The Machine Room keeps its design pure and simple for DVD menus.

The original brief was extremely open; it stressed that the menus should be interactive and engaging, crisp and clean, and that they should highlight the core themes of the film,” says Tony Bradley, DVD production director of The Machine Room about the facility’s latest job – producing the DVD for the hit film Love Actually.

Pitching against two rival houses, The Machine Room submitted three different concepts created by its inhouse design team to the film’s producers, Universal Pictures International. These were in turn passed to the film’s writer and director Richard Curtis who had the final decision on which concept was chosen. “We decided to submit a number of concepts by different members of our team as this is a strategy which has worked well for us in the past and it proved successful once again on this project,” says Bradley.

According to Bradley, the project’s challenge was in making menus that stood out creatively yet were simple in concept and would work for the foreign versions. Some of the original concepts from the film’s release, namely the shattered heart logo and the striking white, black and red colouring had to be incorporated into the design.

“The most challenging aspect was to think of a way of dealing with the identification with the film and its strong characters in an innovative way, without simply exploiting the cast, something which our designers felt was too obvious,” he explains.

The team decided to use objects such as the shattered heart, the necklace, and an electric guitar, which they felt were central to the main characters’ storylines, against a white background. The menus were conceptualized and planned by The Machine Room’s senior designer, David Earls, using a mix of storyboarding, digital photography of real world objects, and graphics that encompassed the original artwork.

“We decided to create the objects in 3D as it would allow more control over how they looked, how they were lit and how they behaved within the environments,” explains Bradley. “As we didn’t have actual props for some of the items we had no choice but to recreate them.”

The 3D work was outsourced to The Machine Room’s sister company, The Hive. “We’ve collaborated with them on many projects and know they’ll deliver the goods,” says Bradley. “As they’re in the same building as us, David Earls was able to keep a close eye on the progress of the 3D design work.”

The Hive spent six weeks creating the 3D elements for the menus. Objects were modelled, animated and lit in Maya and then rendered with Pixar’s RenderMan. Initially the models were created as simple polygons shapes, which were then converted into subdivision surfaces. “This gives the models smooth surfaces that can be efficiently rendered with RenderMan,” says James Niklasson, director of the The Hive. “We use RenderMan because it’s stable, fast and efficient, and offers controlled raytraced reflections and global illumination which Maya and other packages cannot give,” he adds.

The finished 3D animations were passed to The Machine Room, where they were imported into After Effects for final menu creation.

Once completed, they were exported as an uncompressed QuickTime codec and played out to Digibeta for delivery to the client. To ensure the menus were incorporated into the final project correctly, the final assets were delivered as part of a kit that included typographic, colour and highlight overlay references.

Design: The Machine Room, 020 7734 3433

3D work: The Hive, 020 7565 1000