Forward Festival 2021 Main Titles by Found: An interview
It’s here! The 2021 Forward Festival Main Titles by Found Studio just celebrated its release and wants to inspire people to keep moving. In this interview with Clayton Welham, creative director at Found Studio, he told us about the idea and concept behind the clip, technologies, and challenges his team faced when creating the Main Titles.
How did you come up with the idea for the main title sequence?
The idea for the titles comes as a direct response to Forward Festival, what it stands for and what it’s investigating, by way of the virtualization and digitization of our lives. That in itself is in response to our experiences over the last year, how we’ve adapted to living apart, yet staying connected – working remotely but still creating – we’ve well and truly crossed the line between real experiences and virtual experiences.
This line, the threshold between the real and the virtual, is a key part of our concept. The meeting point where spaces expand the minute we answer a video call or enter a gaming sphere. Our experiences in those moments mix — we see other spaces beyond the threshold, other people’s homes, other studios, other augmented layers, and increasingly other virtual representations of the people we know, wearing their virtual clothing and purchasing virtual art.
The line is blurred and we’re in.
Second, to this arena, the titles were an opportunity for us to explore the technologies at play. We now conduct our working days, share content, and enjoy and be entertained by the virtual experience. There is however no virtualization without the means to render and display pixels, and those pixels require a mechanism of delivery. Be it frame rates, screen Hz refresh rates, foveated rendering, AR layering, or full immersion into VR spaces, those mechanisms operate in a way that goes undetected. A digital illusion beyond our eye’s capabilities. Moving so fast, at such high frequencies we only ever get to (and are intended to) enjoy the bi-product. Smooth video playback, efficient rendering, and high resolutions result from these high-speed systems, which on reflection felt like an ‘other end of the spectrum’ juxtaposition to the frantic pace of sequential images and screen technologies racing to display content.
We wanted to dial the frequencies down, drop the frame rates, and look inside at the moving parts – the mechanisms under the virtual hood.
Throughout the sequence, we witness a build-up of pace, starting slow and aiming for the optimum speed whereby typography and the speakers’ names are presented to us with clarity.
What message do you want to convey to the viewer?
The concept that if it’s not moving then you can’t see it. As that speaks to all of our practice, whether in film, animation, XR, or simply scrolling the feeds.
Was there something unusual about this project compared to other jobs?
Technically we faced a number of challenges when it came to framing rates and physical motion blur techniques, but this is exactly what we wanted to face, given the freedom to explore our interests.
Did you experiment or try something new during the workflow?
In some ways, this project marks the beginnings of my journey at Found Studio and offered a way to demonstrate the kind of thinking, concept, and design-led approach I believe in – to start to underpinning Found Studio’s core offerings.
We’re in the latter stages of a rebrand as a studio and so we’re deep into conversations around the next chapter and how we represent that. Mine and the wider studio’s interests in graphic design coupled with filmmaking are coming into play, and it’s great to look at new ways of exploring that. In our new look, but also in our day-to-day practice too – we’re always looking for where we can bring an edge to a project, and how when we do – what that adds up to, and how it represents us.
Can you tell us more about the technical background?
This is a pure R&D project, which is what we love about it! Testing the concept within the boundaries of what our skills and systems could bring, meant that we learned a lot along the way. Utilizing cameras, sensors, and a whole variety of setting combinations, we investigated the world of the imperceptible. Pushing animations to huge frame rates, exploring practical setups of spinning lights in dark rooms, and research into high-speed physical machinery allowed us to immerse ourselves fully.
A mixture of C4D and Houdini, Octane, and Redshift allowed us to keep each of these experiments unique, and ensure variety through the sequence.
The typography plays a big role in this sequence too. A hero role. We worked through a number of fonts, and type systems to find the right tone, but also the right technical makeup to allow us to test and play out our mechanisms. Co-Type’s Coanda has the right mix of digital and contemporary finesse as a face, along with perfect horizontal, vertical, and 45-degree strokes. This allowed us to break it down into a modular system, into smaller parts with which we could start to run our mechanisms – bringing individual elements together, at pace, to recreate the whole.
What was the biggest challenge?
Time, always time. When you’re in the playground, time runs away – a sign we’re having fun, sure, but committing to exact sequence and shots turned out to be a big challenge! This wasn’t approached like a classic narrative piece with a storyboard, into previs, WIP, and finally render — this was all about R&D. But at the end of the day, we had a title sequence to make – so once we were confident that we had tested and learned from our processes, we were able to take the material and bring a striking sequence together, as one.
Tell us a little bit about the team behind the film – how many people were involved and how long did it take?
All in all, there were four of us, but really, this is hats off to two core members of the team, Olly Johnson and Ionut Lupu. With their technical experience and a keen eye for detail, we were able to find the right balance between R&D exploration and techniques that progressed the project. They really stepped up to the mark on this one and it was a pleasure to see them run with the concept and the new studio facet of design with typography. We like to think we’ve all learned a thing or two off the back of this one! The production time was about 2 months.
How did your workflow change in the past year?
Communication has been the key change. Shifting an entire studio to a work-from-home model is no mean feat. We knew that the continued success of the studio was dependent on the connection and commitment of the team to one another, to the projects, and to the growth of Found as a creative force. This, of course, saw us introduce the now universal tools of Slack, GSuite, and Zoom into the mix. This last year has been far more than an interruption to ‘old’ studio life though – it’s been a global health crisis, a pandemic that has affected the entire world. The importance of taking care of our team’s emotional, physical, and mental health has been utterly paramount – communicating daily on a personal level, as a group and individually, has seen us grow and progress in ways that we perhaps wouldn’t have a year ago. Regular check-ins, and junctions in the day have been added, so we can to the best of our ability emulate the idea of studio activity – crucially the ability to look across the room and see work being created on each other’s screens.
What technical challenges had to be mastered for the project?
The difficulty in creating works using technology is that, even though you have ideas, you sometimes cannot find suitable devices that have the required performance or that meet your financial requirements. For example, we couldn’t find a suitable brain wave headset for our latest project called ‘’ Say Superstrings’’. In similar situations, the project’s research and development is getting longer but the result, therefore, is getting perfect. In the end, you find the best option or solution in your project. Later, we found a brain headset developed in the U.S and we were finally able to carry out this project.
Did the pandemic have any influence on the project and the content of the film?
The pandemic had a very real-world effect on the project. As you know, this time last year, Helena Nattrass, our Head of Marketing, and Felix Jude West our Head of Production flew to Munich to present the teaser for our upcoming 2020 Forward Festival titles. They shared Found’s vision as a studio, before releasing a sneak peek of what was to come in Vienna. Hours after they’d finished the talk, however, Angela Merkel announced the lockdown and immediate cancellation of all events. Uh oh. The guys finished their drinks and scrambled to book a flight out of Germany to get back to the UK – just in time for the UK to announce its lockdown! In March 2020, we were in full swing with our title film, preparing for its launch in Vienna. The film focussed on our industry’s quest for photorealism, exploring and capturing the digitization process – seeing the world as a camera sees it. Little did we know then that for the next year of our lives, we would be forced to rely on seeing the world through a camera lens. Tied to our homes and laptops, the world over had to adjust to working and creating via Zoom. It’s wild looking back at it now – but 2020 changed our working processes for good, we took the spirit of Forward Festival and pushed on, prepping for the new world of working. With this came an idea. Facing a changed reality, we had to come to a decision – continue working on the 2020 titles, for release a year later in 2021, or start afresh. For us, it was a no-brainer. The world was evolving and the studio was adapting – our creative voice for the 2021 titles would rightly journey with it. Going back to the drawing-room, we pushed into the experience of pandemic life and landed on the key to our route – that of ‘junctions’ and ‘thresholds’ – we would commit to exploring the surreal meeting point between real and virtual experiences, a fitting quest for Forward and its remarkable journey in becoming a world-leading virtual event.
What makes a good story or film for you?
A good story for me is one that has some truth to it – even if that is used and broken. Good solid research and grounding in a place, scenario, or story that’s relatable. If a narrative, film, or artwork holds up on a second, third, or fourth viewing, inviting its audience to discover more each time – well then, that’s perfection. The detail and a level of complexity that asks viewers to question the work or the techniques used in its creation, will always get my vote.
For Found, it’s work that is brave, imaginative, and experimental – work that has taken a risk away from the norm and feels like the kind of spectrum end, to which we want our studio practice to balance. Achieving work like this though is only possible with a united and empowered team. Planning, production, artists, and direction all add up to pave the future path. As we continue to step through cgi, film craft, and design-led projects, it’s great to have this kind of benchmark to aim for. And when we hit that benchmark? We push forwards, we set our sights higher, and we evolve.