3FM’s musical makeover

Three stylish spots herald a new look for Dutch radio station 3FM with Brazilian post/fx houses Nakd and Lobo conjuring up some magic tricks.

The Ebeling Group – a US-based production company that represents numerous international design collectives and directors – has recently wrapped a three-spot campaign for Amsterdam-based radio station 3FM.

Commissioned through advertising agency Bates Not Just Film in Amsterdam, the 30-second spots feature live-action scenes gradually taken over by animated graphics, which spew out of stereo speakers and headphones tuned to 3FM. Music from The White Stripes, 50 Cent, and DJ Tiesto provide the soundtracks.

Two Ebeling Group companies, Brazilian-based Nakd and Lobo, directed and completed the post and visual-effects work for the commercials. Lobo worked on two of the three spots – entitled Rainbow and Alarm Clock, while Nakd was responsible for Graffiti as well as a redesign of the 3FM Radio logo.

According to Mick Ebeling, executive producer at The Ebeling Group, the biggest challenge was the project’s short schedule. Nakd spent four weeks redesigning the radio station’s logo, which left just two weeks to complete concept, shooting, post, and animation for the three spots. Despite the truly international nature of the project, distance and time differences never proved an issue. “The reality is that we’re so used to working with international clients that it’s become second nature to us,” says Ebeling. “Our team is used to adjusting our schedules accordingly so the client never even mentions the distance factor once the project has started.”

Logo redesign

The Bates agency kicked started the project by providing Nakd with details of 3FM and how it had been perceived in recent years, along with the radio station’s goals for its new look logo.

“It’s quite a challenge to work with an already established logo that has some sort of acceptance and success among the public,” says Nando Costa, creative director of Nakd. “It was clear that the process would be beneficial for the client, but it was also obvious that it was going to be a long path before we found the perfect new logo that had enough character to translate these new values to the public.”

Following many conversations with the client and agency, each of Nakd’s designers came up with a different solution to the brand redesign. After further talks with the client, the final logo direction was chosen. The honour went to Nakd’s senior designer, Linn Olofsdotter, who then finalized the artwork of the logo.

She created most of the illustrations in the Grafitti spot in the same style to connect more strongly with the logo.

Graffiti graphics

“Even though we had numerous references to work with, we wanted to create new graphic elements that didn’t have any relationship whatsoever with the graffiti scene,” explains Costa. “We then used those as our primary elements and integrated them with iterations of more traditionally recognizable graffiti graphics. The combination seems to be really successful and original.”

To the tune of 50 Cent’s In Da Club, Graffiti opens on a grey urban city scene with a group of kids huddling on a street corner listening to a radio. One of them turns up the volume, which unleashes spray paint-inspired graphics that burst out of the radio and into the street. These colourful elements zigzag across buildings, transforming everything in their path. A girl becomes an animé character in hot pants, while an old car turns into a pimp mobile.

Nakd began by developing the script for the spot with the agency, then storyboarded to make sure all the live-action elements were put into place, and that the effect of the graphics covering the city easily understood. These hand-drawn frames were presented along with a few style frames and initial sketches of the graphics, which helped to define the final look of the piece. However, says Costa, much of what can be seen in the final spot was created as the work progressed, which gave the ad a more spontaneous look.

Compositing the live action with the animated graphics was quite problematic, he recalls, partly because of the way Nakd chose to shoot the live-action.

“All of our footage was acquired with a digital-still camera – a Nikon D100. By sequencing the extremely large stills, we were able to create that jumpy effect but also navigate within each photograph, which gave us so much more control over the way each shot was framed and how zooms happened in each scene,” he explains. “We could have simulated a similar effect by editing a fluid DV or film material, but we thought it wouldn’t have had the same effect.”

However, this method meant the team had to track most of the graphics manually. Initially they used Discreet’s 3DS Max to composite the graphics, which had already been animated in Adobe After Effects. “We later realized that this process was overly time-consuming, so we completed the spot entirely in After Effects,” explains Costa. “Some of the elements were created using cell animation process, which is basically drawing frame-by-frame.”

Plan ahead

Extensive pre-production and pre-planning was the key to Lobo’s handling of the two other spots for 3FM. Alarm Clock opens in a bedroom as the alarm goes off. White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army is playing on the radio as the bedroom walls start to shake, and globs of fluorescent colour ooze from the wallpaper and transform the room. The man in the bed jumps up and starts cranking out air guitar riffs in a Jack White impersonation.

In Rainbow, a skyscraper rooftop is transformed to a dance party as a woman listens to 3FM on her headphones. As she dances, animated laser lights start to fly around her, and soon the rooftop is transformed into a full-fledged disco, complete with strobe lights and partygoers.

“We wanted the visuals to be directly connected to the musical segment it approached. On the Alarm Clock spot, because it was related to alternative-rock music, we used references from punk-rock graphics, such as record sleeves, posters, and fanzines, dating back to the late 70s; whereas on Rainbow, which featured music from DJ Tiesto and was related to dance and club music, we went with a more futuristic and colourful look,” says Mateus Santos, creative director of Lobo.

Having discussed the script with the agency and among its own team, Lobo kicked off the project with style-frames and storyboards for the two spots and then created 3D animatics of the shots and camera movements.

The live-action for the ads was shot and offline edits completed for the agency’s approval before the animation was begun. The 2D and 3D graphics were created in Alias Maya and Adobe After Effects, with extensive use made of AE expressions and MEL scripting says Santos. “We’re particularly fond of those complex chaotic patterns they can generate,” he says.

The live action for Alarm Clock was shot with a handheld camera in 35mm and super 8 formats, which caused a few headaches when adding the graphics says Santos. “This was particularly the case with the super 8 material, which is even more shaky,” he explains. “We had to first stabilize the shots, then track it, add the graphics, then take the stabilizer off. Also, we wanted it to look kind of rough, in the way that our punk-rock references were, so we had to add extra textures to the graphics.”

Rainbow was shot in 35mm using chroma-key backgrounds. “We wanted a sharper and cleaner look for this spot, which made it more challenging in many ways,” says Santos. “First, we had to create a complete CGI scenario for some shots, which had to look real at first, and then be completely transformed. Second, we didn’t have motion control, and we shot at a relatively small studio. So in the last shot, for instance, to create that long rooftop camera movement, we had to continue the movement with animation, from where the live-action one stopped. Because it wasn’t a programmed movement, but operated live, some shaking happened along the way, needing correction. Having everything perfectly motion-tracked was pretty tough.”

To complete the tracking, 2D3 Boujou software was used on both spots and Motion Equalizer for the last shot of Rainbow.

While Santos acknowledges that both ads feature top-notch effects and fulfilled the client’s brief, the team particularly enjoyed working on Alarm Clock.

“Maybe because we’re all rock-and-roll nerds,” he says. “Every single person on our team was engaged and really excited about the job. We also think the style of those graphics is rather original.”

Project: 30-second TV spots - Graffiti, Alarm Clock, Rainbow
Client: 3FM Radio
Agency: Bates Amsterdam
Post/FX: Nakd, Lobo

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