(Click here for a full gallery from the event!)
Microsoft’s huge press briefing event for E3 at the Galen Center in Los Angeles wowed both the live audience inside the venue and the broadcast audience watching the show from their homes—and that’s just what Zed Ink set out to do.
The Zed production and design teams have handled the event for Microsoft for years, and that experience has made for a better event at the big gaming show each year, according to Zed Ink founder/executive creative director Julia Zarro.
“One of the key objectives is to maximize audiences [for Microsoft], but the big challenge is the juxtaposition between the live audience and the broadcast audience,” she says.
One of the big objectives for Xbox this year was to communicate that its Xbox platform is not only a premium gaming device, but also and an all-in-one entertainment platform.
“They wanted to focus on games like ‘Halo 4’ and titles that appeal to core gamers, while communicating that the entertainment platform is expanding and more accessible than ever,” says Zed Ink senior creative director Erin Hearne Williams.
The briefing also marked the debut of Xbox SmartGlass, an app for tablets and smartphones that allow them to communicate with Xbox.
“It’s a really big story to tell, so we had to find a concise way of telling it,” Hearne Williams says.
The Zed Ink team wanted to take a fresh look at the way the new gaming titles were portrayed onscreen at the event, and to speak to the immersive experience that people have in their living rooms when playing them. Huge LED screen backdrops delivered the message, but the approach was much deeper than just showing images from the games.
“In terms of a graphic and aesthetic approach, we played a lot with both 3D and 2D animations—we wanted to play with the audience’s idea of space and shape. We had a center stage that we brought everyone together on, and a smaller side stage for key presenter moments. That was a big opportunity to bring everything together under the main central screen; from a camera shot perspective it immersed all of the presenters in the environment in every camera shot that we had,” Hearne Williams says.
Because the presenters were so close to the screen, it felt like they were part of the content. By creating this dynamic stage design, designers were able to let the titles speak for themselves by showing more and saying less.
“Everything was integrated from a design perspective, as well as a story perspective—LED, projection, lighting and scenic. This allowed the content to be much more expansive and dynamic in a new way,” Zarro says.
Zed works closely with each of the game developers to truly understand the story that they are trying to tell to the audience. Once the specific message is determined, the team gets into creating the graphic content for each of the new titles.
“It’s a very individual approach for each of the titles. For example, for ‘Gears of War’ we wanted to make the entire environment feel like it was burning, because their storyline was specific to this catastrophic, apocalyptic worldwide situation with a lot of fire,” Hearne Williams says.
For other titles, Zed worked to make it feel like the audience was actually inside of the game and a part of those environments.
“For ‘Tomb Raider,’ we made all of the external LED graphics feel like they were a pane of glass you were able to look through, so raindrops were actually hitting the LED screen. It made you feel as though you were looking through a camera lens at the game itself,” Hearne Williams says.
Illustrating message behind the new SmartGlass technology was a challenge for designers, because they needed to communicate an interconnected, three-device story onstage in a way that was clear for audiences in the venue and at home.
Similarly, showing the audience new titles on the controller-free, motion based Kinect platform was also challenging, though Zed’s experience with the brand helped in a big way.
“We’ve been working with the technology since its incubation, and have worked hand-in-hand with Microsoft on some of the challenges around presenting the technology on stage in an event environment,” Zarro says.
The infrared technology that makes Kinect work presents challenges at events because of its sensitivity to light levels.
“Kinect is designed for your living room, so there’s plenty of space onstage to use Kinect. One of the challenges is making sure that we’re telling our story from a camera perspective and a staging perspective about how it works and interacts with the screens. Our presenters are challenged to look at the device, interact with it face-on, and make sure that the story is still communicated behind them in a way that the audience can understand what they’re experiencing,” Hearne Williams says.
Song and dance
The ‘Dance Central 3’ game presentation featured a dynamic performance by pop star Usher and his dancers. His entrance on to the stage was meticulously planned, and included a new twist on the design of the stage itself, as one of the LED walls in the set actually rose up off of the stage to reveal the singer behind it.
“You want that entrance to be very impactful, and our creative team was able to come up with a great solution that was very surprising for the audience. We’ve had LED walls in then show for a number of years, but none of them have ever moved, so this was a big impact moment that was effective creatively and from a crowd perspective,” says Zed Ink senior producer Deb Falb.
The team went back and forth about how the set would accommodate the performance aspect of the show, including entrance points and even flooring.
“We had to find a flooring solution that would work both for Kinect, which has issues with reflectivity, and also for dancers who can’t be dancing on carpets,” Falb says.
The end result pleased the design team, client and audience, and Zed’s history with Microsoft and its products went a long way toward making the event a success.
“The ultimate goal is finding that sweet spot as an overarching team, an immersive experience, and taking all of these different elements into play and making a great show,” Zarro says.