Studio Smack are Ton Meijdam, Thom Snels and Béla Zsigmond, and their short film Branded Dreams is quite an interesting interpretation of the idea that our dreams might be the final frontier left unconquered by advertising. Watch the film below and then scroll on down to read the interview.
When I watched Branded Dreams I felt like it was a form of inception, in which we would start seeing brands in our dreams after watching the film—was that in any way part of your goal with the film?
Yes it was. Ten years ago we made a Typo-Animation called ‘Kapitaal‘, which displayed a clear impression of the enormous amount of advertising we see every day. A black and white world stripped bare of everything except corporate identities and signage. This showed that we have a continuous flow of advertisement messages around us from the moment we wake until we go to sleep.
A year ago Mieke Gerritzen, director of MOTI, Museum of the Image, asked us if we could do a sequel to that movie. During that time we stumbled upon a scientific experiment by the University of California in which scientists were able to record your dreams and play them back to you. Through an MRI machine they were able to capture and reconstruct your dreams.
We figured: if you can extract images from the sleeping brain, and if this technology gets developed further, eventually there must be a way to put imagery into our dreams. So then we decided to tell a ‘Science Faction’ story in which this technology actually exists. We would take on the role of future advertisers and design the first ever sponsored dream.
How long did it take from idea to finished film while making Branded Dreams?
It took us about a year to finish the animation. We weren’t working full-time on it, because we also had other projects going on. So it kind of became a labor of love project. We also tried to avoid most clichés that we know of dream sequences in movies, which meant we had to re-invent a new trippy dream world. We mostly worked on it at night and in the weekends, experimenting and figuring out the look and feel of the movie. I estimate we threw away more than 90% of all the shots and experiments we did.
How was Branded Dreams made – were there any live action elements at all, or was it completely CGI? And what programs did you use to make it?
Some of the shifty in-between shots consist of manipulated stock footage. But most of the shots you see were made in Cinema 4D. All the animals you see were free models downloaded from the internet. We gave them new textures, deformed them, gave them new rig bone structures, or just used deformers to make it seem as if they we’re alive. Most of the trees and plants you see were scanned in our local park with point cloud scanning software and later on placed in the scenes.
Tell us about the sound design for Branded Dreams – what was the goal?
We wanted the sound edit to be the make-up of the movie that tells the viewer that they are looking at a trippy dream. So we started with a continuous drone sound as a base layer and built everything on top of that. We recorded lots of sounds that are related to Coca Cola or carbonated drinks in general. Like sparkling bubbles, cans opening, water drops, burps et cetera. We played around with those sounds until they sounded deformed and subliminal. Then we welded everything together to an eclectic mosaic of subliminal sound messages. If you listen closely you can hear whispered words from some of the famous Coca Cola slogans like: ‘Fresh’, ‘Enjoy’ or ‘The Real Thing’. The burps didn’t make the final edit by the way.
What was the biggest challenge in translating the idea to the final film?
You never know beforehand if the idea you’re having is going to work. Especially if you’re moving in a realm that’s new. The hardest part was making it look realistic enough and create the feeling of a dream without using the clichés of dream sequences we know from movies. That meant a whole lot of hours modelling, lighting, rendering, editing, and sound designing.
We are also big fans of the Witch Doctor video, how long did it take to make that project?
Witch Doctor took us about half a year from scratch to finish. Also a labor of love project like Branded Dreams.
The bio on your website says that Studio Smack “often also responds to developments in society, the so-called Design for Debate,” how do you do that?
For us ‘Design for Debate’ isn’t a starting point, but rather a side effect. We are constantly aroused by all kinds of things that seem to be taken for granted. Like supermarkets, advertising, hypes, technological developments et cetera. When we convert these ideas to a story it often becomes a social reflection. But then again it never serves as a rule. Experiment, playfulness and humor are just as important as critical reflections.
How important do you think Vimeo is to your work: did being chosen as a Staff Pick make a difference to your careers?
I hope you’re not asking me to do some free advertising for Vimeo. Of course being Staff Picked helps you in getting more publicity. Receiving the Staff Pick medal is also a great honour. And it certainly can cause some serious view-mileage.
Do you have a comment on the Internet, and digital video in particular, and how it is affecting the business of making content – is it good, is bad, does it make no difference to how you do things?
Five questions in one sentence. How am I going to answer this? Well, digital video and the development of software have made it possible to create a story relatively fast and affordable. You can create a great story with a few computers and a couple of maniacs, without having a big studio with state of the art equipment, an army of workmen and a six-figure budget. So I guess john Lennon got his way with his ‘power to the people’ demand. And whether this is good thing or a bad thing. I leave that up to you.
What projects do you have in the pipeline? What’s next for you guys?
At the moment we are working on an animated update of ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by the early Dutch master Hieronymus Bosch. It’s a collaboration with other artists (Floris Kaayk, Eelco Brand and Broersen & Lucas) commissioned by The Museum of the Image in Breda. The opening of the exhibition will take place on the 2nd of April, 2016.