The conference call
“Wait, you want us to actually build a model town?”
That’s how it started, on a conference call with Colorado-based Cactus on the other line.
3D is cool, but what about constructing a real-life model - paper mache, chicken wire, popsicle sticks… you get the idea.
And that’s what we did.
Building the model
We began with some sketches to get a feel for the ‘mood’ of C-Ville. Tim Burton meets Disney meets the island of Dr. Moreau. Then we hammered out the sections and content for each area of the site over countless late-night brainstorms.
Building the model was a daunting initiative, one that required many late night/early morning sessions, a few frayed nerves and of course, lots of caffeine. But in the end, the result was beyond anything we anticipated.
“The rate at which we built the physical model was completely insane,” explains lead designer Larissa Meek. Within 4 days, the billiard table-sized model, actually constructed on top of AgencyNet’s billiard table, was fabricated from scratch using found 0bjects.
“By Thursday, everyone came in to work and saw C-Ville almost complete, like the C-Ville fairy had come and waved her magic wand.”
C-Ville is born
Finally, after two extremely long but hilarious weeks, we had created the quirky and irreverent town of C-Ville.
Now it was Showtime: green screens, lighting and camera setup, and costumes shipped from across the country, including Cecil the seal, (one of the stars of the ownyourC.com TV spots.)
In true AgencyNet style, we leaned heavily on our internal cast-of-characters (ANET staffers) to make up a majority of the in-costume talent.
“I'll never forget the morning I walked into the office and saw Cecil for the first time. He was leaning against a giant brown box that he had just arrived in. I did a quick once over and I thought, ‘What is that thing?’ laughs Lindsay Knowles, AgencyNet’s executive assistant.
Lindsay recalls volunteering to perform as Cecil for the website video shoot. “At barely 5'2'' it was clear I was the only one for the job. I swallowed my pride and took one for the team. It was really exciting to see how effectively our talented team transferred my footage directly into the Flash environment. A few moments later I was two inches tall and walking around the town of C-Ville that I helped assemble!”
“It was great to take an analog world and really bring it to life… we combined a wide variety of traditional and new media disciplines to create a truly immersive and sensory experience” adds Joey Princz, AgencyNet’s Director of Technology.
The animations that help bring C-Ville to life are a combination of stop-motion, video (Premiere and After Effects), and Flash magic.
The stop-motion shoot was entertaining, watching grown albeit young men and women play with the animals and creatures we made by hand, but the video shoot was another story...
The client wanted to integrate one of the actual actors from the TV spots into the site. Thus, the talking sun came to be.
For over 6 hours, Abdoulaye (as seen in the horror spoof ads) and a few team members locked themselves inside our studio with a green screen and some lights.
More than 180 lines were recorded, edited and implemented onto the sun and placed throughout C-Ville. Specific lines are triggered upon user-rollover of key hot-spots for added interaction.
As much as there is to see at C-Ville, it only represents a fraction of what was initially created and ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. Making the right choices as to what to leave out and what to include was integral to the site’s success and was, in effect, true to the core brand message.
The Cootie Catcher
Oh, and there’s the Cootie Catcher. Remember in elementary school where kids would fold up squares of paper to see the future based on which corner you picked, flipped or turned?
Warm memories huh? Us too, so we green screened it, programmed it in Flash pulling from dynamic XML, and incorporated in into the site as a fun way to reinforce the power of decision-making in life.
Depending on the choices the user made, starting with their teens’ interests, they’re lead to the ultimate result – a potential career path to consider.
In the Downtown area, we made it easy for users to find out about upcoming events, enter contests (coming soon), and also watch the witty and innovative ‘ownyourC’ television commercials created by Cactus.
“Teens are consuming media more selectively, so ownyourC.com might very well be the first place where they experience the campaign’s TV spots,” says Richard Lent, AgencyNet founder and CEO. “The media paradigm is truly shifting,” adds Lent.
Promoting the exploratory nature of the experience, downloadable goodies were made available from the town’s vending machine. The site is complete with iron-ons, AIM and MySpace buddy icons, wallpapers, ring-tones and other portable goodies that ultimately extend the brand experience.
While some are ‘free’, others can only be unlocked via C-Ville “currency”, which can be found by exploring the site and by interacting with certain key areas. It’s a virtual scavenger hunt in a land where anything goes.
Unlike other “educational” websites, ownyourC.com doesn’t attempt to preach to its’ target audience of teens. It steps off the soapbox and offers an alternative method of information delivery.
Visitors to C-Ville’s very own Drive-in Theater can interact with valuable information such as tobacco and marketing trends, as well as the reality of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and nicotine addiction.
The sounds and music for the site were carefully selected to match the mood and style of the visual world. More than 30 songs were considered for the experience, and many of the ambient sound effects were recorded using the vocal and editing talents of the AgencyNet staff.
Careful attention was placed on the weather and citizen effects to ensure they mesh with the environment. It was important to the team that neither side of the audio elements overpowered the other.
The site also features a non-Flash edition which has won critical acclaim from CSS reviewers like Stylegala.
Larissa Meek took up the challenge to present every ounce of content outside of Flash in a creative and aesthetically pleasing environment for those users who may not have the Flash plugin or just want a quick route to the content.
Using Scriptalicious and Lightbox components, this version of the site proudly stands side by side with its Flash counterpart.
C-Ville is constantly evolving, partly due to scheduled roll-outs, client requests and feedback from the users and fans. cPets, the Rich-Media based banner campaign that allows users to customize donkeycorns, sharkephants, bunnies and trees will soon be added, giving a viral push to the site via MySpace widgets and hotlinked images.
“It’s the unexpected rewards you get from making choices during the site experience that truly make the journey worthwhile,” explains lead designer Bryant Florez. “Is there a better way to stay true to the core brand concept, then by creating a series of features that allow the user to visually and emotionally experience their choice?”
Winning FWA Site of the Month, countless ‘site of the day’ features, and an abundance of critical acclaim across the blogosphere are all icing on the cake. And who knows what’s on the horizon…
About the Authors, Chris Fullman and Betsy DiCarlo
Chris Fullman is a Senior Producer at AgencyNet, but is often known as the agency’s "Emergency Response Technician", providing tactical, technical, design, developmental and administrative assistance whenever and wherever needed. Chris excels in RSS/Web 2.0 technologies and practices, syntactic SEO techniques, usability and accessibility, ActionScript/Flash development and blogging initiatives.
Betsy DiCarlo is a Senior Project Manager at AgencyNet. She has successfully produced award-winning projects for Oxygen, BBC America, Bacardi, Bombay Sapphire and many other prestigious brands. Her experience within the medium, intelligence and tact are the glue that holds AgencyNet together.
Links for reference:
ownyourC.com Flickr Behind the Scenes Gallery