As Google says, “The landscape of cybersecurity has changed.” Now, to understand how the current generation of hackers and cyber security threats operate, you have to step into their shoes. This is exactly what the cyber security team at Google does, in order to keep its users, and their data, safe. To show how this elite security outfit is protecting us, Google created a six-part documentary series, featuring never-before-told stories, that offers a behind-the-scenes look at Google’s hacking teams and how they work to keep everyone safe.
However, hacking and cyber security is quite a complex topic, and showing millions of lines of code simply wouldn’t be very visually appealing or engaging for the average person. This is where LA-based design studio and creative agency, Imaginary Forces, stepped in. Using its expert group of artists, designers and animators, Imaginary Forces (IF) decoded the world of hackers into a metaphorical world – with vibrant and accessible visuals to accompany the documentary’s speakers.
IF employed a unique system of 2D glyphs and 3D voxels which became the building blocks of an easy-to-understand visual language. From visual montages to battleship metaphors, the designers worked collaboratively with Google to drive the brand’s message of its virtual heroes fighting for the most vulnerable users on the net. To discuss how this was brought to life, LBB’s Ben Conway caught up with IF’s creative director on the project, Tosh Kodama.
LBB> Have you worked with the Google Creative Lab before? What is your relationship like? And how did this project come about?
Tosh> We have worked with them before, but it was a different team and a lifetime ago. This team takes the ‘Creative Lab’ part to heart. They are thoughtful designers, who challenge you creatively, and they are masters at their craft. This was a perfect union and collaboration.
This project started as a two-week design sprint. We worked directly with JR [Schmidt, motion designer at Google Creative Lab] and his team. They handed us a small design challenge, and we came up with a system that solved a small part of the bigger picture. One thing led to another, and we spent a good portion of the year dedicated to this project.
LBB> You’ve said it was a “collaborative design process”. How did you work alongside Google in terms of the technical/design processes, as well as with the messaging/creative process?
Tosh> JR, Donica, and Derrick Lee were great partners. They are great storytellers, but they also know the craft. They were hands-on, literally on the box, trying different things. There is great respect when anyone can jump in anywhere and make an idea come to life.
LBB> What were some of the key design elements in your visual language? Talk us through how you built up the language!
Tosh> Voxels are the building blocks of our story. The graphic component exists to support the larger story, and the voxels visually represent a complex system of code and networks with billions of connections. The voxels can visually show an endless sea of complicated networks but also drill down to a single voxel being compromised. They gave us flexibility in expressing many complex ideas with great impact.
The transition from 2D to 3D evolved over time. That’s what’s great about working with a team that understands it takes time to develop a narrative system that’s complex but simple and unexpected. I give a lot of credit to the collaborative nature of this project.
LBB> The top-down views onto voxel towers and castle-like structures almost have a videogame vibe – was that deliberate?
Tosh> Yes, that was deliberate; all the graphics are in support of the greater story. There was a section in the ‘Red Team’ episode where they used a video game metaphor. The graphic system that was created was flexible in telling multiple types of stories. This was one where it made perfect sense – voxels and video games. Maybe it’s obvious, but how can we avoid it? It’s so fun making that connection, and it’s effective storytelling.
LBB> What were some key inspirations for the visual style/design of the teaser video? Did any video games, films or other art have an influence?
Tosh> Yes, the inspiration was from James Cameron’s underwater exploration. We looked at the way darkness swallows any form of light on the deep seafloor. How things come into the light but quickly fade away. You only see what’s in front of you, but you know the vastness of the sea exists far beyond what you can see. It’s mysterious and treacherous, it makes you curious and in awe of how much we don’t know or see. That’s the emotive task we were challenged to express in the brief.
LBB> What was your favourite animation/VFX shot to create and how did you achieve it?
Tosh> A block of voxels being compromised or infected is one of my favourite test animations. Brandon Savoy, our lead animator and art director, was obsessed with how the voxels behaved. What’s the speed of the decay? How does it subdivide? How does it react to gravity? This voxel world is a very rigid and gridded structure. The animation, on the other hand, is organic, and the movement is unexpected. The combination of these elements gives life to the world. The voxel world on its own without the animation wouldn’t be as compelling to watch, and we want the viewer to feel uneasy about the way things unfold.
LBB> What was the hardest challenge you faced on this project – and how did you overcome it?
Tosh> Everything is hard. It’s so easy to make beautiful work these days with all the tools at your disposal. The hard part is creating something that cuts through, while also staying true to the nature of your project. Capturing the right mood and being able to manipulate it, to create unexpected moments, to make impactful moments. It’s all hard, but when it comes together into a beautiful symphony, it’s all worth it. It never gets easy, but that’s the part I love, the challenge of bringing it all together.