The Tin Man Takes Over Oz

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If the web and TV push for Sci Fi's new Tin Man series is any indication, we're nowhere near Kansas anymore. A seemingly darker envisioning of the Wizard of Oz, The Tin Man, set to premiere in November, provoked a spate of hallucinatory marketing as a precursor courtesy of Fallon, Minneapolis and Stockholm-based production company B-Reel.

The latter's "Infinite Oz" web destination and TV spots sets viewers on a spiraling tumble through a variety of beautifully rendered, yet unfamiliar and often desolate worlds—each comprising a vivid portion of the Tin Man storyline. But according to B-Reel executive producer Niklas Lindström, there was a dearth of material to work with following his team winning the initial pitch. "We didn't have any material from the actual Tin Man production since the production of the TV series was supposed to be going parallel with our production," he explains. "The brief said that we would not have any material at all, but we would really like to make use of the "Zoom Quilt" idea. It was an artistic collaboration of a zooming idea and having all [this art blend] seamlessly."
Lindström, who spoke to us from B-Reel's newly opened Manhattan office, decided his team should rally a set of notable CG artists together in creating the infinite, looping wonderland. "Our idea was to tap into the CG community, so our initial treatment was that we wanted to [hold] a contest and collaborate with the largest CG society on the internet," he says. We talked about CGSociety.org and having the contest there since a lot of CG artists spend much time there and they have their portfolios there, also. But we ran out of time in terms of having a long contest, so then we changed the scope and instead [brainstormed] the best CG artists we could think of that would suit this project and started to contact them. We almost got all of the artists we really wanted at the top of our wish list. That was really great. We used eight different artists for this and so some had two scenes [to work on] and some made one."

Among the hallowed group of artists were NCSoft art director Philip Straub, who designed the opening sequence of a rural landscape with windmills and farms, Greg Petchkovsky, whose digital handiwork is smattered across the destructive twister scene, Lisbon-based Andreas Rocha, who sketched the ominous empty streets of fictional Milltown and Vyro Games' chief creative officer Phil McDarby, who unveiled a vast, futuristic underground cave (above) filled with pods and other eerie otherworldly elements. "We first thought gathering the artists would be a really big challenge, but then we got the [replies] really fast and a lot of the replies were like, 'hey, when do we start,' recalls B-Reel creative director Oscar Tillman. "They were really happy to be a part of it. Everyone knew about the Wizard and I think the Sci-Fi Channel appeals to these kinds of artists."

With the CG wizards scattered across the world and timing being of the essence, the project was mostly conceived and managed via online communiqué, according to Lindström. "We created an online forum where everyone could exchange ideas, sketches and questions so that the artists could communicate with each other and we could still get control of that communication. It wasn't going to be email directly, so everything was gathered in these online forums. It was a really great tool for us because the artists could collaborate with the whole B-Reel team in a nice way. Even though we never met, we were working together with all the artists so we had daily feedback and conversations for each scene and the technical specifications."
Akin to a regular agency creative meeting, the "Infinite Oz" project was drafted through storyboards and key parts of the script. "We had what we call mood boards for nighttime or daytime," Tillman explains, "[depending] on if the scene was a happy scene or [darker]. We picked 15 key scenes from the script we wanted to work with, which came with a short description of the scene and a description about the key elements that we needed in there, some loose animations and how the perspective was supposed to be drawn—like you were constantly moving inwards. Apart from that, they could interpret the information in the way they liked. We chose which artist would fit best for each scene, so there would be a different feel with different artists in terms of technique and style—but it would feel like it all fit together."

While B-Reel had both the TV and interactive executions in mind simultaneously, it was the former which allowed more creative implementation. "On the web, you have a processor limit of how much you could put in and if the user's computer could handle it," Tillman states. "That's not a problem you have in the broadcast version. So when all the scenes were delivered, we made it for the broadcast version first. So we made all the animations and stitched it together, then did the color creation and had the zoom experience for broadcast. We have fancy effects going on with the snow and rain, which are more real particularly when the camera flies through and there are a lot more lights and other elements going on. A big difference is the twister in the second scene, which has over 400 different layers of loose objects spinning so it's more dramatic."

Still, the site translates well enough into both mediums due in no small part to B-Reel's emphasis on HD quality art. "The artists drew their images in a high-resolution 10K file format, so when you zoom in all the way within the picture, it would still be in the right resolution for HD," says Lindstrom. "It was created when we started calculating what kind of resolution we needed, and the artists were like 'hey, this is really huge.' We hit the roof on some of the software in terms of what was [feasible]."

Along with plans to expand the site functionality and features, B-Reel and Fallon are also contemplating screensavers and in-store HD media efforts at chains like Best Buy and Circuit City, though nothing's been officially announced.
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