IDEA: Aardman Animations is best known for the Plasticine cheeriness of Wallace and Gromit. But the British animation house turns to grimmer subject matter with a disturbing yet utterly rich and beautiful trailer for Darkside, a psychedelic BBC radio play by Tom Stoppard marking the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's album The Dark Side of the Moon. (You can listen the play here, following five minutes of BBC preroll.) A masterpiece of layered visuals and sound, the three-minute spot takes its inspiration from both the play and the album (the former is based only loosely on the latter), as director Darren Dubicki marries Floyd's creative legacy with Stoppard's dystopic genius.
"I aimed to create a film that encompassed the underlying themes of the drama and album—greed, conflict, consumption, humanity and madness," he said. The result is a compelling mix of the source material, echoing the famed imagery of the band while offering a completely new theatrical experience.
COPYWRITING/SOUND: The trailer doesn't tell a linear story. "I created a series of style frames that were less focused on a narrative but hinted at key moments in the play," said Dubicki. "I did originally consider the life cycle as a narrative, but as the edit came together, it felt more interesting this way and started to feel like a film trailer."
The album and play both begin and end with the sound of heartbeats—and the trailer does, too. A snippet from the album track "Speak to Me" leads into audio from a key section of the play, as the words "This is not a drill" appear on screen and a woman's voice says: "The ice is melting. Your drink is getting warm. A wall of water is heading for your patio. From space you can see the coal furnaces glowing. We consume everything. We're dying of consumption. Hardwoods are toppling for dashboards. The last rhino has given up its horn for a cancer cure that doesn't work. The last fish is gasping beneath a floating island of plastic as big as France. The weather forecast is a state secret."
Parts of the song "Eclipse" then take over, and the trailer ends with the album cover's prism art, the name of the play, and the day and time of its premiere on BBC Radio 2.
FILMING/ART DIRECTION: The visuals echo the intensely surreal art that Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis created for Pink Floyd over the years. "The album is woven with particular cyclic metaphors, such as the moon, sun, tides and life," Dubicki said. "I used circular motifs—sun, moon, eyes, clocks and jet engines. The latter was a useful metaphor to symbolize travel [as well as] escalating mental issues. As an object of immense power, it's also prone to immense fragility." The prism and light are key motifs, too.
The pacing alternates between calmness and intense jeopardy. The visuals combine digital imaging, CGI, studio-based effects and handcrafted elements. (Dubicki used one of his kid's figurines to symbolize the common man.) A toolset called RGBDToolkit let him combine live action with depth data to create 3-D geometry and meshes. He also used photogrammetry (creating 3-D objects from photographs) to create characters such as the patient on the bed and the field worker.
To keep it from looking too slick, he shot various scene elements in the studio and added practical effects like optical flares, smoke plates, sparks, ink flows, greenscreen passes and prism spectrums.
TALENT: The female voiceover is by Amaka Okafor, who plays Emily McCoy in the play. The digitized liveaction characters like the teenager on the rail tracks and the jet-headed patient "are all proud Aardman crew," said Dubicki.
MEDIA: The trailer was posted to YouTube and the website. Dubicki also created a second film, slower in pace, that people could watch while listening to the play, which premiered Aug. 26.
Client: BBC Radio 2
BBC Producers: Rhian Roberts, Rowan Collinson
Production Company: Aardman Animations
Director: Darren Dubicki
Executive Producer: Heather Wright
Producer: Helen Argo
Production Assistant: Danny Gallagher
Production Coordinator: Louise Johnson
DOP: Mark Chamberlain
Camera Assistant: Joe Maxwell
Gaffer: Nat Sale
CG Modeling: Olly Skillman-Wilson, David Klein, Saul Freed
CG Animation: Mathew Rees, Rich Spence
CG Lighter: Andrew Lavery
Supervising Senior Compositor: Jim Lewis
Compositors: Spencer Cross, Paule Quinton
After-Effects Artist: Tom Readdy
Editor: Dan Hembury
Special Thanks: Nathan Guttridge, Philip Child, Bram Ttwheam, Spencer Drayton, Will Norie, Jess McKillop, Sian Campbell