• Timelapse of supermarket ident set build and motion-control rig

2013
Friday 22nd Feb

ManvsMachine

1.4 talks with Mike Alderson about making those fabulously intricate and clever idents for Channel 4 and more...

Who makes up the core of ManvsMachine? Or do you hide behind the brand? We love the moniker, how did that come about?

We do like the idea of being a slightly unknown quantity, and are always flattered when people assume we are a larger agency. The studio started out with just myself and co-founder Tim Swift six years ago, and since then we have evolved into a core family of 10 people working closely together on some really great projects. The name ManvsMachine relates to the way we work… ideas informing technique, technique informing ideas. It’s our task to find the correct balance for each project.

You’re brilliant at motion graphics, and it’s CGI with soul and original creativity. What is the process with coming up with these ideas – is it around-the-table brainstorming or do certain creatives go away and play and the best idea wins? At what point does everyone collaborate?

It’s pretty informal, and does generally start with a round-the-table discussion, then we all go away and play around individually before reconvening a day or so later to filter the madness into one or two focussed ideas we can take forward collectively. Ideally the client will become involved in part of the conversation sooner rather than later, as more often that not, the real battle lies in the ivory towers of an organisation, who our client will have to ultimately sell the idea in to.

Can you tell us about the process of creating your pieces please? Is it a team of many beavering night and day on After Effects for months on end? A lot of your work has a man-made craft feeling to it – the More 4 Rebrand for instance. Is having a human element integral to your work?

Projects vary wildy from a single 10 second spot that might take three weeks, to an 8 month TV network rebrand with 200+ deliverables. More 4 is a good example of the latter as we were responsible for every single element, starting with the design of the logo, moving on to typographic systems with a custom built font by Darden Studio, then into the motion design and ‘look’ development, which as you mentioned is where we see the opportunity to add a tactile warmth and charm to something that is otherwise very graphic and abstract. Thanks to Chris Wood and Louise Oliver at Channel4 we were allowed to take this principle to the extreme with the More4 idents, with mechanical ‘flippers’ built by Jason Bruges Studio that we shot in live-action in various locations, using no CGI at all.

We rarely work late, and we don’t work weekends as a rule, we just work hard during studio hours. Our main tools are pens, pencils, cameras, Adobe CS, Cinema4D, Vray and PG Tips.

Little details, for instance the butterflies flying around in the 4Seven series give the work real depth. How many layers make up a piece? Is it a mix of film (green screened?), photography, and CGI?

It’s those little touches that often cause most debate actually, we usually do a few too many CG / comp extras then strip it back to the minimum so that it doesn’t become gimmicky. The butterflies are actually the only animated CG element in that particular ident, whereas motorway was a CG build with hi-res stills of Spaghetti Junction (shot from a helicopter) mapped onto 3D geometry.

Does a piece evolve in the making? Some are so intricate that surely it’s difficult to visualise the final work from the beginning?

Definitely. Most projects are in a constant state of development until delivery, it’s often the happy accidents that create the most interesting visuals of all.

Is there a brand you’d love to rebrand ?

It’s a long shot, but it would be pretty special to ‘rebrand’ a country: from designing the flag and currency, to the state TV network and commissioning Chilly Gonzales to write the national anthem.

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