Company UNIT9
Website www.unit9.com
Location London
Employees 150+

Distilling a city’s essence into just a few minutes of film is a challenging proposition. But that was the task that Ogilvy Spain and Wildbytes posed to global creative studio UNIT9 when SEAT asked them to show off the qualities of the city that inspires the design of its cars: Barcelona.

“We wanted to showcase how our hometown of Barcelona influences the aesthetic of our automobiles,” begins SEAT’s global marketing director Susanne Franz. “It’s really the best way illustrate just how the new SEAT Ateca feels.”

UNIT9 tackled the challenge with gusto, developing a thrillingly immersive virtual reality experience that whips its audience through Barcelona’s vibrant streets and iconic hotspots, all via drone, skateboard, and the SEAT Ateca itself.

“It was important to create a journey that captured Barcelona’s magic, keeping viewers at the edge of their seat throughout,” says Anrick, the film’s director.

The seats in this case were in fact 4D ‘smart chairs’, programmed to move in unison with the motion of the film’s camera-work, which was all captured on high-end 360° cameras. So, when attendees of the première at the Paris Motor Show took their seats and donned their VR headsets, they were placed right at the heart of the journey, experiencing it all as a first-hand facsimile.

Keeping your grip on virtual reality

The experience is fast and fluid, cementing the viewer at the heart of the action.

It starts with the camera sat just above the deep blue of the Mediterranean, the bright sun casting shimmering light on the calm surface. Nina Simone’s ‘Sinner Man’ builds towards its foot-tapping frenzy when, in an instant, everything bursts to life in a turbulent froth of white sea-spray. A man wearing a jetpack explodes forth from the surface of the water and spirals up into the air, just as two jet-skies speed by, drawing our gaze to the distant shore where Barcelona beckons.

And that’s just the first shot.

The synchronized choreography alone is impressive, revealing the amount of coordination and forethought that goes into just a single scene. To ensure that each could be pulled off to perfection, UNIT9 relied on ftrack and its project management toolkit.

“We had over ten artists working on that project, and because some of them came in on different days and at separate stages of the shoot we were moving them around a lot,” begins UNIT9’s VR post producer Kassiani Koufaki. “It would have been very easy to lose track of who was where and doing what, but with ftrack this wasn’t an issue. It really helped us to manage everyone’s involvement.”

Collaborate, coordinate, innovate

UNIT9’s motivation remains the same no matter the project it embarks upon; a desire to create something new. Imitating the past is not on the agenda.
As such, UNIT9’s team of specialists includes architects, product designers, software engineers, gaming experts, art directors, designers, producers and film directors, all of whom are united by a common drive for innovation.

Naturally, the diverse team was drawn to the emerging potential of VR as a new storytelling medium. However, it’s not without its challenges: shooting in 360° meant that each shot required many extra steps as compared to traditional filmmaking. Organisation and coordination proved more important than ever. Fortunately, ftrack kept the production running efficiently.

“ftrack is incredibly useful, not just for us but also for the artists, who can see how their work is progressing,” says Kassiani. “It’s a tool that doesn’t limit its use to project managers, but caters for each individual involved in the creative process.”

What appeals to most is ftrack’s clean UI and the freedom to customize: “ftrack is incredibly flexible and intuitive; we can customize per project, even on an individual basis,” explains VFX supervisor Zlaten Del Castillo.

“For instance, our two VFX supervisors like to visualize information in their own unique pipelines. Once I know who is assigned to a specific task in ftrack, I can actually attach them to their preferred pipeline. That way, their ftrack UI is automatically set up in the way in which they’re used to visualizing information. Few other project management solutions offer that kind of functionality.

Key to the future

As the amount of information on such projects grows and swaps hands, it’s easy for that information to become buried and a chore to locate. With ftrack this isn’t a concern, however, as it automatically updates the project whenever someone logs in, makes a note, or adds a file.

For Zlaten, this ability to have everything related to the project in one location is invaluable: “Everyone has a visual map of how close everything is to completion. We can look at a shot and see what stage it’s in and how it’s coming along.”

It’s this efficiency that has lead to ftrack becoming a vital tool in UNIT9’s arsenal, as Kassiani elaborates: “ftrack is always the first port of call for everyone involved in a project. Whether it’s coordinating with artists on a specific shot, or clients reviewing and tracking the overall progress of the project, ftrack is the tool we turn to.”

Industrious as well as creative, UNIT9 commonly works on more than one project at a time. This means that production managers may have to be in two places at once, or risk missing out on important decision making. ftrack overcomes the potential issues that this could cause.

“With ftrack, if I need to be at our other office for a meeting, I’m still able to stay in touch with how other projects are progressing,” says Kassiani. “I know what’s happening at any given time and even weigh in on a decision as it’s being discussed. This has been made even easier with innovations like the ftrack Go app.”

With a heavy workload, UNIT9 also finds it is often necessary to expand its workforce through a slate of freelancers. Here ftrack really shows its power as a project management tool – it ensures there are no gaps in the workflow, with all freelancers easily slotted into tasks in need of attention.

“Everyone finds it so easy to pick up and adapt, meaning we can easily scale to the needs of production on a day-to-day basis,” says Zlaten. “We can seamlessly transition people in and out of any one task, having one person pick up where another left off. It’s all so simple and fluid – those are two things any successful production needs: simplicity and fluidity!”

As technology continues to evolve, UNIT9 intends to move with it, tracking emerging trends and finding new ways to harness them to tell new kinds of stories. But whether it’s defining the aesthetics of a vehicle via a 360 joyride through a famous city, or another even more ambitious approach to visual narrative, UNIT9 knows it has the ability to deliver something successful with ftrack at the core of its production.

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