How R/GA shot through hoops to create an immersive basketball campaign for Nike in China

In an attempt to inspire young basketballers to play the 'best games of their lives', Nike has launched ‘The Road to HBL’ in China.

The campaign is part of the lead up to Nike’s High School Basketball League (Nike HBL)’s Greater China invitational finals, which aims to help fans live out their own customised Nike HBL journey.

Fans will be able to experience the training regime, including team bonding, pep talks and match excitement from the point of view of a young player, creating their own personalised basketball diary and shareable team poster.

For this campaign, Nike engaged R/GA Shanghai to work closely with real life HBL players, coaches and fans from Beijing, Shanghai and Taiwan in order to identify shared experiences.

The R/GA team then handed the renderings of pivotal moments, team dynamics, key phrases and game technique were crafted in collaboration to production company Final Frontier and animation studio Le Cube.

HBL animation breakdown from Judges Eyes Only on Vimeo.

Speaking to The Drum about why the campaign was created, Terence Leong, who is the executive creative director at R/GA, explains that just like the Shanghai Marathon, HBL is one of Nike biggest sponsorship investments in China and is still relatively new.

“Nike China’s ambition is grow and elevate the presence of the platform. Not every high school kid out there know what it’s like to be in a competition of this level, the need is to create an experience to put kids out there in the shoes of HBL players so they will be inspired to be one,” explains Leong.

The process of creating similar real life experiences of basketballers was complex because everybody experiences high school differently, according to Leong, which was why the agency wanted to create enough scenes so that users can pick a combination that’s uniquely theirs.

For example, if a user is quiet point guard who got scouted into the team, his or her story will be slightly different from a confident forward who goes for a tryout.

“We interviewed over 100 high school players, their parents, coaches, fans and teachers to find the most common, relatable moments in the sport. How did they get into the team? What were their coaches like? What are the team dynamics? What was their first training session like? How did seniors treat them? Were their coaches tough? What were the locker room pranks? What intimidated them the most? All of this was incorporated into the final experience to make it authentic,” explains Leong.

Describing the creative process, Gus Karam, executive producer at Final Frontier says it started with the development of some conceptual art where Le Cube’s artist created two possible style approaches for R/GA and Nike to choose from. After the style was approved, the agency started the process of character family designs, creating all the animatics for each one of the scenes, establishing all the shot lengths, character acting and camera movements. From there, the animation was done followed by clean-up where colours and textures were added.

“We set out to create a cool universe with a very functional mindset. The animation was designed for a small screen experience and a POV perspective. Because of that, it was essential to keep the art simple and direct. All the elements of the illustrations are there to make the experience more immersive and to guide the watcher through the story,” Karam explains.

“The black and white colour palette with small coloured details, customized by the viewer, is an intelligent way to work in a graphic novel style for the illustrations but adding personality to the artwork. The lighting tuning work was also essential to bring the feelings desired to each scene and help with the storytelling.”

HBL final shot animation flow from Judges Eyes Only on Vimeo.

According to R/GA’s senior technology director, Laurent Thevenet, a project with this level of complexity would normally take around three months of animation, but working with a big team of experienced artists, it was possible to produce all the 39 scenes and 210 seconds of footage in only six weeks, without compromising the creativity or the quality of the delivery.

While the teams had a good infrastructure to deliver videos using Aliyun OSS and Aliyun CDN to ensure speed across China, but one of the biggest challenge they faced was optimizing the assets to the smallest possible levels. This meant they had to do dozens of tests across different types of scenes before finding the right balance of quality versus bitrate.

“We also had a challenge in delivering a landscape experience on WeChat Android. That version simply doesn’t support landscape website so we had two choices: deliver a portrait-only experience or rotate the canvas 90 degrees. We went with the second option,” says Thevenet, who adds that another challenge was to overlay dynamic content on video like names and numbers on jersey without processing these videos on the backend, to prevent additional waiting time.

“We worked with the animation house for the elements that would be superimposed with dynamic content to be fixed and not moving in the animation. The last challenge was to be able to deliver a modern experience across Tmall, Taobao, Weibo and WeChat browsers both on iOS and Android,” he adds.

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