Though unable to perform live owing to the pandemic, Irish indie band The Academic found a way to connect with its audience in real time on July 15, hosting a Google Slides event developed with BBDO, Capitol Records and Open the Portal studios.
During the approximately 30-minute presentation, the group's latest single, "Not Your Summer," streamed three times, while artists used Slides to animate flip book-style text and images interpreting the song's story of Covid-era alienation and angst. Band members also chatted with fans as part of the experience.
Today, using edited highlights from that livestream, the band released a music video. Its stark, deceptively simple artistry touches a nerve while promoting Community Spirit, The Academic's new EP:
There's also this behind-the-scenes reel:
"Not Your Summer" follows "Live Looper," an acclaimed Academic-BBDO collaboration from 2017 that used Facebook Live's delayed audio and video features to hypnotic effect.
Last year, BBDO harnessed the visual power of Slides for Foot Locker to create "The Endless World of Air Max," a hub for the ubiquitous Nike kicks.
Below, in a conversation edited for clarity, we chat with some of the folks behind the "Not Your Summer" project:
Muse: How did the livestream come about?
Bart Mol, BBDO, senior creative director, live animator: We pitched this idea to The Academic. We felt that taking on a new technological live endeavor would be an exciting follow-up [to Live Looper]. After conversations about which song to use, we felt there was a strong tie between the idea and the lyrics of "Not Your Summer." The Academic had just had their European tour canceled, and we all felt it was a unique opportunity to still give their fans a one-of-a-kind live experience.
Can you explain why the lyrics fit into the project concept?
Mol: The song "Not Your Summer" can be interpreted as a Covid-themed song. It's about a summer lost [because you wind up] locked in your house. But we wanted to take it a step beyond that. A repeating lyric throughout is "I need to get away from me." We felt this was a strong universal feeling that transcends this moment, and used the notion of not feeling happy with yourself and needing a break as the red-thread through the experience.
With that in mind, we crafted the story we wanted to tell. It's about someone who literally tries to get away from himself. The main character breaks away from his alter ego. This results in an exciting chase across different pages in Google Slides, in which we feature as many capabilities of the platform as we could in creative ways.
Going in, did you know how you'd tell the tale, what style you'd use?
Mol: Before we started creating the story, we had techniques in mind that we could use, like drawing shapes, typing text and syncing up the miniatures of several pages, but in the end all the narrative choices were based on the song itself.
Was there a big crew involved in the livestream?
Mike Woodall, BBDO, co-director, senior producer, live animator: There were approximately 20 people working behind the scenes on July 15. We had 11 live animators—four of whom were the band members—a quality assurance manager running the container website and live audio stream, a tech director streaming the experience on YouTube, post-production partners screen-recording the experience from various computers, and a behind-the-scenes crew filming the animators remotely with drop-kit setups.
Can you take us through the prep and live workflow?
Woodall: We started preparing for the event through visual exploration and animation development with Open the Portal, an L.A.-based animation studio, in April. We first approached the music video with traditional animatics. Once the animation was approved, we started to slow down the frame rate to match Google Slides' refresh rate [of approximately 1 second]. This allowed us to understand which types of sequences would work and translate well into the Slides ecosystem. We had to solve how many images we could stack on top of each other on one Slide before they would cause major delays or a crash.
After lots of testing, we decided to break the show into four acts, which allowed us to find the comfort level of image capacity per slide. Once that plan was in place, we started creating GIFs and text boxes to drop in throughout the show. As soon as we had all of the final assets in place, we spent about a month rehearsing every day leading up to the show.
When viewers tuned in live, what exactly did they see?
Woodall: The Google Slides experience kicked off on July 15, opening up for our first show at 6 p.m. BST. We had two additional shows that day, at 9 p.m. and 12 a.m. The first 15 minutes of each event was what we called the "waiting room," where fans could learn a little about what they were going to see. We included slides that explained how to sync the audio to visuals, how to prepare for the best viewing experience, a sampling of the animation and GIFs, and a slide with an avatar of each band member. Each member of The Academic were able to type messages to the audience about "Not Your Summer" and the EP release later that night.
Was the band really into it or did they need convincing?
Woodall: Right off the bat, The Academic were excited by the concept. Before we approached the band with the idea, our team worked on several prototypes to explore what was possible on the platform. We were able to showcase the full potential of Slides as an animation platform, along with a rough outline of the story, and they jumped onboard. Given our previous live music video production of "Live Looper," we knew they'd have a heart for doing something special again.
Doesn't this feels like a showcase for Google Slides as much as for the band?
Andrew Osborne, BBDO, executive producer, head of content operations: Slides and the rest of the Google ecosystem became such a large part of everyday workflow for those operating from home throughout the pandemic [that using the platform fit the song's theme]. We had people in New York, California, Oregon, Canada, England and Ireland all working together to bring this to life. The collaborative nature of the platform allowed us to not only use it for the coordination and planning of the performance, but it also became the stage for this experience. We took what is typically viewed as a traditional business tool and did something fun and unexpected.
"Not Your Summer"
Google Slides Music Video Experience
Craig Fitzgerald: Lead Vocals, Guitar
Matthew Murtagh: Guitar
Stephen Murtagh: Bass
Dean Gavin: Drums
Carl Brogan: Band Manager
Tom Paul: General Manager
Alia Aldeghather : Product Manager
Open the Portal
Trever Stewart: Co-Director, Technical Director, Live Animator
David Braun: Animation Director
Barrett Slagle: Executive Producer
Xenia Balashov: 1st AD, Art Director
David Lubars: Chief Creative Officer, Worldwide
Bart Mol: SVP, Senior Creative Director, Live Animator
Pol Hoenderboom : SVP, Creative Director
Mike Woodall: Co-Director, Senior Producer, Live Animator
Andrew Osborne: Head of Content Operations
James Young: Head of Digital Operations
Alex Gianni: EVP, Director of Content Production
Chava Quinn: Producer
Benner Rawley : Copywriter
Maya Iwata: Art Director
Phillip Savage: Livestream Tech Director
Jimmy McGee: Quality Assurance
Jonathan Hsu : Supervising Producer
Allie Kolb : Senior Post Producer
Morgan Ammons: Live Animator
Alex Mirza : Live Animator
Kevin Bostic : Live Animator
Jason Kim: Live Animator, Editor
Alex Lubars: Editor
Sean Quinn: Managing Producer for Live Stream Equipment Manager
Mike Woodall: Director
Jonathan Hsu : Supervising Producer
Allie Kolb: Senior Post Producer
Jason Kim: Editor