Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Knifedge - they work in the theatre as well!

Knifedge are a very interesting company for many reasons, but most notably because they have mutated their customer base outside of TV broadcast and secondly because they are the only graphic design company I know of to be winning awards for theatre productions.

I caught up with Creative director Tim Bird the other day. He set up the company with Jonathan Brigden and Matthew Freeman in 2005. Since then they have worked in many different areas – TV, Web, live events and Theatre – he told me that diversifying and not focussing on just broadcast TV has really helped the company grow, as budgets have shrunk in all areas over the last few years. It makes a lot of sense to have many skills, not just graphic design and animation, in house.

He then told me how he had just come back from the US where a production of the Steven Sondheim musical "Sunday In The Park With George" has been getting rave reviews and winning all kinds design awards (scroll down the page on the Sunday In The Park page for more info on these). You can see a short film of what Tim and the theatre designer David Farley have done below. In a nut shell there are various projections on to the scenery that help bring to life one of Georges Seurat's famous pointillist paintings – but it is done in a very clever way, so that the animations interact with the actors and actually become and integral part of the action.

Sunday in the Park with George Montage from Knifedge on Vimeo.

Tim had this to say about it: Setting out to connect worlds which don't usually join up doesn't necessarily make for an easy life, so putting projection, animation and musical theatre together is bound to bring issues with it.

The most obvious factor is the money I guess, in that people from film and tv do their maths differently to people in theatre - basically because theatre can only sell so many seats, whereas their are fewer limits on tv and film sales and thus their economy is larger. Theatre shows which 'go international' get round this to an extent by in essence franchising the same assets to lots of different cities. It's rare that this happens with Sondheim musicals though. For many he's an acquired taste and even though his work has a huge following in the States, it's still not so economically significant that budgets can be boundless. So, the money is a juggle.

The other factor is time. As you're aware, animation is a painstaking business and can't be made easily at speed. This runs counter to the culture of live work which can change in an instant, be different each night if it wants to be and so forth. The specific issue we had with Sunday in the Park was needing to change animation right up to the last minute. We got round this by planning the hell out of everything, being very precise to begin with. There was too much content for it to be possible to make massive changes, but we put strategies in place to make the process easier when tweaks were required.
That said, there were elements which had to change completely when it came to technical and dress rehearsals simply because until you see the thing all together, you don't know whether it works or not, and if it doesn't work, it has to change, or the story is not properly crafted. The only solution in this case was working some seriously unsociable hours and having enough people to turn the stuff around in time.

The final factor is collaboration. Theatre at its best is a seamless interweaving of all the story-telling elements. We were very lucky to enjoy a great relationship with all the rest of the creative team and to be able collectively to do some of our best work as a result. That said, there are all sorts of areas where the language of theatre, TV, animation, film etc is problematic. A 'producer' does very different things in each context and budgets and technicalities often seem similar in the way they are handled whilst actually being totally different (or vice versa). Misunderstandings arise all too easily, so there was always the need for careful diplomacy and effective communication to ensure nothing went badly wrong.

All in all a great experience, although there were plenty of times where the team and I could definitely have used more sleep.

Welcome to the world of Knifedge!

1 comment:

Chris said...

wow!!!! love the theatre work... definitely worth clicking on the link!!! :-)