- NEW YORK – Earlier this month, millions of PBS viewers in America witnessed the broadcast premiere of the latest documentary project from production company Show of Force for PBS's Independent Lens: "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide."
Inspired by the groundbreaking book from Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the new film introduces some of the most courageous individuals of our time, who are all doing extraordinary work to empower women and girls everywhere. The broadcast event kicked-off a new series of follow-up screenings to occur in communities everywhere. All efforts aim at activating new discussions about these issues, engaging communities, and finding direct ways to create new solutions for girls and women in America and worldwide.
For the opening titles of the project critics have called "possibly the most important film of the decade," the principals of renowned design firm Chermayeff & Geismar, which created world famous logos for Chase bank, NBC, Mobil Oil and Barneys New York, as well as the motion graphics for PBS documentaries Carrier and Circus, joined forces with award-winning design and digital production company Thornberg & Forester (T&F). The result is a sublime :75 sequence that introduces the presentation very thoughtfully: by first drawing viewers into still images showing some of the harshest realities females face, and then unveiling motion scenes showing positive progress. T&F co-founder, principal and director Scott Matz led his team in this latest creative collaboration with Chermayeff & Geismar partners Tom Geismar and Sagi Haviv, as well as Show of Force's filmmakers, including the film's director (and Show of Force founder) Maro Chermayeff, producer Joshua Bennett, and series producer Mira Chang, among many others.
"I wanted to use camera movement to express how access to education can transform the lives of women in developing countries," explained Chermayeff & Geismar partner and creative director Sagi Haviv. "It was a simple idea that proved challenging to render, but in the final piece, the moment the camera pivots is meaningful."
- Chermayeff & Geismar's visionary creative briefing presented T&F with a number of technical and artistic challenges. "Their big idea was to be realized through one, 'simple' :75 camera move," Matz explained. "The sequence is split into two halves: The first includes a continuous push-in to different scenes representing the oppression of women, and the second is a continuous pull-out that evokes a sense of hope and inspiration. We instantly felt that Sagi's idea of having the camera reverse direction in the middle of the piece was truly brilliant. For us, main tasks were building ultra-high-resolution 'still' composites for the camera to fly through, and creating fluid transitions into and out-of the three different live-action scenes that anchor the narrative."
Behind the Scenes: Highlights from T&F
Speaking at length with Matz about his company's painstaking production process, it's clear that for him and his colleagues, the project was a true labor of love. By all accounts, it involved a staggering amount of work, and through the inspirational commitments of people like senior animator Ken Krueger, designers Keith Endow, Elias Stern, Morgan Goldberg, Kyle Miller, and many others who invested great amounts of time and energy to deliver the greatest project possible, in the end, this project's main titles now represent one of T&F's proudest achievements.
As storyboarded by Haviv himself, the sequence's poetic visual journey begins with a live-action shot of a baby crawling through the frame. "I was not present for the live-action shoot, but I sent shooting notes to the set requesting they shoot at 24 and 60 frames per second," Matz offered. "This allowed us to manipulate the speed of the footage in our edit."
A second live-action scene appears about 32-seconds in, showing students in a classroom in Kenya. "That was shot by series producer Mira Chang," confirmed Matz. "We asked her to shoot as steady and wide as possible to allow for us to incorporate the footage into our 3D camera set up, and it worked beautifully."
- In between those two scenes and a final live-action one (the colorful dancing scene at the end, which was filmed in Somalia) all the other images are still photographs. To make them feel dimensional and immersive, T&F's artists built ultra-high-resolution still composites for their 3D camera to fly through.
"The middle and end shots became the most challenging for us to work with," Matz said, while also acknowledging that the original storyboard changed quite drastically through the course of production.
"We became responsible for creating full images that didn't exist," he continued. "Each scene became its own piece of art to us. Additionally, we built several thousand pixels of 'extra' imagery around each running shot. For months our team worked diligently to create new images from an array of sources, doing everything from shooting our own still elements, degrading architectural structures and designing outdoor markets, to tracking and matching in-camera moves and creating appendages to crop into and out of limited source material."
Finally, Matz emphasized the importance of the project's incredible music track from John Legend and Magnetic Man, and shared his thoughts about one of the sequence's most magical moments. "We worked hard to line up an impactful 'beat of hope' that strikes 32-seconds into the music track," he confided. "The photography transitions into live-action and a powerful moment occurs, symbolizing the change from oppression to freedom and hope."
- For T&F, key credits also include executive producer Elizabeth Kiehner and producer Kelsey Thomson. Complete credits for the main title are available upon request.
For further information on the "Half the Sky Movement," broadcast, the book, the DVD release, screenings for your community and much more, please visit www.halftheskymovement.org.
About Thornberg & Forester
Thornberg & Forester (T&F) is an award-winning design and digital production company that exists to bring quality, integrity and innovation to the media landscape. Our team does this by crafting stories and conveying brand messages through the most relevant mediums possible. We challenge ourselves to leverage both creativity and technology, and above all we genuinely listen to the needs of our client partners and respond with the best solutions for you. With conceptual design as our backbone, our headquarters in Manhattan and an outpost in Hollywood, we offer a complete turnkey solution for brilliant end-to-end production through delivery. Many of our clients worldwide refer to us as their secret weapon and it's time we let you in on the secret: www.thornbergandforester.com.