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Designing media?

So we made a film with Dentsu London called Making Future Magic: light painting with the iPad. “Making Future Magic” is Dentsu London’s big creative statement.

The film was crazy popular, a million views in 2 weeks, and played out on national TV.

It showed a novel technique mixing light painting and stop animation. And it’s beautiful to watch!

More than the film…

If you’re a fan, you can get the music from iTunes (and read the liner notes).

Or you can buy the print-on-demand book, which collects the best still images, and adds behind-the-scenes photos.

Now if you want to get involved, meet Penki! Penki is an iPhone app to help you create the same light painting you saw in the film. There’s a Penki Flickr group so you can share photos. Or you can use it in your personal projects.

Beyond these, there are two other films: Media Surfaces: Incidental Media and Media Surfaces: the Journey. Where the light painting film communicates a brand through technique and aesthetics, these are video sketches that put forward concepts as discussion points.

And there’s been a lot of really good discussion.

What’s going on here?

A communication film. Music and a book for fans to purchase. An iPhone app to do it yourself, and a place to socialise. Two video sketches, and a broad discussion.

What I think we’re doing is designing media.

It’s not like the old days where you just had TV or radio or newspaper, and you were stuck in a “broadcast” world or a “visual” world or whatever.

Now every element of this Making Future Magic project contributes to a brand space which has been designed to be a beautiful spectacle but also inviting to fans and people who want to join in, with a sprinkling of conversation starter.

Instead of thinking about a film, what we’re really thinking about is the relationship between Dentsu London and its audience/friends/coinhabitants-of-the-world!

And given that relationship, we consider what artefacts can we drop in and what media we can use to build the relationship, create a conduit for conversation, and demonstrate Dentsu London’s very particular brand of Making Future Magic.

We create content and create media all at once.

Mix and match! It feels like cooking up a potion. Designing media.

Media Surfaces: The Journey

Following iPad light painting, we’ve made two films of alternative futures for media. These continue our collaboration with Dentsu London and Timo Arnall. We look at the near future, a universe next door in which media travels freely onto surfaces in everyday life. A world of media that speaks more often, and more quietly.

“The Journey” is the second ‘video sketch’ in the pair with ‘Incidental Media’ – this time looking at the panoply of screens and media surfaces in a train station, and the opportunities that could come from looking at them slightly differently.

The Journey

The other film can be seen here.

There’s no real new technology at play in any of these ideas, just different connections and flows of information being made in the background – quietly, gradually changing how screens, bits of print ephemera such as train tickets, and objects in the world can inter-relate to make someone’s journey that bit less stressful, that bit more delightful.

There’s a lot in there – so I wanted to unpack a few of the moments in the film in this (rather long!) blog post and examine them a bit.

The film can be divided into two halves – our time in the station, and our time on the train.

The train journey itself is of course the thing at the centre of it all – and we’re examining how what we know about the journey – and the train itself, in some cases – can pervade the media surfaces involved in ways that are at once a little less ‘utilitarian’ and a little more, well, ‘useful’…

The first group of interventions could be characterised as the station wrapping around you, helping you get to your seat, on your train, for your journey, with the least stress.

Let’s start at the ticket machine.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: ticket vending

The screen supposes two things – that it knows where it is (it doesn’t move around much) and it knows where your train (in this case, “Arthur” – trains are people too!) is leaving from, and when. So why not do a simple bit of reassurance here? It’s twenty minutes to Arthur’s departure and it’s a 3 minute walk.

You’ve got 17 minutes to play with! Get a sandwich? A coffee? Or go and find your seat…

Before we do that I just want to point our something about the ticket machine itself…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: ticket machines that calm down the queue

There’s the screen we’ve been interacting with to get our ticket, but there’s also a LED scroller above that.

As you can see in the concept sketch below, we’ve supposed that the scroller could give reassurance to the people in the queue behind you – maybe displaying the average turn-around-time of serving tickets to travellers, so if there is a queue, you’ll know how quickly it might move.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Screens for the queue & you

I think when I was drawing this I had in mind the awesome-but-as-yet-unrealised scheme by Lisa Strausfeld and Pentagram NYC for a videowall in Penn Station.

I think I first saw this presented by Lisa Strausfeld at a conference some 8 or so years ago now, but it’s still wonderful. The large video wall has loads of different layers of information kind of interpolated and displayed all at once, at different ‘resolutions’.

So that if you’re approaching the station from down the street you read some overall information about the running of the station that day, and the time, and as you get closer you see news and stock prices, then closer again and you actually see the train times when you get close enough to crane your neck up at them.

Really clever, and a huge influence on us. The notion of several ‘reads’ of the information being presented on the same surface – if handled well, as in the Pentagram proposal – can be very powerful.

We’ve taken a much less high-tech approach, using the multitude of existing screens in the station, but staging the information they present intelligently in a similar way as you approach the platform and your train itself.

For instance, little messages on concourse screens about how busy the station is overall that morning…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Stations that talk to you

As we get to our platform we get the message that the train is going to pretty full but the station systems know where the bulk of reserved seats are, and can give us a little timely advice about where to hunt for a free place to sit…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Platforms that talk to you

We’ve hinted in this image at a little bit of nice speculative quiet new technology that could be placed by the station workers: magnetically-backed e-ink signs – again displaying reassuring information about where the busy portions of the train will be.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Expectation-Setting

These little inventions have hopefully got you to your train (Arthur, remember?) on time, and in a more of a relaxed state of mind. So, as we board the train we might have time to note that this is Arthur’s favourite route…

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Arthur's favourite journey

If not, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a functional improvement to your journey but these touches lead to an appreciation of the service’s scale or reach and, if you are a regular traveller, inject a bit of recognition and delight into the otherwise routine.

Once onboard, we continue to explore opportunities for these incidental, different reads of information to both inform and delight.

In the first film ‘Incidental Media’, we introduce the concept of “Print can be quick” – looking at all the printed ephemera around us and how it can be treated as a media surface for more personalised, contextualised or rapidly-updated information.

After all, most of the printed matter associated with a train journey is truly print-on-demand: your tickets, your receipts and, as in this example, the printed reservation stub placed on the seat by the train attendants.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Can I sit here?

Here we wanted to look to the reassurances and reads that one takes of the reservation stubs as you move down the carriage – either with a reserved seat to find, or perhaps without a reservation on a busy train, opportunistically looking for an unoccupied seat that might be reserved for a latter portion of the train’s total journey.

In one of our concept sketches below we’re exploring that first case – could your ticket be the missing jigsaw piece to the reservation stub?

A bit Willy Wonka magic ticket!

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Reservations sketch

Privacy would be preserved by just using your first initial – printed large with salutations, attracting your eye easily to zero in on your seat as perhaps you struggle down the aisle with your baggage.

The final version used in the film takes this on board, but balances it a little more with the second use-case, that of the opportunistic search for a free seat by someone without a reservation. To answer that case, the portion of the journey that the seat is occupied for is clearly legible, whereas the initials of the traveller are only visible on scrutiny.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Reservations sketch

If it is indeed your reserved seat, on closer scrutiny you’ll also notice the weather forecast for your destination…

Again – worth noting brilliant past work in this area that’s an influence on this idea. Our friend Brian Suda’s redesign of an airline boarding pass that uses typographical hierarchy of the printed object to reassure and delight.

Here you can see that the time of your flight is clearly visible even if your boarding pass is on the floor.

Lovely stuff.

Finally, some pure whimsy!

We wanted again to examine the idea that print can be nimble and quick and delightful – creating new forms of post-digital ephemera for collecting or talking about.

First of all, using the ticket to introduce you again to Arthur, your train, and perhaps extending that to recognising the last time you travelled together.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: Train factoids

But let’s go further.

We know that we’re going to be passing certain places at certain times, to some accuracy, during our journey.

The burgeoning amount of geo-located data about our environment means we could look to provide snippets from Wikipedia perhaps, with timings based on how they intersect with your predicted journey time – alerting you to interesting sights just as they pass by your window.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: paper-based AR

These tiny, personalised, collectable paper-spimes provide a kind of papernet augmented-reality – giving a routine journey an extra layer of wonder and interest.

Media Surfaces: The Journey: paper-based AR

As with “Incidental Media”, we’ve tried in “The Journey” to illustrate ‘polite media’ tightly bound to and complimenting one’s context. Media that lives and thrives usefully in the interstices and intervals of everyday routine and technology – indeed ‘making future magic’ instead of the attention arms race that the near-future of urban screens and media could potentially devolve into.

The Journey is brought to you by Dentsu London and BERG. Beeker has written about the films here.

Thank you to Beeker Northam (Dentsu London), and Timo Arnall, Campbell Orme, Matt Brown, and Jack Schulze!

Media Surfaces: Incidental Media

Following iPad light painting, we’ve made two films of alternative futures for media. These continue our collaboration with Dentsu London and Timo Arnall. We look at the near future, a universe next door in which media travels freely onto surfaces in everyday life. A world of media that speaks more often, and more quietly.

Incidental Media is the first of two films.

The other film can be seen here.

Each of the ideas in the film treat the surface as a focus, rather than the channel or the content delivered. Here, media includes messages from friends and social services, like foursquare or Twitter, and also more functional messages from companies or services like banks or airlines alongside large traditional big ‘M’ Media (like broadcast or news publishing).

All surfaces have access to connectivity. All surfaces are displays responsive to people, context, and timing. If any surface could show anything, would the loudest or the most polite win? Surfaces which show the smartest most relevant material in any given context will be the most warmly received.

Unbelievably efficient

I recently encountered this mixing in surfaces. An airline computer spoke to me through SMS. This space is normally reserved for awkwardly typed highly personal messages from friends. Not a conversational interface with a computer. But now, those pixels no longer differentiate between friends, companies and services.

Mixing Media

How would it feel if the news ticker we see as a common theme in broadcast news programmes begun to contain news from services or social media?

Media Surfaces mixed media

I like the look of it. The dominance of linear channel based screens is distorted as it shares unpredictable pixels and a graphic language with other services and systems.

Ambient listening

This screen listens to its environment and runs an image search against some of the words it hears. I’ve long wanted to see what happens if the subtitles feed from BBC television broadcast content was tied to an image search.

Media Surfaces ambient listening

It feels quite strange to have a machine ambiently listening to words uttered even if the result is private and relatively anodyne. Maybe it’s a bit creepy.

Print can be quick

This sequence shows a common receipt from a coffee shop and explores what happens when we treat print as a highly flexible, context-sensitive, connected surface, and super quick by contrast to say video in broadcast.

Media Surfaces print can be quick 01

The receipt includes a mayorship notification from foursquare and three breaking headlines from the Guardian news feed. It turns the world of ticket machines, cash registers and chip-and-pin machines into a massive super-local, personalised system of print-on-demand machines. The receipt remains as insignificant and peripheral as it always has, unless you choose to read it.

Computer vision

The large shop front shows a pair of sprites who lurk at the edges of the window frames. As pedestrians pass by or stand close, the pair steal colours from their clothes. The sketch assumes a camera to read passers-by and feed back their colour and position to the display.

Media Surfaces computer vision 01

Computer vision installations present interesting opportunities. Many installations demand high levels of attention or participation. These can often be witty and poetic, as shown here by Matt Jones in a point of sale around Lego.

We’ve drawn from great work from the likes of Chris O’Shea and his Hand from Above project to sketch something peripheral and ignorable, but still at scale. The installation could be played with by those having their colours stolen, but it doesn’t demand interaction. In fact I suspect it would succeed far more effectively for those viewing from afar with no agency over the system at all.

In contrast to a Minority Report future of aggressive messages competing for a conspicuously finite attention, these sketches show a landscape of ignorable surfaces capitalising on their context, timing and your history to quietly play and present in the corners of our lives.

Incidental Media is brought to you by Dentsu London and BERG. Beeker has written about the films here.

Thank you to Beeker Northam (Dentsu London), and Timo Arnall, Campbell Orme, Matt Brown, and Matt Jones!

Making Future Magic: the book

There were an awful lot of photos taken for the Making Future Magic video that BERG and Dentsu London launched last week; Timo reckons he shot somewhere in the region of 5500 shots. Stop-frame animation is a very costly process in the first instance, but as the source we were shooting was hand held (albeit with locked-off cameras) and had only the most rudimentary of motion-control (chalk lines, black string and audio progress cues), if a frame was poorly exposed, obscure or fumbled, it left the sequence largely unusable. This meant that a lot was left on the cutting room floor.

In addition, we amassed a stack of incidental pictures of props, setups, mistakes, 3D tests and amphibious observers during the film’s creation.

Clicking through these pictures, it was clear that a book collecting some of these pictures, offering little behind-the-scenes glimpses alongside the finished graded stills used in the final edit, was the way forward. As well as offering a platform for some of the shots that didn’t make the final cut, the static prints want to be pored over, allowing for the finer details and shades (the animations themselves had textures and colours burnt into them in prior to shooting, so as to add a disruptive quality) to come through.

Our copies arrived today from Blurb. The print quality and stock is fantastic – especially considering it’s an on-demand service – and for us it’s great to have a little summary of a project that doesn’t require any software or legacy codecs to view it and will remain ‘as is’. We’ve made the book available to the public and in two formats; you can get your hands on the hardcover edition here, and the softcover here.

More images of the book are up here.

Making Future Magic – a bit about the music

Some of you might have seen this film we released with our friends from Dentsu London the other day. At the time of writing, it’s had over half a million views. Whoa.

Also, a few people have been asking about the music we used, so I thought I’d chat a little bit about it. We wrote it ourselves, here in the studio. I pasted it all together, with direction and input from Schulze, Timo, Beeker and the rest of the Dentsu crew.

Some of the best bits about working at BERG are how everyone, despite having particular specialist skills, gleefully ignores boundaries, disciplines, labels and predefined processes, and allows themselves space to just run with things when they get excited. Deciding to do the music for the first Making Future Magic film ourselves was one of those moments.

“Yeah, so who are your influences then?”

About ten days ago, after the animation had reached a final(ish) edit, I happened to overhear Schulze, Timo and Cam batting a few ideas around about potential soundtrack music. I hadn’t really been involved in the project so far, but at this point I dropped what I was doing, went a bit Barry from High Fidelity, and started throwing some MP3s at them.

Over that afternoon, we chewed on some of Aphex Twin’s prepared piano robotics; the sinister, codeine-fuelled fizzes of Oneohtrix Point Never; the anodyne, bleepy piano washes of Swod and Jan Jelinek; the fuzzy felt collages of The Focus Group; the tranquil-yet-demented drone of Mandelbrot Set; Finnish free jazz kraut-metallers Circle; ultra-hip dub-glitchers Mount Kimbie; the electric guitar symphonies of Glenn Branca; some Eno-squelched dulcimer by Laraaji; downright weirdness by Basil Kirchin, and of course the obligatory Reichs, Glasses and Rileys. Maybe a dash of Yellow Magic Orchestra at the end, too, just for sheer melodic charm and natty suits.

That weekend, on a long train journey, and with a few hours to kill, I was listening back to the tunes we’d picked out, and thought I’d sketch out some musical ideas to accompany a few clips of the current edit, just as a little exercise. Like loads of people I know, I do enjoy a bit of noodling around with things like Ableton Live, Logic, Beatmaker on the iPhone and so on. So I had a crack at it.

On the Monday morning, everyone had a listen, and nudged me to do a little more, just to see where it went. Gradually, things began to firm up into a “proper job”. I’d never written music for a film (or anything else, for that matter) ever before, but hey, everyone knows the best way to learn something is simply to set a risky week-away deadline involving potential public ridicule. So here went nothing.

Designing the Music – first sketches

We all know that a lot of the unseen (yet most satisfying) work in design goes into getting rid of things. Tidying up. Wielding Occam’s Razor. Making things unnoticeable. Getting things under the hood working so well you forget they’re there. All that good stuff. There are obvious parallels to this in music, but I guess this applies even more so to making soundtracks.

Not your rousing, whistle-able belters of your Williamses or Morricones; I’m thinking more about Bernstein’s work for the Eames films, John Cameron’s haunting soundtrack to Kes, anything on the KPM label, or, say, Clint Mansell, whose Moon soundtrack got quite a rinsing here in the studio last year. There’s a quiet unselfishness to this type of music which I’m really drawn to – it’s kind of half-there, beckoning you to invent accompanying stories and pictures in your head, and sometimes it’s at its best when you don’t really notice it. I imagine this rings lots of little bells in the heads of anyone involved in design or making things – it definitely does for me.

As I say, I’d never really written any music before, so pretty much used these little scraps of what I know about design (and what I love about film music) as a way in. Finding the grain of a material and playing with it; hitting on an idea and not getting in the way of it; looking for patterns; making references to other, familiar concepts, using broad brush strokes first, then (quite literally) tuning and polishing – all the usual approaches, really. The same way we’d work with any (im)material here at BERG.

So, here are the three first sketches I did. The visual glitchiness of the animation was the main thing I wanted to complement, so I went outside, made some little field recordings on my phone, chucked them all into the computer, then pressed record and left it on. I assembled the samples into few rhythms, teased out little patterns of pitch, timbre and so on, and eventually, after a few hours, out popped a few bits and pieces. It took me about 6 hours of jamming to come up with three one-minute ideas. Told you I was new at this.

That was a bit Chris Isaak meets Twin Peaks. Bland. Nah. Next.

A po-faced Radiohead rip-off. Cheesy moody piano. Banal drum-and-bass-by-numbers rhythm. Overall, nah.

We all sat up at this one. Warm, bubbly ARPy synths; Reichy scales and patterns; plinky, poppy glockenspiels; pentatonic scales giving off a subtle whiff of J-Pop (which might sit nicely with the Dentsu folks), and it had the most potential to grow melodically. Tick!

Building out the musical structure

After that, it was time to work out how this sketch would evolve to fit across the whole film. The first task was to build the scaffolding we wanted to hang everything off, by translating the timing of each visual cut into bars and beats, which I did with a metronome and a few big sheets of paper. I grabbed Schulze, talked about where we wanted the main narrative pivots to be, and stuck those on post-it notes.

Since we had three sections to work with (Making, Future and Magic), everything pretty much finished itself after that. We’d built the scaffolding, so now all that was needed was the rest of the building – from the main zones down to furniture, textures, colours and so on. I blocked in the main themes and some large areas of texture, then just worked my way down to polishing little details. I don’t know much about how composers work, but this bit wasn’t all that different from we usually get from whiteboards and post-its down to pixels and working code.

Jack and Timo were still making edits to the film as I was composing, so I needed to leave a bit of slack here and there to adjust to their timings. I made little modular loops of different lengths (3, 4, and 5 notes, in different rhythms, at different speeds), which meant I could cut or extend little phrases here and there, ignoring strict time signatures as needed. Again, just simple, common sense stuff, really.

The final mix

After 3 or 4 days of tuning and polishing, we had an overall structure everyone was pretty happy with, so we got in touch with the chaps at Resonate to help us mix and master everything – the proper, detailed tuning. Big big thanks to Liam and Andy for being super helpful at such short notice! Aside from treating a novice like me very kindly, they brought a level of clarity and depth to the mix way beyond what my ears had previously heard. Here are the before and after versions. Spot the difference!

Before mixing:

Mixed and mastered:

And of course here’s the finished film.

Overall, the music took us about 6 or 7 days. A mere blip compared to the weeks of late nights that went into the animation, but a nice example of how when the studio is simmering nicely, everyone’s interests, hobbies and hunches tend to bubble to the surface and happily get put to use, all in the name of doing Good Stuff.

Making Future Magic: light painting with the iPad

“Making Future Magic” is the goal of Dentsu London, the creative communications agency. We made this film with them to explore this statement.

(Click through to Vimeo to watch in HD!)

We’re working with Beeker Northam at Dentsu, using their strategy to explore how the media landscape is changing. From Beeker’s correspondence with us during development:

“…what might a magical version of the future of media look like?”


…we [Dentsu] are interested in the future, but not so much in science fiction – more in possible or invisible magic

We have chosen to interpret that brief by exploring how surfaces and screens look and work in the world. We’re finding playful uses for the increasingly ubiquitous ‘glowing rectangles’ that inhabit the world.

iPad light painting with painter

This film is a literal, aesthetic interpretation of those ideas. We like typography in the world, we like inventing new techniques for making media, we want to explore characters and movement, we like light painting, we like photography and cinematography as methods to explore and represent the physical world of stuff.

We made this film with the brilliant Timo Arnall (who we’ve worked with extensively on the Touch project) and videographer extraordinaire Campbell Orme. Our very own Matt Brown composed the music.

Light painting meets stop-motion

We developed a specific photographic technique for this film. Through long exposures we record an iPad moving through space to make three-dimensional forms in light.

First we create software models of three-dimensional typography, objects and animations. We render cross sections of these models, like a virtual CAT scan, making a series of outlines of slices of each form. We play these back on the surface of the iPad as movies, and drag the iPad through the air to extrude shapes captured in long exposure photographs. Each 3D form is itself a single frame of a 3D animation, so each long exposure still is only a single image in a composite stop frame animation.

Each frame is a long exposure photograph of 3-6 seconds. 5,500 photographs were taken. Only half of these were used for the animations seen in the final edit of the film.

There are lots of photographic experiments and stills in the Flickr stream.

Future reflection

light painting the city with Matt Jones

The light appears to boil since there are small deviations in the path of the iPad between shots. In some shots the light shapes appear suspended in a kind of aerogel. This is produced by the black areas of the iPad screen which aren’t entirely dark, and affected by the balance between exposure, the speed of the movies and screen angle.

We’ve compiled the best stills from the film into a print-on-demand Making Future Magic book which you can buy for £32.95/$59.20. (Or get the softcover for £24.95/$44.20.)

Friday Links: Light painting

This Friday: a collection of links from the studio mailing-list, all about light painting.


Image: Poésie by kaalam on Flickr

Julian Breton’s work as Kaalam has already featured on the blog but it’s too beautiful not to include again in today’s collection of links. Influenced by Arabic script, he paints delicate, abstract calligraphy into his photographs as they are being exposed. There’s more on his Flickr profile and his website.


Sophie Clements’ stunning film Evensong films a series of moving light-patterns in Argyll. Mounted on rigs such as spinning wheels, there’s a magic in the way the lights interact with their environment: dancing around poles, reflecting in pools. It’s striking to see light painting such as this in moving, rather than still images.


Nils Völker has been buildling a robot for created coloured light drawings. Once the pattern is programmed into it, it trundles around the floor, turning its light on and off as necessary, tracing the pattern whilst a camera takes a long exposure. Whilst not as pretty as Kaalam’s work, there’s something interesting in automating this kind of work. It’s also strange to see this machine at work, as this video testifies: whilst it works, you can’t really see what it’s doing. It only makes sense when viewed as a long-exposure.


Photo: IBR Roomba Swarm in the Dark IV by IBRoomba

Völker’s robot drew the patterns it was told to. But light painting techniques can also reveal the behaviours of smarter robots. The above picture comes from the Roomba Art group on Flickr – where people upload long exposures of their automated vacuum cleaners having attached lights to them. This image shows seven Roombas – each with a different colour LED – working all at once; you can see their starting points in the middle of the room, and the odd collision. It’s a very pretty remnant of robots at work. The rest of the pool is great, too.


Photos: Light Sphere with Right Arm and Cigarette Lighter and Arcs with Arms and Candles by Caleb Charland

Caleb Charland’s images take a variety of approaches to light painting. Some are multiple exposures; some are long-duration, single exposures. Some are very much about the artist’s presence in the image (albeit in ghostly ways); in others, the artist is largely absent. They’re all lovely, though; I particular like his use of naked flames in his images.


Justin Quinnell’s six-month exposure of the Clifton Suspension Bridge could be described as light painting using the sun. The duration of the exposure allows you to see the sun’s transit shift with the seasons. Justin has more long-exposure pinhole photography at his website.

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