TIMELINE and the ACO

THE BRIEF

Timeline – Life Flashes Before Your Ears was a breathtaking audio-visual performance that celebrated 42,000 years of music and content over the space of two-and-a-half hours. It premiered as part of the Vivid festival, and has since gone on to tour the entire country.

The performance was created in collaboration between The Presets, Richard Tognetti’s Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) and Choral Director, Graham Ross.

Our brief was to create the show’s visuals. This meant content creation in some way, shape or form to support the 42,000 year musical journey and enhance the orchestra’s performance.

THE IDEA

We set each song in its historical context using imagery from the era of its creation. These visuals appeared on a huge screen behind the orchestra, serving to manifest and reinforce the performance’s journey through time.

This idea was championed by award-winning Director, Ignatius Jones, who guided our team throughout the content creation process.

Together, we drew upon art, politics and social movements that spanned the eras of the show’s four-part program:  40000 BC – 1900 AD, 1900 – 1945, 1945 – 2000 and 2000 – 2014.

THE PROCESS

So where to begin? There were no fewer than 230 individual pieces of music spanning more than 40 millennia.

Firstly, we gathered the time period of each piece of music (and where possible, the date) from the ACO. We then researched the historical context of those times, collecting ideas, icons and visuals which were true to the tone, era and feel of music. This involved incredibly wide and thorough research, combined with a high level of analytical thinking.

The specified imagery was then used to inform (or in some cases, be incorporated into) the design of bespoke style frames for each separate piece of music. These designs were crafted into beautiful, original and interpretive representations of the pieces and their historical settings.

The style frames were then cut into an animatic against the orchestra’s music, becoming a clear reference and timing brief for the animators.

Finally, under the versed guidance of Ignatius Jones, three of our motion graphics artists worked for three months to animate the frames. A key consideration for the team was to ensure that the content complemented the music, and didn’t distract from it, or steal the show. So having a tasteful, sensitive touch was paramount.

CHALLENGES & SOLUTIONS

We were able to rely on artworks, artefacts and religious iconography in the first act. But as we moved into the 19th Century, copyright soon became an issue.

To work around this, we proposed a range of design-driven concepts that would capture the essence of the periods that followed, without using specific imagery.

During final rehearsals, many changes were made to the pieces of music. This meant that last-minute changes were also required for the content, to ensure that it still worked seamlessly with the songs.

Fortunately, The Pulse had built time and flexibility into pre-production to account for such changes, and to make them at the drop of a hat.

A live orchestra will never play the same track at exactly the same speed. In fact, some performances of Timeline ran for an extra 30 minutes. This meant we couldn’t animate content according to exact beats or set durations.

Our solution was to design the visuals based on the feel, rather than the timing of each track. We then used playback technology that would trigger the appropriate content for each new song. We also designed the files so they could be looped or extended.

We were helped greatly by Louis Thorn (ACO), who ran playback for the Timeline concerts. And Jospeh Nizeti (ACO), who wrote a script to automate the subtitles for each track.

To conclude the performance, The Presets had created a wild montage of music from the last 15 years; with some tracks playing for just a few seconds.

This meant a different approach was needed for the visual content. Our solution was to produce a graphic mash-up that matched the frenetic nature of the music. We collaborated with the artist, VJ Sugarbank to create a mind-bending exploration of shapes and colour.

THE RESULT

The performance was best summed up by the Sydney Arts Guide: “A dazzling, epic performance by the ACO. This extraordinary knockout concert will leave you breathless and wanting more. Without a doubt, a major landmark, and visual and aural feast.”

We’re incredibly proud of our part in this 42,000 year musical odyssey. It was a truly-exhilarating audio-visual quest through time, blending the likes of Vivaldi, Mozart, Bach, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan and Nirvana; and concluding with an epic finale design by Australian legends, The Presets.

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