HyperReality: How No.8 and Private Island Made the Real Seem ‘HyperReal’ for FIFA 22
The arrival of a new game from FIFA is always a huge event for gamers and football fans alike. To mark the release of much-anticipated FIFA 22, the makers behind the ad enlisted a whole host of football stars: David Beckham, Kylian Mbappé, and Zinedine Zidane. Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney feature too as the new owners of Wrexham AFC, announcing the club’s inclusion in the game. The ad is centred around the ‘Powered by Football’ idea and it’s a two-and-a-half minute epic that blends the real world with the game’s hyper-real visuals, courtesy of No.8 and Private Island, who made the ad possible.
LBB goes behind the scenes with No.8, for whom this was a full-service spot, covering VFX, colour, and sound, speaking to creative director/VFX Jim Allen, creative director/sound design Sam Robson, head of colour Alex Gregory, and producer Charlotte Shearsmith. We also speak to Private Island’s partner/producer Helen Power all about how they developed the concept and worked to make it a (hyper)real feel.
LBB> This is one epic ad! What excited you most about working on this project and for a name as big as FIFA?
Charlotte> We were so excited to get to work on this incredible film and be able to offer the full service — grade, audio, CGI and VFX. We couldn’t wait to get stuck in and work with the extremely talented Chris Boyle at Private Island.
LBB> What was the starting concept for the spot, and how did the final idea come about?
Helen> EA Sports came to us with a clear goal - take the real players into the game world using HyperMotion and make it fun. So we did! Working directly with the in-house EA team, we sweated the concept to create an overblown ‘Hollywood’ style film that knowingly riffs off everything from The Matrix to Independence Day. At Private Island, we develop by building a load of animatic moments on a timeline to understand pacing. That eventually gave us a bulletproof three-act ensemble structure that could survive the twists and turns of changing talent and locations.
LBB> What did you want to communicate to fans with it?
Helen> The spot is about blurred realities - taking the players we all know alongside the whole carnival of football and wrapping it up in the game world. Sports games are unique in that your protagonist isn’t a Space Marine or…an elf! Instead, it’s your favourite player from your team. That connection is integral to the experience and what we want to bring to life.
The joy of this spot was that the concept allows for the HyperMotion game footage and real-world to be brought together organically — something that’s quite rare for games trailers and it meant we didn’t have to jam a brand message into it retroactively.
LBB> The film brings together real life and a digital reality. How did you create this blended world?
Jim> The film is split into two worlds, one is the real world which we inhabit, the other is the ‘game’ world, which the game characters inhabit. The fun with the spot was taking characters and placing them in the wrong world. Kind of like Space Jam meets Roger Rabbit, who crashes into The Lawnmower Man and ends up in The Matrix.
Our CG team worked closely with EA to make this happen, using as much of the assets they could provide. EA have already put a huge amount of work into creating characters which look and move like the real footballers. To create HyperMotion EA have captured full mocap and textures from each of the in-game characters, which is then rendered live in the game engine using some extremely clever AI.
Our CG team took the models and textures provided by EA and placed them in the real world using real world lighting in Maya. The animation rigs used for the models which are fantastic in the game didn’t translate as well for our needs, so the CG team re-rigged the models and tracked the characters motion to live action reference of the players, which we were able to shoot on set.
The aim was for the game characters to look hyper-real rather than real real, so we had to be careful to retain the game engine feel when animating and compositing.
LBB> Did you work closely with the director and how much creative freedom did you have on this brief?
Jim> We worked very closely with the director. Chris comes from an animation and VFX background, so from quite early on he was able to provide us look-dev work that he and his team had generated. Then, as the job developed, Chris’s team were able to provide assets they had created to be incorporated into shots we were working on. It’s rare for a project to be as collaborative as this one, with ideas and assets flowing freely between No.8 and Private Island.
Alex> We spent a fair amount of time building distinct looks for each scene. Chris (Boyle, director) was keen to accentuate the 'hyper-real' feel for the live action footage, and for there to be some fairly heavy contrast, saturation and grain across the whole spot.
LBB> The spot features multiple global locations. How much was shot on the ground, and how much was done in post-production?
Helen> A real mix — we did get into a bunch of stadiums — so the Man City changing room shot is all for real, as is Zidane on the field and all of the David Beckham scenes, but everything else is post-heavy. Footballers’ availability is tough, so our priority was to secure the talent — everything else had to work around that.
No.8 and I shared the mindset that the more that can be done in-camera, the better. So, we built mini-sets or elements to shoot the players on, which then often got composited into a plate of the actual location with a double. This meant that greenscreen was kept to a minimum to create a more believable reality. We only shot one player on greenscreen, which is pretty good going on this type of project.
LBB> How many shots did you have to work on in total and what was the turnaround time?
Jim> Every shot in the film had VFX, so roughly 70 shots plus 15 shots in the teaser versions. We also had multiple ratios and cut-downs of each film, maybe 100 versions in total. The first shoot day was at the beginning of July and we started VFX just after, we then worked on the project, off and on, till the end of September.
LBB> What were the benefits of working on the spot together with sound and colour under one roof?
Jim> It was hugely beneficial to have colour, VFX and sound under one roof on this project. The shoot days were spread over a few months and consequently the edit was in a constant state of flux right up until the delivery. This meant that VFX, colour and sound needed to be constantly developing and reacting to one another. The film flowed pleasingly between departments, feeding off one another and resulting in a film that is undoubtedly stronger as a result.
Charlotte> Working on the film from a full service perspective allowed us to have complete control of the job, it helped with the tight schedule and also the creative process. Being able to adjust the audio as the edit was evolving and the VFX updated saved us a lot of time.
LBB> The spot opens with nostalgic music and transitions dynamically into something altogether more contemporary, punctuated with futuristic sounds. What were you trying to communicate with the sound?
Sam> The opening scene is the calm before the storm really. From a sound perspective, it really helped punctuate that first hit of hypermotion — going from the everyday normal into chaos and continuing to build from that point. We wanted to create two worlds — one real, the other hyper-real, once the players were sucked into the game. I was also aware of making the mix as dynamic as possible going from scene to scene to give the listener more of a sonic journey.
LBB> What were the specifications of this project? Did you do a lot of sound enhancement?
Sam> The overall brief for this job was to go all-out tongue-in-cheek disaster movie, with a hint of comedy thrown in too. A sound designer doesn't need to be told twice they have the freedom to go as big as they like, there's no subtlety here! We knew from working on the teasers how far we could push this brief which would then eventually apply to the main film. A lot of the transitions for instance aren't just regular sounds pulled from a library, but are instead layers of ideas which were then manipulated to fit the visuals.
LBB> Sound usually comes last on projects like this. With this spot being done fully in-house, when did sound get involved? What was it like working on a spot simultaneously with others?
Sam> There was a real advantage working in tandem with the guys in VFX and having the chance to see very early storyboards, weeks before anything was even shot. This then progressed through to early visual portal tests and being able to create a pallet of sounds to use once everything was rendered. Because of the length of the full version, we could break it up scene by scene and piece the whole thing together in the final stages. As the film came to life more and more, those updates would be shared instantly around the building to make the process really smooth and efficient.
LBB> What was the best part of working on the spot?
Sam> The best part for me was watching this project grow from such an early stage into this amazing film we could all be super proud of. It helped working with Private Island who were great to work with throughout the project and very collaborative from the beginning.
Helen> I think just having a massive team that’s super committed to the idea. What starts as boards eventually involves motorcycle stunt riders, professional footballers, Hollywood stars — the works — it’s inspiring to have all these people focus their insane talent on our two and a half minutes of film. This project seems to have stuck the landing and the fandom loves it, which is super satisfying!