Behind the BBC's Olympics Opening Titles

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London may be where the Olympics are being held, but the BBC wants to make sure that Great Britain's capital does not have a monopoly on the Games.

"Stadium U.K.," the broadcaster's opening sequence for the Olympics created out of RKCR/Y&R and directed by Passion Pictures' Pete Candeland is a gorgeous bit of animation that showcases the entire U.K. as a stadium. Swimmers swim in the Scottish Lochs, weightlifters practice dockside, and sailing happens alongside the white cliffs of Dover. In the longest version of the film, 15 sports are referenced, plus virtually almost every competing nation. "What we wanted is something that would stand out in a crowded market, something that represents what the BBC brings to the game," said Louisa Fyans, head of marketing and communications for London 2012. "If you can't get tickets to the events, we offer the best seats in the house."

The brief for the creative agency was to communicate that wherever in the U.K. (or world) you may be, the BBC will bring you the games. Also, the agency and the production company had to create program stings and idents out of the two-minute-plus sequence. Work on the project began about 18 months ago, with part of the pitching process happening as far back as November 2010, according to Jules Chalkely, Nick Simons, Ted Heath and Paul Angus, the creatives at RKCR/Y&R.

The biggest challenge for the agency was to "reflect Britain in a way that the British public would appreciate and recognize," without being cliched, said the agency team via email. Mr. Candeland of Passion said there were two choices: either going with "old cats with ice cream trucks and fish and chips," or with something that was a little less obvious. "We couldn't be too cheeky with it," he said. Even when it came to London, universally recognized symbols are present, but not too obvious. There is no diving off the Big Ben. "This needs to appeal to people who live in London."

And London for Londoners is about misty streets, a specific cobblestone pattern on the streets, and industrial gas cylinders that dot the city. Those are the icons that can be seen as sprinters race through the city's streets.

The BBC began using animation for the Olympics opener in 2008, with Beijing, a stunning play on the "Monkey King" legend, also out of RKCR/Y&R and directed by Mr. Candeland. It is cheaper, said Ms. Fyans, and because the broadcaster does not do off-air advertising, it is easy to take across the whole organization as a "branding device." Online, the characters from the titles appear, as do bits of the animation.

BBC--Not Allowed to Be Cocky
Ms. Fyans said she has seen a couple of other broadcasters' work, including the opener from the NBC, which uses live action shots accompanied by rousing music. "It's expensive to do that," said Ms. Fyans. "And anyway, the BBC isn't allowed to be that cocky. There's nothing wrong with it, but we just can't."

For Mr. Candeland, the BBC's brief also indicated that because this was Great Britain's Olympics, the athletes featured in the sequence should come from all backgrounds. The director took references from old English paintings to inform the landscapes and clouds, as well as the animated characters. Through live drawing, each athlete's physical shape was studied: the shoulders of a swimmer versus the calf muscles of a diver, for instance. Each athlete was also given a certain nationality -- the weightlifter is Bulgarian, for example. Computer graphics were kept in the foreground, with a matte painting-feel for the background.

Another difficulty was that the longest version of the film -- about two minutes and 40 seconds -- had to be created keeping in mind that it would later be cut down into shorter teases. Unlike Mr. Candeland's work on the BBC's sequence for Beijing, which told the tale of Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy's "Journey to the East," this film's storyline couldn't be linear. "We had to construct shots in a way that they weren't dependent on each other," he said. "We had to have a lot more flexibility in the storytelling and reasonably limit camera movement."

The team chose to animate the characters by hand before converting to CG. To create each character, Mr. Candeland believed some level of understanding of sport was required, so he went so far as to "cast" animators to certain jobs depending on their athletic ability. "Typically, animators are people who like sitting down, who aren't terribly athletic," he said. "We had to work around that, getting people who boxed when they were younger to work on the boxing sequence, for example."

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