Your Shot: TalkTalk’s Interactive X Factor
As X Factor reaches its tenth anniversary (yes ten whole years of Simon Cowell; it makes us feel old too), sponsor TalkTalk has ramped up its interactive adbreak advertising. In previous years, they’ve got the British public to dance and sing in front of millions at Saturday night prime time. As the show celebrates a decade on air, TalkTalk is again inviting fans of the TV show to battle it out for national air time - but this time they’ve been set the task to get creative with a professionally directed music video. Believe Media’s Sammy Rawal has shot a promo that viewers can alter and personalise on a specially made app from CHI&Partners and MPC Creative. The best content will then be used as idents during live shows of the X Factor. LBB’s Addison Capper spoke with CHI&Partners creative director Micky Tudor, digital creative director Chad Warner, Believe Media executive producer Rory Fry and MPC Senior Digital Producer Dan Phillips to talk technicalities of blending high-end production values with user-generated content.
CHI&Partners’ Micky Tudor and Chad Warner
LBB> What was the brief like from TalkTalk and X Factor? What were you thinking when you saw it?
MT> Some briefs are head scratchy and uninspiring, while others make you want to jump up and get working straight away. This was one of those. As simple as it was challenging, TalkTalk wanted its sponsorship to bring the excitement of The X Factor to everyone.
LBB> X Factor and TalkTalk have always been keen to get the audience involved. How much of a challenge was it to increase that?
CW> This was a big and small challenge at the same time. We think this sponsorship is at its best when it allows the nation to share in its love for The X Factor, so developing an idea that made that happen was the easy bit. The real challenge was doing something that felt modern, multichannel and really blurred the lines between TV and the web.
LBB> What was the starting point for increasing it?
CW> The starting point was creating something fans could never do on their own, and that we’ve never seen done before. That meant exploring the core concepts of the most modern experiences we have today, from mobile to social to emerging trends like Tinder. One key trend we saw was people being more open and public with their activities, which brought us to the idea of multi-person videos and adding performances from people you don’t know – leading us to a very new-world experiment which pushes new principles of community in advertising. The multi-person videos obviously increase fans’ chances of being on TV too, which is also cool.
LBB> Why did you work with Sammy Rawal for this project?
MT> Watch out for Sammy. He is a brilliant new director from Toronto who we’ve had our eye on for a while now. This was the perfect job for him. He has a photographic background, a music video background and geeky tech is second nature to him.
LBB> What did he bring to the final production?
MT> Sammy’s easy, collaborative style was essential on a project where the lines blur between what is a film and what is not. Many of his ideas were of course not actually shot. They were just coding. So in the end he was as much part of the creative team here, alongside myself, Chad, Matt Searle and Sarah Levitt, as he was part of the technology team at MPC, as he was a music video director.
LBB> In terms of strategy, how are you hoping to reach out to people and encourage them to get involved?
CW> In many ways. The idents are brilliant for getting the word out to a vast audience. Every week we’ll have millions of eyeballs seeing what they can do with the app while watching The X Factor. But the app also creates a full HD video which is sharable across Facebook, Twitter and Google+. And this year each video has its own page which people can share any way they want. We’ve also worked closely with TalkTalk’s social agency ArtScience. They’ve done a brilliant job of mapping out a stream of exclusive content, contests and weekly themes to inspire fans – driving them back to ‘Mix Off’ and hopefully flooding the gallery with loads of brilliant video mixes.
LBB> Who did you work with to develop the actual app?
CW> CHI&Partners London designed and developed the entire experience in partnership with MPC. From the edits to the app to the website and the back-end tech, MPC were in every sense the perfect integrated partner to create such a complex, interwoven, boundary-pushing platform.
LBB> What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
CW> There were many challenges, as this level of complexity has never really been attempted before in an app. Shooting and editing eight different ad styles that needed to work with any track and feature up to four people was a massive challenge. Each edit works differently depending on the number of people in it, and has five different filters for users to choose from. Add in user-generated footage and you have to come up with some mind-boggling tech to ensure a brilliant video at the end.
Believe Media’s Rory Fry
LBB> Why did the brief from CHI seem like something you wanted to get stuck into?
RF> It was a great brief really as it gave us the opportunity to bring elements of music video to the sponsorship ident, along with the user generated interactive element via the apps. We knew it would be a great opportunity to collaborate with CHI and MPC on a campaign that extended beyond the TVC. We also had a feeling it would be a campaign that the X Factor audience would really embrace and that they would really go all out in creating their own music videos.
LBB> What kind of pre-production and research was involved?
RF> As the brief was pretty open in terms of the themes for each mini-music video Sammy had lots of ideas. It was a question of narrowing those down to the strongest group and working with MPC as early as the treatment stage
to make sure that the theme of each ident would translate as an app. We had to make sure the themes represented a broad range of musical genres from urban to pop. That broadness was also part of the appeal of the brief.
LBB> What added challenges does working on an interactive film like this entail?
RF> We mapped out which elements would be user-generated or provided as part of the template in the app and then broke that down into whether that was something that needed to be shot or created in post. For us that doesn’t really present added challenges. I think it’s something we’re used to doing - particularly on post-heavy jobs. I would say that MPC took on most of the added challenges and made sure it was a smooth process for us.
When you are delivering something that is going to have an element of user-generated content you have no idea what the users will come up with. So there’s an element outside of our control, but the rewards of that are seeing how people engage with it. We’re hoping we’ve played a part in helping give them the tools to be creative.
LBB> How was the shoot in general? How long was it?
RF> The shoot itself took three days. Two of those days were on location filming the template elements for the app. The third day was in the studio with performers, in order to shoot demo videos to go online so users could see what each theme looked like.
LBB> What were the trickiest components of the production? How did you overcome them?
RF> When you have seven mini music videos to create you obviously have a lot to get through so that can be tricky in itself, but that’s production! We had everything planned out with CHI and MPC, and aside from having to swap our schedule around to factor in a thunderstorm, it all went pretty smoothly.
MPC’s Dan Phillips
LBB> How difficult was it mastering both high-end production and user-generated content together? Have you ever worked like that before?
DP> Working with these fantastic-looking videos and making them integrate with potentially thousands of different user generated combinations, was a first for us and not something we've seen before in terms of app creation. The app combines advanced iOS and Android development, with never-before-attempted server-side rendering of multiple visual effects to really push technical and creative boundaries.
The varying resolution quality of the UGC itself generally requires a bespoke level of care and handcrafted attention to make it look just right. So automating the process, and effectively making users directors and VFX producers of their own high-end music videos, was a huge challenge. That is before we even began to bring in the capability to mix in UGC from any other user. The key to the approach was in replicating the handcrafted process of precise VFX in layer after layer of code and tailored effects in a dedicated, purpose built render farm, optimised for these processes only. The apps' job was to let users create and remix their videos within a user-friendly experience. The render farm had to take masses of complex data, push it through multiple layers of complex code in seconds, and push back a perfectly synched and polished video for the user to enjoy and share.
LBB> How early on were you involved?
DP> We were involved pretty much from the inception of the project. We helped with CHI’s initial creative vision for ‘Mix Off’, and defined the parameters of what might be technically possible in integrating the optimum digital experience, while helping to ensure maximum room for creativity in terms of the music video production. This included defining the user experience across all digital platforms, as well as working with Sammy to help mould the visual treatments for the music videos into approaches that would maintain creative excitement whilst being achievable as visual effects templates. It was crucial to bring our expertise in digital and VFX from the very outset to achieve the highest possible output in both areas.
LBB> What kind of research was involved?
DP> All sorts. From researching the most creative uses of UGC in high-end video production values, through to exploring the very latest in render engine capabilities. There are plenty of great examples of apps that allow users to create, filter and customise videos and imagery, and countless iconic music videos. Merging the two meant investigating every avenue and combination of delivery, from in-app rendering and video manipulation, to server side solutions, and virtually every option in between. We also used our experiences from our ground-breaking TalkTalk TV Heads project (again alongside CHI) from two years ago to highlight challenges, potential pitfalls and approaches to avoid or repeat.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
DP> Keeping the consistency of user experience and functionality across both app platforms simultaneously was something we had to get completely spot-on. Achieving automated VFX processes in super quick times, as well as managing high levels of traffic that were all making similar requests for data to our servers at the same time became quite tricky at times. Luckily, we were able to find solutions and work through the challenges by maintaining a very close relationship with CHI – we had the freedom to try out different scenarios and undergo a huge amount of R&D to get the project right.
Category: Consumer Electronics , Mobile Network
Genre: Visual VFX