Angry Birds Live. . .and Dissected

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Earlier this month, Saatchi & Saatchi U.K. teamed up with Rovio to bring its mobile game Angry Birds to the real world in Barcelona, Spain, for Deutsche Telekom. The installation invited passersby to use a mobile phone to launch monster size bird cannons across a teetering display of blocks in the hopes of exploding some menacing oinkers.

To figure out how this would play out on such a large, and real scale, the agency enlisted director Greg Brunkalla of Legs along with Rokkit--the shop's rep in the U.K., to tackle the production. While complicated outdoor stunts are familiar territory for Legs--the company also worked on Mother N.Y.'s Target Kaleidoscopic Fashion Spectacular--translating the game's dynamics to supersized, tangible props posed some very unique challenges.

Creativity checked in with Legs' Brunkalla, who discusses everything from digital slingshots and physics, to which of the games' birds was impossible to recreate in real life.

How did you first get involved in this effort? How did you show Saatchi that you'd be the one to pull this off?
Everything needed to be tackled in the treatment. The treatment was a bit of a proof of concept for an installation of this nature with so many moving parts that involved technology, but needed to all be an analog experience. Nothing relied on post, which was a beautiful thing that led to many great creative parameters to work within. It was an awesome opportunity that was brought to me through Legs Media and our rep/production company in London, Rokkit, who produced the event.

Saatchi knew they wanted to launch Angry Birds across a public plaza, and we needed to figure out the creative execution and how we could preserve the look, feel and magic of the actual game that would engage, entertain, and surprise a real life crowd that would grow to several hundred people--and of course, how to capture the event and tell the story through film. Some of the fun elements brought to life were exploding pigs and black birds, plumes of colored feathers that deployed with each launch, and a giant digital slingshot that fired the physical Angry Birds into our world. I was so excited about the concept, I tried to deliver the treatment inside an egg that would be launched through a window at Saatchi's London office, but I was advised that might be taking it too far.

Can you describe how the set up works?
We created three main parts--a giant digital slingshot, the Angry Birds structure and a kiosk that housed a T-mobile phone. In this setup you don't swipe your own mobile though--maybe that'll be version 1.2.0 . The mobile phone in the kiosk is the controller for the larger-than-life game. The image on the phone is also seen on the giant screen and when a bird is launched in the game a physical Angry Bird blasts into the sky.

When everything was first set up, our entire crew was hiding, cameras rolling and waiting to see who would step up first. It was great seeing people try to figure out what it was and eventually someone pulled the trigger. To guarantee a grand entrance we had the first bird bust through the side of the large slingshot installation. With a loud bang the bird sends shards of wood and big red feathers into the air--it was ridiculous, hilarious and surreal.

How long was this in the making?
Bringing Angry Birds into the real world meant calculating a lot of the physics while trying to stay true to the game. Due to the chaotic nature of the game it was most important to create something that packed a punch while being safe for spectators. We only had about five weeks to prepare for the event, so we were figuring a lot out as we went along. Test explosions, calculations of pressure for the air-cannons, wind considerations, and the physics of the actual structure were all part of the puzzle.

What were the various steps in production? -technology, building of the actual live game, props, etc.
The first step was to "translate" the game into reality-decide on the scale, textures and functionality. By creating the giant digital sling shot, we hoped to simply show Angry Birds literally bursting out of their digital confines into our world. In order to add another level of amusement to the show, we created 100 football-size Angry Birds to pass out to the audience. They were soft and people could kick and throw them without causing too much chaos, it was a huge amount of fun for everyone.

Inside the digital sling shot were four large air cannons that were each loaded with a bird and ready to fire. We could shoot four birds quickly before needing to reload. Rovio gave us all the sound effects from the game and we had a sound designer trigger sounds live with the action through speakers that were set up in the square.

There were some things that just couldn't happen in real life, like a giant white bird laying an egg in midair that becomes a bomb, but we did have the blue bird split into three smaller birds, just like in the game.

What other partners did you bring on board, if any? What did they bring to the table?
We tried finding a production design crew that had launched large cartoon birds across city plazas to destroy large foam structures, but they were all booked so we had to start from scratch. We all owe a lot to Perry Newberry (the production designer) and his amazing team--they nailed it. It looked great and worked flawlessly.

Was this conceived to become part of a film that hopefully, would go viral or go to broadcast?
First and foremost this was conceived as an event. We wanted to make something that was truly entertaining and actually worked. And if we could do that, capturing it on film would be a way of sharing the event. We will make broadcast spots and longer online versions. As far as "going viral," we'll see, but I think we have a great combination of a unique experience, T-Mobile and Angry Birds.

Throughout development, what were your biggest hurdles, and how did you overcome them?
Besides launching 40-pound fake birds 50 meters, I'd say the biggest hurdle was keeping the action going. In the game you can instantly reset the level if it's not going your way. In real life, it takes a crew of 20 people to reset the game. So we created smaller Angry Birds for the audience, brought in a live band, and showed instant replays for the crowd on a huge jumbo-tron. It was important for us to create an environment where people could genuinely enjoy themselves.

In the end, how did the event go? What were the biggest snafus? If you were to do it all again, what would you change?
The event was a success! If we were to do it again, I think we would just spend more time perfecting the physics of the game. In the 2D world you only have to worry about shooting short or long, but in our 3D game there are several other places the bird can go--like off to the right into a tree (which did happen).

Do you think it turned out to be as fun as the actual game?
The mobile game is classic and addictive because you can play for hours by yourself. What we created became a bit of a social sporting event, where you didn't even need to play to feel the excitement. Just like there are elements from the game that are impossible to bring into the real world (like gravity shifts), there became elements of the real life event that were magical and the feeling could never be replicated in a game. And everyone loves real pigs blowing up! For all of us that were there, it was impossible not to have a huge smile. I think everyone, even the crew, was wondering, "How'd they do that?" I hope to convey this feeling in the finished films that we create.

What are you working on now?
Besides working on trying to get the theme song out of my head? Well, we'd like to continue sharing this version of Angry Birds with more people. Additionally there are few music videos in the works that I'm really looking forward to and an upcoming installation--none of which contain birds.

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