB> What was your favourite part to create?
Denis> I love the transition we created as the character jump cuts into the vast expanse of the west of Ireland, bursting through the smoke with gritty synths, only to morph into a softer, textural segment driven by live performances written and recorded of traditional fiddle.
Pete> The waterfall scene was really fun as it required a little on set rock puppeteering combined with CG elements and beautiful scenery on set. Dónall's performance was great too!
LBB> What was your reaction to the finished film?
Lorcan> I saw it so many times during post it's hard to tell! Ask me in a few months, haha. I'm grateful to have had so many great collaborators at every stage of the project. I also feel fortunate to have had such support from people like Ken Robertson in The Tenth Man and everyone at TG4.
Most of all, I'm proud we set out to make a film with a sense of ambition. I'd like to think we achieved something special in the end.
Denis> I was truly satisfied with the result - it was a major team effort from all corners to create something so technically complex while preserving the essence of the script. It’s easy to get lost in the magic of stunning audio visuals, but the story thankfully remained a focal point. It was an epic journey, and I think Lorcan Hynes, the director, achieved his vision perfectly.
Pete> We love the finished film. The creative, cinematography, sound design, music and VFX all really push this to another level, much greater than the sum of its parts.