A frame from Time Sculpture
|Running time||60 seconds|
|Release date(s)||10 November 2008|
|Directed by||Mitch Stratten|
|Music by||"Air War" (Crystal Castles)|
|Produced by||Rebecca Pople (agency) Sally Newsom (production company)|
|Followed by||Space Chair|
Time Sculpture is a British television and cinema advertisement launched in 2008 to promote Toshiba's high-definition television upscaling technology in the United Kingdom. The piece, which comprised a series of short sequences of movements composited into a single sixty-second continuous loop, is the first in the "Projects" line of commercials, created by advertising agency Grey London with the intention of breaking a world record with each successive element. Time Sculpture holds the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of moving image cameras in a composite shot.
Production of Time Sculpture was handled by London-based production company Hungry Man, and was directed by Mitch Stratten. Post-production was handled by The Mill. It premiered on British television on 10 November 2008. Time Sculpture was moderately successful, garnering several awards from the advertising and television industries, including a Clio Award and a London International Award. The next advertisement in the "Projects" series, Space Chair, followed in 2009, and broke the world record for the highest television commercial shot in high-definition.
Time Sculpture opens in an undecorated art studio. On the floor is a skateboard and a chair. A man and a woman walk into frame from left and right, respectively. The man begins doing push-ups while the woman, holding a set of black cards, walks to the centre and spins around. The film begins reversing and playing over and over, as other actors begin walking into frame, each interacting with a prop. A pair of men bounce balls off of the floor, then walk away, leaving the balls bouncing in their absence. Another begins waving a red flag under one of the balls, as a pair of others throw cans of paint onto the floor. The actions of each of the actors remaining on screen begin to loop. The camera starts tracking in a circle around the looping actors as the music ("Air War" by Crystal Castles) rises. The woman at the centre throws her cards up and out, and a man throws his hat into the air. Both begin looping again, as other actors begin interacting with the skateboard and chair. The "flag" and "skateboard" men each pick up one of the dropped balls as a voiceover begins, which states: "When what we watch constantly redefines itself, shouldn't how we watch it do the same?" The piece closes with the Toshiba logo, a motto ("Leading Innovation") and a link to the company's upscaling website.
The second half of the 2000s (decade) saw electronics conglomerate Toshiba engaged in the high definition optical disc format war, in which it supported the HD DVD format. In 2007, Toshiba made the decision to consolidate its European advertising ventures with a single advertising agency, where previously it had split its £25,000,000 marketing budget between Lowe, Saatchi & Saatchi, Grey Global Group, and Young & Rubicam. In June 2007, Grey won the account with a pitch based around emphasising Toshiba's history in research and development, pushing the company's image as an "innovator in the field". The first television and cinema commercial from the partnership, Light, lighter, aired in January 2008, to a lukewarm reception.
The middling results of the campaign caused Grey to reevaluate its approach, leading to a new "Projects" campaign, which would see advertisements "pushing the boundaries of what was possible." The aim of "Projects" would be to achieve a new world record with each instalment. To this end, Grey London re-examined several proposals presented to them in the past which had been abandoned as unworkable. For the first piece of "Projects", the team eventually settled upon a concept which had been proposed by director Mitch Stratten at production company Hungry Man. The idea was to take the "bullet time" technology pioneered by the Wachowski brothers in the feature film The Matrix, which used a circular rig to create an apparent camera movement during a frozen moment in time, and to extend this through the replacement of still photography with high-definition video. The director thought of the title, "Timesculpture", on the way to Grey London with his producer, where they then presented the project.
The idea had originally been set aside for a singular reason: it represented a quantity of data unprecedented in a television commercial, and would be one of the biggest visual effects jobs ever undertaken by a production company of Hungry Man's size. Once the technique was settled upon as the direction for the first project in the new campaign, several scripts were put together by creative teams at Grey London. These were written specifically focusing on the proposed technique, looking to make it eye-catching enough to stand out in a commercial break. The team were restricted from using computer-generated imagery, and stuntwork would be kept to a minimum to maintain focus on the technique. Eventually, a simple treatment was assembled. The piece would be set in an art school to, according to creative director Andy Amadeo, "showcase creativity [...] at its rawest." Timings of simple "dance-like" movements from several actors were choreographed using computer mock-ups of the space in Pinewood Studios which would be dressed as a set for Time Sculpture.
It took over a month and a half to assemble the engineering team who would work on creating the custom camera rig. The rig which supported 200 Gigashot high-definition video cameras requisitioned from Toshiba, was 1.8 m-high and weighed over half a tonne. It was constructed in two halves, each covering 180 degrees of the inward view of a 14 m circular space in the centre of the set. Once the rig itself was assembled, it took a team of four technicians three days to set the focus and alignment on all 200 cameras, and set them all to be activated from a single remote control  using technology devised by UK consultant Richard "Q" Glover.
Each of the fourteen actors in Time Sculpture performed their choreography separately, recorded from all angles by the 200 cameras. The resulting 110 hours of film, representing around 20 Tb of data, took post-production company The Mill over two weeks to process, running 24 hours a day. In addition, the director designed a custom Edit Decision List and editing application to manage the vast amount of footage in the edit room. Independent programmers were commissioned to create this software, for use by editing company The Whitehouse. The initial editing pass by editor Christophe Williams pared the film down to around 30 hours. The remaining data was passed back to The Mill, who began working on compositing the films frame-by-frame using Flame. While on set, each half of the rig had been given one run individually to create a blank background. This allowed The Mill to paint out the rig in each of the 2,500,000 frames. While minimal CGI work was needed on Time Sculpture, minor modifications to details such as lighting were made using software including Baselight, Floctane, Smoke, and Autodesk Softimage.
Release and reception
The final 60-second cut of Time Sculpture premiered on 10 November 2008, on terrestrial television channels ITV1, Channel 4 and on the satellite television channel Sky One. The full version aired for one week on terrestrial television, and for three weeks on Sky One, supported by 30-second cuts on Channel 4, Five, Sky, ITV1, and ITV4 through 17 November, followed by 20-second cuts on the same channels. This was accompanied by in-store retail promotions and by an online presence. In all, around £3,000,000 was spent on media purchases.
While it proved fairly popular with consumers, attracting over 500,000 views on video sharing website YouTube in its first week, reactions to the commercial from critics was mixed. Many comparisons were made with other "bullet time" works such as The Matrix, and criticisms were leveled that the piece lacked a "big idea". However, others were more complimentary; Noel Bussey of Campaign magazine commented: "Brave, interesting and expertly realised, this is a breath of fresh air, and a call to arms from an agency that has struggled with having a reputation for not doing interesting creative." The publication later went on to name it one of the top ten advertisements of 2008. This was not the last honour Time Sculpture would receive from the advertising industry; over the next few months it received honours from at the D&AD Awards, the Clio Awards, and the Midsummer Awards. In 2009, it was recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records for having used the highest number of moving image cameras in a composite shot.
Following the success of Time Sculpture, Grey London and Toshiba decided to continue the "Projects" campaign and, in 2009, collaborated with Hungry Man again to create a follow-up, titled Space Chair. This time, the team attempted to break the world altitude record for a high-definition commercial.
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