On 12th September 2011 Radio Design were commissioned by the Skyfall Production to animate a large-scale LED skyscraper billboard for a scene in the movie Skyfall, the 23rd installment in the 007 Bond saga, directed by Sam Mendes.
The distinctive neon blue signage, which features a very prominent jellyfish, appears as the backdrop to Skyfall’s now notorious nighttime Shanghai fight sequence starring James Bond (Daniel Craig) battling the assassin Patrice (Ola Rapace).
Throughout the Shanghai scene, the above billboard runs almost the full height of an adjacent 112 meter building exterior, bathing the set in cold electric light and creating a serene yet slightly sinister juxtaposition to the frenetic action silhouetted in the foreground. The unforgettable imagery of the stylised visual invokes associations with tech-noir movie archetypes Blade Runner and The Terminator. These Shanghai skyscraper motion graphics feature for a prominent 7 minutes 27 seconds in Skyfall, with the scene’s music score being simply titled ‘Jellyfish’ on the official movie soundtrack.
The role of Radio Design was to engineer the billboard using huge Chinese type, a logo for a fictitious corporation reading ‘Blue Optic Communications’, and stock footage of jellyfish (Bass Visuals) – assigned by the Production’s art department – to fit a 4:25 aspect ratio LED screen on the side of a Shanghai skyscraper.
A key challenge to the visual was to reconstruct long jellyfish swim cycles to fill the entire 1560 by 9870 pixels skyscraper canvas from the tight framed 1920 x 1080 pixels stock footage. Pieces of individual jellyfish were dissected into 93 sections and re-stitched to form new specimens to flow seamlessly up the full height of the billboard.
Also integral to the animation’s success were the additional sea particles to increase the sense of depth, fine colour grading of the visual’s blue hues and smooth time-stretching for the slow motion drifting effect.
The Production required the skyscraper visual for both live action filming and post-production stages. A cropped area of the billboard animation was displayed on set via a 60ft x 40ft LED screen for the shoot, while the full-height billboard was composited in VFX.
Radio Design were responsible for syncing the cropped live-action plate graphics with the full-height skyscraper CGI set extension graphics for the final shot.
First 007 movie in the franchise to win BAFTA’s Outstanding British Film, the industry response to the Skyfall Shanghai visual has been overwhelmingly positive, with Radio Design’s favourite enthusiast’s quote being that the billboard “almost demands its own entry in the cast list.”
Catch a glimpse of the jellyfish graphics on set in this behind the scenes message from Skyfall producer Michael Wilson:
Client: The Skyfall Production
Lead Graphic Designer: Heather Pollington (Pinewood Studios Art Department)
Motion Graphics: Ben Cook