Tendril has produced several films for the world’s most recognizable sports brand, Nike. In the LunarEpic film series, Tendril created expansive environments using GeoGlyph to mirror Nike’s unique product esthetics and design.
In this interview, we sit down with Tendril's Creative Director and Partner, Chris Bahry, to talk about their approach to this complex and epic animation project.
QuadSpinner: Hi Chris! Thank you for taking the time to give us a glimpse into your world and the dynamic projects at Tendril. To get started, tell us about your background.
Chris Bahry: Hey guys! Thanks for inviting me to share some thoughts :) To begin with, I was always an artistic kid. Growing up, I loved science fiction, I loved comics, and I attended a music school. Both of my parents were teachers. When I got to university, I thought about a life in biomedical visualization. It would require me to have a degree in biology, which I pursued. While in university, I finally got my hands on a graphics computer. It completely blew my mind! I was totally down the rabbit hole for good, and I quickly became a rendering addict.
I was just two credits away from finishing my biology degree when I was scooped up by Bruce Mau Design. Working there was the most incredible opportunity of my life. I learned that a place of work could also be a place of study, almost like a lab. It was the hardest decision of my life to leave them, but the overwhelming desire to work in motion design beckoned.
QS: What led to the start of Tendril? How has the studio evolved since the beginning? And how do you describe your studio culture?
CB: I was super keen to get heavily into motion design and picture arts in general. An audio friend of mine had heard that the Ebeling Group was starting a new shop in Toronto called NAKD, and it sounded like the best opportunity. It was a new beginning and the opportunity for me to come out as a real, paid motion designer. At first, I thought I was joining a studio of creatives, but I showed up the first day and it was just me and another guy. That was it!
From there, my Tendril co-Creative Director Alexandre Torres and I began working together. After a number of years, we realized we wanted something we could take to the next level and have full responsibility of. This was a crazy risk, because we had absolutely zero financial backing to start Tendril. There was no alternative plan, so we had no choice but to make Tendril work.
QS: Tendril has created some stunning visuals for major brands like Dolby, the Space Channel, Tom Clancy, and of course Nike. What were the most valuable lessons that you learned from these projects? How did they shape your perspective and your workflow?
CB: The most important lesson I have learned is finding the joy in client projects. I’ve learned over the years that they’re not just a gig you’re being dictated how to do. You have to turn client-based work into tools for making the art you want to make, while getting paid in the process.
QS: As helmsman at Tendril, what is your role on any given project? What are your day-to-day responsibilities? And what does a typical day (if there is such a thing!) look like?
CB: Ha! That’s a good question. In short: I try to get work done, punctuated by a million interruptions. Mostly my work involves pitching for new business, keeping the team together, creating art and ideas, managing both details and big picture stuff. We try to do our dailies in the AM and then go from there–sometimes we have an evening check-in as well... although our studio is pretty autonomous, generally.
QS: Given the many demands on your time, how do you effectively manage your commitments? What are your secrets?
CB: Sadly no secrets – make a lot of lists, a lot of post-its and iCal... Slack is a big part of it too. Internal communication is key! We block out chunks of time to try and avoid total interruptions.
QS: One of Tendril’s most recent projects for Nike - LunarEpic Flyknit – is out of this world! ;) Spectacular visuals. What were Nike’s requirements for Tendril and how did you set out to attain them?
CB: Not too many requirements – it was more that they wanted spectacular visuals that speak to the product and its special qualities. We tried to evoke the qualities of the product in the most amazing and visual way. It’s almost like visual experimental film with Nike. As long as there is some sense of the qualities of the product, the piece has done its job. The film is meant to be eye-catching with a maximum visual punch.
QS: What emerged as the biggest challenge on the project and how did you overcome that?
CB: The environments were the biggest challenge for sure. They’re not the normal earth environments; they are totally unique and full made-up. They’re sort of like a swirly meringue rock formation. Figuring out to create them realistically but also to look unique and unusual was a challenge.
QS: One of the central elements of the LunarEpic launch film is the captivating terrain that mirrors the stylish detailing of the product. Our audience would love to hear about your terrain design process.
CB: The terrain is built off real word references, this crazy place called Pariah Canyon, which actually has formations like that. It’s a relatively very small area so we had to extrapolate that and make the canyon into a whole planet. Then we developed concept art, and once we had the look we had to figure out technically how to make it work. We did that with C4D procedural noises and World Machine.
QS: What roles did World Machine and GeoGlyph play?
CB: We used it for the terrains / enviros. It was crucial to have World Machine and GeoGlyph. In each of the shots we used World Machine and with GeoGlyph, we deployed it in the opening shot and ending shot, while various GeoGlyph nodes were used throughout.
QS: Which GeoGlyph features or devices were most useful for this particular project and why?
CB: Here is a full rundown of GeoGlyph devices used:
On the first Nike Lunar film: Alien, Canyonizer, MultiPerlin, Ghost, SuperTerrace, NeoFlow. On the second Nike Lunar film: High Desert, DuneSea, Dunes, Ghost, KillSpike
All blended with many noises and selectors and multiple layers of Erosion. Also made good use of the Satellite colour maps :)
QS: What features would you love to have in the next generation of GeoGlyph?
CB: It would be very cool to have texture generation, more comprehensive colorizing terrain devices*, and more presets for different kinds of typical starting terrains in a production environment.
* Editor's Note: We are pleased to report that GeoGlyph 2 features Chris' comprehensive colorizer, along with several new texture generators.
QS: We understand that you cherry picked a global team for this project? What are your priorities when assembling a superhero team?
CB: Really good generalist skills with a small team are super key. The team overall will have important specialties, but everyone has to be able to accomplish a bit of everything. Each member of team could building an asset, animate it, and render it. Superb artistic and design skills were a must too. There’s always an artistic and creative component to accompany the technical side of the work that is necessary.
QS: What is your advice to the entrepreneurial newcomers who aspire to start their own studio?
CB: Find a good partner, find a good team, and don’t borrow money!
QS: When choosing your team at Tendril, what are the key qualities and skills that you look for in an artist?
CB: A designer’s eye is fundamental for us. Not being a prima donna is a big one as well. We care about skills but we also need a good fit. Good chemistry.
QS: Tendril seems to be expanding into different platforms on a variety of fronts? What exciting things are on the horizon for you?
CB: We’re super into AR, VR, games, experiential and digital work. On the traditional side, we’re getting into more longer-format story-based work.
Thanks again, Chris. Great insights. We look forward to following Tendril’s adventures.
Tendril has kindly shared their films, along with their making-of videos. You can see detailed screenshots and more information about how these films were created on Tendril's Behance page.
Check out Tendril's website for more amazing projects.