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15th June 2018, London

BBC 2018 World Cup trailer made entirely out of tapestry

The BBC's World Cup promo trailer is a Russian-inspired animated film containing more than 600 frames of tapestry, created by BBC Creative with BBC Sport Marketing and directed by Nicos Livesey of Blinkink, The Guardian reports.

Last September, the BBC’s in-house creative agency, BBC Creative, put out a call for World Cup-related ideas. Two members of their team, Edward Usher and Xander Hart, came up with 20 proposals, the best of which were among 68 put in front of the BBC Creative’s creative directors, James Cross and Tim Jones, at the end of 2017. There was one that proposed to make a film out of tapestries. “The brief was to talk about the global impact the World Cup has and its cultural significance,” said Usher. “It’s a celebration of football, but we wanted to go beyond that. So we started researching Russian history.”

The concept embroidery machine. © BBC Sport

“Tapestries have been used by different cultures throughout history,” said Hart. “We looked at a lot of Russian art and they had some amazing tapestries and embroidery.”

Nicos Livesey

“The BBC has a great history of pushing things that are artistic,” said Usher. “I think they should do the same in their marketing campaigns. There’s a lot of faith in BBC Creative to make standout promos. When people are talking about the film, and they’re amazed that it’s embroidered, it’s doing a better job of promoting the World Cup on the BBC. The story of the film as well as the film itself is promoting the offer.”

Early this year the pair’s idea was commissioned as an embroidery (traditional tapestries are usually woven). They recruited Nicos Livesey, the only person known to have made an animated film out of embroidery.

Nicos Livesey, now working in animation and also the singer and guitarist in a rock band, produced a Kickstarter-funded, Channel 4-backed fully embroidered animated video for one of their songs, which took seven months to bring to life. “That video was such a passion project, totally just doing it for the love of it,” said Nicos Livesey. “So, to be able to take it further on, to be able to do it for such an amazing event and with the whole world watching, for this opportunity to come off the back of something like that was super exciting for me.”

The video was animated on computer, and then each of the 600 frames machine stitched at the London Embroidery Studio. © BBC Sport

Aesthetic and character designs

Livesey further worked on the aesthetic: the character designs are informed by Russian mosaics, the backgrounds by Soviet era poster art, and the tapestry machine that starts and ends the film by a particularly niche subset of Russian architecture. “The machine is a sort of concept embroidery machine,” said Livesey. “I was looking at old Russian bus stops and their amazing concrete geometric shapes, so we created an amazing machine living in space that turns on whenever the World Cup’s on and stitches out its most amazing moments and then sleeps again for another four years.”

Gradually a longlist of moments to be immortalised was whittled down. Usher and Hart’s earliest World Cup memories are from 1998, which is why Zinedine Zidane’s headed goals from that year’s final make an appearance, while the inclusion of Iceland’s thunderclaps, coming before the country’s World Cup debut, was a more left field suggestion.

“There were many moments that we wanted to try, but we wanted to get some imagery in it that wasn’t just constant goals, goals, goals,” said Livesey. “Iceland’s thunderclaps are such a powerful thing, the image of them charging on their way, parting the seas to Russia. It just seemed a really nice way to get something different in there.”

Animation and soundtrack

The video was animated on computer, and then each of the 600 frames machine stitched at the London Embroidery Studio over a period of three weeks in April. “They were a bit under the cosh,” said Usher. “I think they had all their machines running 23 hours a day.”

Usher and Hart’s other task was to find the perfect soundtrack. After an exhaustive period of research – “We had to trawl through an absolute gamut of Russian music, starting in Gregorian chants up to modern music, everything under the sun,” said Usher – they eventually settled upon a Russian folk song called Ochi Chernye, or Dark Eyes, and recorded a bespoke version at Abbey Road, sung in Russian by Sir John Tomlinson.

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