By Jennifer Walden
How do you celebrate 40 years of athletic shoe history? Well if you are Nike, with a two-minute web film featuring the visual evolution of the brand’s sneakers from 1971-2014. Nike’s “Genealogy of Innovation” was created by animation production company Golden Wolf in London, led by co-founder/creative director Ingi Erlingsson, motion graphics lead Alex Fernandez and producer Ant Baena.
Creating the music and sound design were co-founders of Echoic Audio in Bristol, England, composer/mixer David Johnston and sound designer/composer Tom Gilbert. They wrote seven unique music tracks, one for each section of the film, crafted the sound design and handled the final mix. Working closely with the creative team at Golden Wolf, Echoic Audio was able to knock out the entire project in just over a week using a divide and conquer approach.
Johnston, who composed the majority of the tracks, says, “Golden Wolf had a lot of input from the start. We had good chats about what they were looking for. As we created and tweaked each track, they were fine-tuning things in the animation. All in all, they were quite happy with the first drafts of most of the tracks so we did get through them quite quickly.”
This was Echoic’s first opportunity to create sound for the Nike brand. With such a high-profile client, known for creative advertising, Gilbert says they felt a bit of pressure to raise the bar, in addition to feeling the pressure of the project timeframe. “With seven different compositions, plus sound design, it was a huge amount of work in a short space of time.” Ideally, he says, they’d like to spend two or three days on a section, but in reality they had little more than a day for each one.
The seven different sections in the film span a specified period of time. Overall, the film’s music maintains a hip-hop vibe, but the instrumentation of each section is influenced by the time period and title of the individual sections. “Some of the periods weren’t very big, less than five years or so. They didn’t always line up with the way we imagine musical genres to start and finish but we definitely took some influence from those time periods,” explains Johnston.
Johnston and Gilbert were composing simultaneously, with Gilbert mainly working in Ableton Live 9 and Johnston using Apple’s Logic Pro 9. “We both use both programs,” reports Johnston. “Those are our main two.”
Echoic Audio employed an array of vintage synths on the Nike film. They performed parts on Roland’s Juno 6 and Juno 106, a Korg MS-20, and an Octave CAT SRM (by Octave Electronics). “We much prefer using those kinds of synths where possible rather than using software synths, just because they have a bit of warmth and depth that we feel we can’t always get from software synths,” reports Gilbert.
Since the hip-hop style is highly sample-based, Johnston and Gilbert literally sampled themselves using the vintage synths. They recorded their parts into Logic 9 and Live 9, cut them up, and processed them using Native Instruments tools like Kontakt, Reaktor and Battery. They also ran the samples through effects pedals, such as the Boss OD-3 Overdrive Pedal, and a ZVex Instant Lo-Fi Junky pedal. “For the 70’s section, we ran the whole track through the Lo-Fi Junky pedal just to give it a bit of grit and a bit of an old, retro sound. Using little techniques like that, we were able to give it a unique sound,” says Gilbert.
The film’s first section, titled “Genesis,” spans from 1971-1994. While the music isn’t quintessentially the seventies, it gives a nod to the era by using production values of that time, like having fairly light instrumentation, and having a lo-fi effect, notes Johnston.
Section two, “Reformation,” is from 1995-1998. There is a nineties hip-hop sound that’s more bright and colorful, with a slightly brighter production sound than the first section. “We were also taking cues from the visuals,” says Johnston. “The fourth section, ‘Enlightenment,’ from 2003-2006, is a bit more like electronic and disco music, but not necessarily strictly any period. It was more about using inspiration from the visuals and lining it up in terms of some sort of musical era.”
Title sequences tie the seven sections together. Johnston and Gilbert used these segues to transition between different tempos and keys. By ending each section on a big musical hit, and with Gilbert’s added sound design, they were able to use the segues to give the film a seamless flow despite the unique sonic qualities of each section. The result is seven individual compositions that form a cohesive score. “We always ended each section on one big sound, and then we used these segues to mix the sections together and create one flow,” says Johnston.
You can experience the film on the Echoic Audio site here.