Bringing the fantastic to life with real-world tools.
When Google and Warner Brothers came to Spitfire Studio with a brief to help activate the latest J. K. Rowling franchise they brought a suitcase of very unusual requests. Firstly, we had to use not just Google Maps API to deliver the world of Fantastic Beasts but actual Google Maps.
Secondly, that collectively we somehow persuade the Google Maps Mandarins in San Francisco that it was a good idea to create imaginary places in an online environment that people depend on in a very real way, every day of their lives.
Thirdly, that once we had marked out and labelled these places on the standard mapping tool that we allow users to click on their Street View image spheres and effectively travel back in time to 1920s Street View, including buildings that we had modelled from scratch and rendered as recoloured 1920s sepia photography, all under heavy NDA coverage.
Finally, once the user was there, that they be allowed to proceed into the buildings via Street View to be presented with environments that had never, and would never, exist.
Somehow we managed it and along the way created a temporary world that was enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of film fans from around the globe.
NYC SCENES RENDERED
When the things you need aren’t immediately to hand, you need to conjure something up to proceed.
Working across timezones, our legal and management functions shuttled endlessly between brand managers at Warner Brothers, as well as Google stakeholders, to hammer out the almost unprecedented agreement to allow us to 'break' Google Maps for a short period of time. With six weeks from the sign off on the plan to delivery two weeks before the film, things were tight. We had to continue on the assumption that an agreement would come.
But in the meantime, the studio was in the final stages of edit and post-production on the film, meaning that the stills from which we were to base the 3D modelling were being held back. Using the scantest of visual information, a map of 1920s New York and the number of a very helpful lady at the Library of Congress, we managed to track down photographs and plans of buildings that hadn't existed for many years.
From here we built out the environments that went on to drive the experience, modifying past work as and when newly sanctioned photography came on stream.
All told, a team of 8 modellers, worked day and night for over a month to completely rebuild and texture entire blocks of interwar period New York as a development team plugged testing methodologies for perfectly embedding spheres within spheres within the fabric of the Maps experience.
It all came together... and as fast as it appeared it was gone.
Approvals came in a rush. With a week to go, San Francisco gave the green light to embed and activate the work. Development and UEx functions worked in shifts to ensure that the user journey from map down to interior was absolutely fluid as social teams began to seed the posts to drive engagement.
The need for management was constant. One of the unforeseen consequences of working on a non-closed ecosystem where user-generated content is encouraged is that J.K Rowling fans began to co-opt the experience for their own ends. Keeping the spheres free of user tags, some of which demonstrated a frankly unhealthy connection to the Wizarding World, was an eye-opening experience.
All told, the experience ran for a month. Along the way, Spitfire worked with major players in Hollywood and Silicon Valley, having been given privileged access to International IP and highly guarded global digital resources. Ten points for Gryffindor!