Based on a true story
Warner Bros.’ ALIEN AUTOPSY is the true story of two unlikely English lads who became icons of UFO’ology after faking an Alien Autopsy tape and fooling the World’s media into buying into it.
The film, released on April 7th, marked the big screen debut of popular television stars Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly, with support from an internationally renowned cast including Bill Pullman, Harry Dean Stanton and Omid Djalili.
Film design specialist agency Franki&Jonny were commissioned by Warner Bros. to create the online campaign for the film.
With over 100,000 users and counting as well as acknowledgement as FWA’s site of the day on April 6 of this year, the website for ALIEN AUTOPSY is our most successful film website to date.
It all started with a trailer, a synopsis, some cast & crew information - the bare minimum content for a film website.
Sometimes we get lucky and a distributor, sales agent or producer will come to us while a film is in production. This way we can have a say in what material gets generated, and fully utilise the resources of the production whilst the cast and crew are still assembled.
However, this site is more typical - we were contacted after production was complete, and we had only limited assets to work with. Our challenge was then to make a site that was engaging, original and accurately represents the film.
Our consistent ideology to achieving this is strong creative ideas that are relevant to the film, the audience, and the client.
Their brief was pretty straightforward – it must appeal to Ant & Dec fans.
This was an interesting change for F&J, who are usually sent the horror and ‘smart house’ briefs - designing websites for younger children and teenagers offered many new challenges posed by a very savvy Internet demographic.
The design of the interface was the starting point. On the whole, film websites are very formulaic, and the easiest way to engage and surprise a film going audience is with an original and immersive interface design.
One of the key scenes in the film is the creation of the autopsy footage - it has everything - fake blood, sheep guts and a comedy granny. The trailer focused on this part of the film and we took it as our cue for the site's central navigation.
Our idea was to create an online autopsy - the user reveals the site content user panning around an alien’s body on a slab and slicing him up with a butter knife!
Developing this was a task in itself .
The alien was an exact replica of the one used by the real Ray Santilli in 1995, but was a bit gruesome taken out of context. This problem was compounded by the fact we were supplied with a lo-res screen grab and meant we really had our work cut out.
Two weeks of retouching and a sacked illustrator later we were happy with our alien – changing its face, ears, hands and, ahem, private parts in order to not frighten the life out of our younger Ant & Dec fans.
It was worth it - making the interface a game in itself we were well underway to creating a fun, interesting site before we’d even added any content.
That was the next challenge…
The Interface as a Game
Too often games are tacked onto film websites. They may be interesting and have high production values but sometimes lack relevance to the film.
Another important factor to consider is the restraints of the medium, not to mention the budget and deadline.
This audience are used to games consoles, and the challenge here is not to attempt to emulate them - the results will only be a poor imitation and cheapen the feel of the marketing.
So we isolated key themes from the film and researched the Internet for relevant examples of clever, simple use of technology.
For the first game, ‘Blag’, we came across an old text-based game called ‘Dope Wars’.
The 0bject of the game is that you, as a Tony Montana-aspiring drug dealer, try and earn the most amount of money possible by travelling through the boroughs of New York evading the police and selling various drugs on the fluctuating and deadly market.
An awesome game and very addictive it fitted our brief well - it’s simple yet compelling and could easily be emulated and enhanced in Flash.
Also, as the central character in the film is an East-End wheeler-dealer, it was certainly very relevant (although you should have seen the faces of our Warner client when we first suggested the idea!)
We took the premise of this game and rearranged various aspects to apply to the film. We changed the setting to London. We also changed the inventory from narcotics to things that better fitted the film and frankly things better suited to the light entertainers you know and love.
Oh, and along the same lines, removed some of the more violent scenarios and made the tone somewhat lighter. As the finished version shows, the game now represents a chance for the user to follow and also create their own storyline within the world of Alien Autopsy.
Test Your Mate, the Viral
The second game, ‘Test Your Mate’, was inspired by the old game show ‘Mr. & Mrs.’
Ant & Dec are a well known double act, and we wanted to exploit this. We also wanted a ‘viral’ device in the site that encouraged people to tell others about it, whilst being much more original than simply offering a ‘send to a friend’ link.
So, you can read what Ant & Dec think about each other, then answer some questions, send the same questions to your friends, and they can see how well they know you by guessing how you answered.
The third game was very simple. Ant & Dec go bowling in the film. People like bowling games. Let’s make a bowling game with some eyeballs and blood thrown in for good measure.
So with the concepts in the bag, the next job was to build the thing.
One of the great things about creating film websites over other, more corporate sites is their ephemeral quality.
It is the short lifespan of a film website that can give you the freedom to explore new technology and unique ideas without the restriction of having to consider long-term development or tomes of corporate IT guidelines.
Having said that, we did encounter a small roadblock in the form of a very thick Warner Bros. Technical Requirements document and in particular, a restriction on using Flash 8.
Stretching the Player
Whilst we would never use a technology for the sake of it, there were clear advantages for building the site in Flash 8, so we submitted the request to Warner Bros. technical department in LA.
Knowing this would take a while, we forged ahead creating the site in Flash 8 and, after an initial refusal, managed to placate enough IT concerns to get the go ahead - even if by this stage we’d nearly finished.
With programming technology moving ahead faster than ink can dry on the page of a technical requirements document, it seems inevitable that rules need to be broken to stay ahead of the pack.
This is a good point to hear some technical information from Franki&Jonny’s Technical Director Jonathan Green:
“The effects in Flash 8 are a great leap forward, though do require some pretty intensive processing. A lot of work went into optimizing the performance, and utilising the real-time effects of Flash 8 whilst keeping the whole thing running at a usable speed.”
“Flash is the only real option for this kind of work. We also had some server-side requirements for one of the games - a database and the ability to send an e-mail. For this we used a framework called Ruby-on-Rails - it's relatively new though is fast gaining popularity due to its complete 0bject-orientated approach and speed and flexibility of development.
Database connectivity, for example, is trivial. We've used it on much larger server-side projects and although the functionality required here is a well-trodden path in other server-side languages, we've already developed an XML workflow between Rails and Flash which made this the obvious choice.”
The Yellow Carpet
So that’s all folks. We had the honour of walking up the yellow carpet (red is so last year) to attend the film’s World Premiere.
It was the first time we’d seen it film since some very early screenings when it wasn’t quite finished, and it gave us great satisfaction to feel we’d got the tone exactly right.
It also gave us great satisfaction to be in the same room as Duncan from Blue, but that’s another story.
Creative Director: Franki Goodwin
Technical Director: Jonathan Green
Designed by: Franki Goodwin, Deborah Lyal
Programmed by: Jonathan Green, Jamie White, Matt Eley and Ben Wise
Project Manager: James Grandison
About the Authors:
Franki&Jonny is led by Creative Director Franki Goodwin and Technical Director Jonathan Green.
Since 2003, they have pioneered a unique, integrated approach to film marketing.
In March 2005, Franki&Jonny won a BAFTA Interactive Award for best film website for Trauma. In the same month, F&J were awarded with the IAB creative showcase for The Assassination of Richard Nixon website
F&J have been awarded FWA’s site of the day twice in 2006 for their Momentum Pictures (6 April) and Alien Autopsy (10 April) websites.