In the fall of 2012, Instrument's resident filmmaker, Truen Pence, approached the studio partners about filming a documentary to highlight three local characters in the custom motorcycle building industry. They said yes and approved it as the first ever project for Instrument Labs, a team of producers, filmmakers, motion graphic designers and creative coders that work on non-traditional agency challenges.
The film was the perfect chance for the Labs team to sharpen their skills and explore new ways to distribute content, as well as pair emerging technology with traditional storytelling. Nine months later, “The Build” premiered at Instrument and in modern browsers everywhere, in the form of a fully scalable, Flashless, interactive website.
The Bike Builders
The first step was to develop the story. Truen and our in-house film team conducted hours of off-the-cuff video interviews with the film’s characters and motorcycle builders, Thor Drake, James Crowe and Casey Him. The crew got so well acquainted with these guys’ shops and workspaces that we uncovered an opportunity to bring elements from those environments to life inside what would become the film’s extras.
In addition to filming in and around their Portland-based shops, the team captured the iconic places that Thor, James and Casey often ride like The Gorge and Mount Hood. A small crew followed the builders around in a mini-van that doubled as an off-road camera mount (sorry rental car agency), an Arri Alexa, an Instrument-made DSLR helmet mount and a 31-foot jib. We ended up with over twenty-four hours of footage.
Making an Interactive Film
Back at the office, we cut the documentary and developed fresh ways for people to interact with the footage. We created three interactive features to help the audience dive deeper: a detailed build plan for James’ motorcycle, ten vignettes about objects in Casey’s Shop and commentary from Thor on six of his favorite bikes. We topped it all off with a “Making Of” featurette.
When we were cutting the film, we saw an opportunity to take the interaction further and make the viewer feel like they get to create their own “build” of the movie. To do this, we created three versions of the main feature with six potential configurations that re-order automatically based on preference. To give the viewer a feel for directing, we created an interactive depth-of-field blur in WebGL that focuses the camera lens based on the position of the cursor.
Sounds of “The Build”
Sound was a key player in how the entire experience felt. The team worked with Brian L. Hall of Marmoset Music to compose an original soundtrack that fits the different personalities we captured and Michael Bard for our sound design and mix. Brian wrote and recorded seven original tracks to be paired with ambient sounds of both the outdoor riding environment as well as the bike shops. Every scene is filled with sounds to embody the space. (Technically, this required 26 unique audio tracks.)
To further add character through illustration, the team decided on a hand-drawn style in the vein of something a bike builder would sketch, effortlessly cool but still off-the-cuff. Instrument designer and illustrator Matt Sundstrom drew over thirty illustrations, including the logo, menu, bios, credits and all the icons you see in the extras. Most of these were animated in AfterEffects, but for the main logos we developed a brush effect to mimic Matt’s mark making called Sketcher. This browser tool allows an illustration to be rendered on the page dynamically, rather than forcing viewers to download a large number of images at once.
To continue the theme, we wanted people to be able to share “The Build” on their own terms. That means giving them the ability to share any frame that strikes their fancy. To do this we included a feature that lets users share, download, and love any of the 53,000 unique stills from the film. The result is a social graph (visible upon pause) that highlights which frames were shared the most. The more people share, download or love a moment, the higher the peak on the graph.
“The Build” premiered to a packed house on March 28th, 2013 at Instrument Outpost. Online, the film garnered 50,000 views in the first month from over 300,000 people in 150 countries. Individually nearly 9,000 frames of the film were shared on social networks and blogs around the world.