Monday, January 29, 2007

Concepts in Imagineering: Bodies in Motion

"Concepts in Imagineering" (CII) is a special series of posts about entertainment and creative concepts from around the world. They posit that the tradition of Imagineers using innovative, creative and scientific concepts to enhance yesterday's theme parks is just as feasible for today's Imagineers. If they just look in the right places. Today's CII is:

Bodies in Motion

Sadly I cannot find any information on the remarkably talented performers of these two strikingly similar commercial ads. Neither Akbank (a Turkish Bank) nor TalkTalk (a British Broadband provider) include anything about the commercials themselves on their respective websites, though Akbank includes a free QuickTime download of this performance and TalkTalk incorporates the "bodies in motion" as graphical art and the graphical theme of their website. As a result, I’ll have to make my presumptions on the performances based on observation of these two commercials alone.

Though similar, there are striking differences between these two productions, both of which contain practical applications into a themed environment. We'll examine both of those and theorize on the practical application of the concept in an ongoing park attraction.

Comparative Analysis
Akbank is certainly the grandest and most ambitious of the two. The performers, all dressed in neutral garb, mostly form complex animation sequences which require large numbers. In the simplest of sequences you can freeze the video and count nearly 100 cast members working in unison to make the overall performance fluid. From gears grinding in a machine to a rushing river to birds flying away from and perching in a large tree, each formation is more complex and elaborate then the last. And since they are so complex and require the precision of so many performers, the formations have to be speed up to compensate for the restrictions placed upon air time, and to move the sequences along for the audience.

TalkTalk strikes me as being the most practical to apply of the two. There are far fewer performers and the resultant distance of the camera from the formations is much closer. The performers in this act are more specific to each animated sequence. Instead of same colored body suits, these people appear to be dressed in regular street clothes. In addition, the tops of each performer are specific to the formations they compose (the opening red hearts sequence and the pink dress of the “couple” for example). I’m particular impressed with the family playing ball. The two ladies in pink shirts fluidly convey the motion of a moving ball without requiring the benefit of time-lapsed photography. The TalkTalk performers also utilize a “prop” in one their formations, cleverly turning a crop into one man’s "crop".

Practical Application
Important elements of both show styles would be important to executing a successful themed attraction based of this performance concept. While it is entirely possible to exclude the Akbank performance altogether, there are pros to that grand performance that should not be ignored. Conversely, the TalkTalk performance has the greater charm and practical elements to keep the show running on a consistent basis.

The strongest elements of the Akbank commercial are the uniformed neutral garb of the performers. The plain white allows them to switch from formation to formation without great pauses in between. There’s no need for actors and actresses to leave the stage for a costume change allowing them to move uninterrupted into the next formation, thereby creating seamless transitions between each formation for both the cast and the audience. A fluid uninterrupted show with only one required group of performers to be on stage at all times also allows for greater precision of the act, particularly when the same show is being put on repeatedly throughout the day, throughout the week.

TalkTalk’s greatest attribute lies in its charm. Your more personally involved with the animation sequences because your closer to the performers and the casual garb and color suggest a more laid back, incidental approach to the routine. Where Akbank conveys a sense of careful and artful precision, TalkTalk conveys an unfussy presentation with players dressed in regular street clothes and the hues and tones applied giving the formations that natural, everyday feel of “life”. You get the sense with TalkTalk’s presentation that you could get together with your friends and camera and do the same thing from the roof of your house.

Another strong element of the TalkTalk act is the use of props in their formations. Carefully placed props on a stage or set could enhance the show being given to the audience, especially if the props have been sitting in plain site since before the show started. The sense of the everyday "magically" transformed into something new is a plus to the performance, provided it isn't done to drastically.

There are several amalgams to these two performances that I can see as being successful themed attraction. By utilizing smaller numbers you can create quicker transitions between formations and thereby make benefit to whatever score is composed for the act. Slightly larger numbers, perhaps a set of two groups, could take the performance in brighter more colorful directions, as teams can now flow on and off the stage taking advantage of the principles of both theories. In my estimation, the potential in creative and innovative outlet with such a performance is endless and simply waiting for the right person with the right credentials to seize it and make it a reality.

The question now rises, how exactly would we get the audience to view such a performance without the benefit of cranes and well placed cameras? Two possibilities come to mind.

The first would be the obvious placement of reflective, angled surfaces just above a high set stage. This would obviously be the most practical and cost effective, also giving the audience a first person view of the cast and crew from an eye level perspective. But somehow, cost effective doesn’t seem the most “magical” way to go about it.

A second possibility would be the construction of a carefully designed auditorium where Guests could observe the performance from an actual bird’s eye view above the stage. This provides engineers a opportunity to design something architecturally unique to the themed environment. The first time catwalks and auditorium seating would be one and the same. This would also prevent the audience from being distracted by the surface performances on a traditional stage ignoring the performance their supposed to be paying attention to in mirrored panels. With removal of the mirrored panels altogether the audience can focus their attention on the performance and not the performers.

Safety Concerns
For both the Guests and Cast no doubt there would be safety concerns. My first thought would be the obvious hazard of objects dropping from the audience onto an unsuspecting Cast Member. A simple solution to this problem would be a thin, durable netting, large enough to catch something as small as a digital camera, and strong enough to support the weight of a overly curious Guest who leans too far over the railings.

Architecturally, there are ways to limit the degree to which a Guest could lean over a railing, both by the use of narrow vantage points (the head can pear over, but the shoulders cannot) and by carefully set railings (you can only view the stage below if your in your seat, and not standing.) Seating could also be carefully designed to accommodate differing heights and ages by simply being adjustable.

Another elegant and foolproof solution to safety would be the addition of sensor equipped seat belts that MUST be buckled before any performance will begin, similar to the manner in which most thrill ride restraints are enforced, only less obtrusive and easy to get out of in the event of an emergency. With sensors in place, Cast Members can easily divert their attention to that seat or section in the event there is an emergency, or someone is just goofing off.

Alternate Thoughts
I think this is viable resource here and I intend to develop a more detailed conceptualization for my personal archives, complete with sketches, music and formation ideas. Maybe one day, in the not too distant future I will be able to share with you my thoughts. Until then, I bid you adieu and remind you to keep scaling those heights.

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