Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Storytelling, User Experience and Design Are the Key Drivers, Says AIRBAG

Production Company
Melbourne, Australia
Technology is the enabler that supports these key drivers in a project, discovers LBB’s Esther Faith Lew

AIRBAG’s expertise in the industry cuts across disciplines, lending to the “atypical” solutions that they are known for conjuring up. “Many of our clientele will be familiar with projects that win metal, such as Meet Graham, Play NZ, Made Possible By Melbourne or even Unescape Room,” says Steven Nicholson, head of experiential.

Their reputation has grown by virtue of a willingness to “take a risk on projects that have never been done before”, adds Steven, speaking volumes about their ability to tackle projects head on, both creatively and technically.

With this mindset in diversity, Steven emphasises that “storytelling, user experience and design drive our projects, not technology”. He elaborates that while one has to contend with tech trends, wondering what to do with them will not yield the desired results. “The projects that work really well are the ideas that focus on our shared humanity, and maybe, we find a new technology that leverages that connection between us in a surprising and delightful way,” he adds.

What has been exciting for AIRBAG to observe is the way technology has influenced the way more conventional media are produced. “Virtual production is now a huge part of our film methodology, and tools based on machine learning are firmly integrated into our VFX workflows,” he says.

Steven says that while technology trends are fun, it’s never lasting. For instance, NFTs were hot last year, but tanked this year. However, he noted there is now “a sort of renaissance for AR and VR in terms of Facebook rebooting the medium in the metaverse.”

Xero: An Imaginary, Abstract World

The latest brand TVC directed by Christopher Hill lent imagination into the world of Xero and its cloud-based accounting software. Christopher created an imaginary, abstract world to showcase an architect’s creative process while demonstrating Xero’s features, which enable better and easier business management.

Shares Christopher, “Directing ads for me is about problem solving to realise the concept or narrative in the best possible way, whilst trying to make the end product as entertaining as possible. I love building worlds and hopefully injecting a little something unexpected into what I do. It’s often difficult to sell people into something different to what they’ve seen before or I’ve personally created before, but I feel most excited when I’m out of my comfort zone and I feel being excited about a project is a great place to start for everyone.”

In the Xero TVC, Christopher created a concept that involved world building, integrated choreography and surreal visual humour. “Having complete access to AIRBAG’s internal VFX team from pitch to delivery meant that I could brainstorm and experiment with ideas all the way through the process. I think production, VFX and post-production should be looked at holistically no matter who or how many people and companies you are working with,” he adds.

In this alternative world, it had to feel like a “designer space”, and the team researched a variety of architectural styles before deciding on postmodernism, juxtaposed with some Mexican design and lightwork by Janes Turrell, shares Rob Ride, head of VFX. “The space we imagined was impossible to build for real so we decided to lean heavily on CGI. Everything except the people in this world were computer generated.”

To get started, Rob built a neon toolset within their 3D software, Houdini, which is built around the concept of proceduralism. It allowed 3D artists to create a procedure for a house model instead of jumping straight in and making a house, which would have to be done from scratch again if design changes were to be made.

“Our procedural neon tool could take any 3D model as an input and convert it to a structure built entirely of neon tubing, including the framework that holds the tubes and even the electrical wiring connecting each light. This meant we could output any number of objects for our world quickly and make changes on the fly all the way through the production and right up to the last few days with very little effort or time,” says Rob.

To finish it up on shoot day, Rob says they used a technique called photogrammetry and took a series of high-resolution photos from every angle around a subject, and then fed them into a programme called metashape. Metashape calculates exactly where these photos were taken in relation to each other and generates a super-high-resolution 3D model, complete with coloured textures of the object.

“We used these models for the closing effect of the TVC, where our characters spin on the spot and transform into objects from the designer’s office,”  says Rob. “The actors on the day just danced on the spot and we matched our 3D versions of them to their poses, swapping them out and reanimating them to move how we saw fit.

“Getting off to such a great start, the post-production period became less of a technical exercise for us and more of a creative experience in exploring design ideas with Chris and the agency, and in throwing up options until we closed in on something we’re all very proud of.”

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