The Making of Nike “Road To HBL”

May 26th 2019

Nike - The Road To HBL (Dir. Cut) from Le Cube on Vimeo.

Road To HBL, the interactive, choose-your-own adventure we created with R/GA Shanghai for Nike’s High School Basketball League, set a benchmark for high-end 2D animation in China.

Shortlisted in Digital Craft at Cannes Lions, a Clio Award in Design and selected among the Top 10 APAC Ads of 2018 by Campaign magazine, HBL demonstrated the potential to create game changing work through animation.  

It was also an exercise in efficiency, taking just 7-weeks to execute 4-minutes of 2D - a timeframe in which we’d normally expect to produce 1 or 2 minutes (depending on the complexity).

All things considered, it’s not surprising that we are frequently asked how it was done.  So here’s Final Frontier executive producer Gustavo Karam to take us through it:

Gus Karam:

"After we got the call from R/GA, the first step was finding the right director.  Le Cube is one of the best in the world, and had already worked with (R/GA ECD) Terence (Leong) on Nike’s Badge of Honour when he was at W+K Shanghai, so it was a natural fit.

Script

It was highly collaborative process with the agency from the outset.  The campaign required dozens of scenes to allow the user to pick a unique, personalised combination.  The agency initially presented us with 9 rough ‘story segments’ - not a script or storyboard like we’d normally receive - and it was our job was to interpret and break down these segments into workable and entertaining scenes. We assessed what would be achievable in 7 weeks and suggested which scenes to cut, eventually reducing the experience from 6-minutes down to 4. 

We then created animatics for the 42 different scenes, all at the same time.  Doing this established the shot lengths, character acting and camera movements, and set the narrative for the entire 4-minute experience.

To tackle this huge volume, we drafted a giant crew of 94 artists - producers, illustrators, 2D animators and assistants, compositors, an art director, a preproduction director and an animation director – all over the world.  We completed all the animatics in just 10 days.

Design

Once the script was locked and as we worked on the animatic, we began to explore the art style, developing two art approaches that the client could choose from.  

Nike’s target was teenagers and adults, so they wanted to avoid a childish, cartoony look in favour of something more realistic, with human proportions.  This presented challenges, since animating realistic characters is more time consuming.  Our solution was to develop a loose style that maintained the essence of the human body but took some licenses in proportions and allowed for imperfections in the lines for the 2D clean up. 

It was essential to keep the art super cool, but direct and functional, so it could be executed fast but still retain the quality.   All the elements of the illustrations are there to make the experience more immersive and guide the viewer through the story.  No fans would be shown, just some shadows to suggest their presence, allowing us to focus on the action. 

Nike needed 4 different colour versions of the experience, so we created a black-and-white system with a touch of colour that could easily be changed in compositing instead of being re-colored frame-by-frame.

We created a black-and-white system that could easily be changed in compositing instead of being re-colored frame-by-frame

Production

With such a tight timeline, the fact that Le Cube’s primary studio is in Argentina was a major advantage.  While China slept, Le Cube would work, delivering a fresh batch of animation ready for review when China came back online.  R/GA and Nike then had the whole day to consolidate feedback ready for the studio at the start of their day.  

The whole project is testament to the benefits of global production - utilizing resources across 4 continents - coordinated from our Shanghai production hub. That said, it would have been impossible without a super smooth process with both agency and client.  Daily deliveries demonstrated incremental progress and conference calls made sure everything was always aligned.  

Reflecting on the project, R/GA ECD Terence Leong said: 

There were hours and hours of discussions and debate across different time zones, hundreds of rounds of back and forth, feedbacks, fine-tuning and micro-tuning.  Days, nights, weeks and months of staring at the characters, sequences moving bit-by-bit from sketch to finish.  

Working with the guys at Final Frontier was like working with R/GA’s twin brother. We both wanted to create only the best work and we both didn’t want to compromise on the quality of the experience.  We were both willing to give our left arms and right legs to make this project awesome.  If Final Frontier wasn’t professional, confident, mature and patient in an intense process like this, it would have been a complete disaster.  Fortunately, the work was awesome and, most importantly, the high school ballers out there loved the experience.

Credits

  • Client: Nike
  • Production Company: Final Frontier终极先锋
  • Executive Producer: Gustavo Karam
  • Animation Studio: Le Cube
  • Directors: JuanMa Freire, Mariano Fernandez Russo
  • Executive Creative Director: Ralph Karam
  • Producer: Fernanda Soma and Larissa Miranda
  • Music Production Company: Cachorro Loco (Final Frontier)
  • Agency: R/GA Shanghai
  • Executive Creative Director: Terence Leong