See inside the motion design studio behind Blade Runner 2049, Ghost In The Shell and Prometheus' graphics

Territory Studio designs graphics and UIs for Hollywood's biggest sci-fi films. Here its key creatives give us an exclusive an insight into its working processes and the secrets behind its stunning work on Blade Runner 2049 and more.

Police records designed by Territory Studio for Blade Runner 2049

“We sit at the more subjective end of things where you can tell that our hands have touched the work – there’s a curation, a design, a concept – and you are aware that someone has created something within that film,” executive creative director David Sheldon-Hicks begins: “And that’s our sweet spot.

"So when we talking about designer concept and anchoring ourselves to that that’s because we don’t want to lose ourselves in the big visual effects houses or the boutique visual effects houses that do such great work on big CGI robots and the like. For us it’s still using a visual effects skillset, still delivering to the highest standards. But it’s all about design. How the graphic design and motion design work in a film to help tell those stories.”

David reveals that with Prometheus – the movie that launched Territory into, well, new territories within film design – director Ridley Scott wanted to shoot as much of the graphics as possible for real, eliminating green screens.

“It was all about putting the graphics in front of the actors and letting them act and perform against the screen graphics and for the director of photography to shoot the screens and performances for real,” says David.

One of the company’s most recent projects was the live action re-imagining of Mamoru Oshii 1995 animé Ghost in the Shell, directed by Rupert Sanders. And it was a project close to David’s heart.

Ghost in the Shell had a personal attachment for me,” he says. “You come at it as a fan thinking are we going to recreate the universe that was set out by Mamoru Oshii and how much of the director’s vision is going to feed into this. And then you’ve got the Hollywood effect and making it broadly appealing to a mass audience and how far do we go down that route? And that’s where you’re looking to the director, to find the balance.

“So with Ghost in the Shell, we were thinking of all the different types of advertising that might show up in a futuristic Tokyo. We almost did an audit of those kind of assets. OK, there’s premium brands, there’s luxury brands, there’s automotive, and they’re all in another language system and those Eastern characters look so beautiful anyway.

 "We were tying into some of those values, we’re being respectful of the tone of Ghost in the Shell, being respectful of the director’s vision. Then it’s just balancing those points of the triangle almost in order to find a sweet spot in terms of an art-direction style. And then we built out that art direction style and a set of rules. And then you apply that across hundreds of assets.”

Creative director Andrew Popplestone shared a similar passion for the animé masterpiece.

“It was a fanboy’s dream to work on that, especially as a designer because back in the 90s when that film came out it really was so influential,” he smiles. “It pushed on anime and films and storytelling in general. Conceptually, it was amazing. When we heard there was a live action version, we were desperate to be involved. And when it came about we were so excited.”

Andrew elaborates on the creative process of creating the ‘Solograms’ in Ghost in the Shell – holograms with a certain solidity or opacity to them that are prevalent throughout the movie.

“Creating the solograms was very much a new process for us,” he begins. “The director was really keen to create tech that was new, original and sat within the context of the film. They looked photo-real but maybe someone could walk through it or you’d see a bit of the building behind and that’s how you’d know it was fake.”

He continues: “You need to understand the context of the film and the background of the film. What is the director’s vision? What is the setting? And with the work we’re creating how are we elevating or helping the director to tell their story? Once you understand that then you can work out how to research stuff.

“Firstly we started working on the concept side of things. How does technology look? How does it work in this universe? How does it create context for the narrative and background of the film? And secondly we created hundreds of assets, varying from huge building-size solograms, right down to street level signage and interactive screens – and everything in between.

"One of the things that was particularly special about GITS was the ability to conceive and create new technologies. It’s such a wonderful bonkers world that this film exists in – how does the tech exist? What’s it’s function? How does the tech actually work? That’s a designer’s dream both in function and aesthetics.”

Working on such a huge project didn’t come without its challenges, with Andrew revealing that the studio learnt a lot of hard lessons on the way – and for the studio this movie presented a whole new ball game in terms of workflow.

It’s something that creative lead and VFX Supervisor Peter Eszenyi picks up on. “One of the things I learnt on this project was how to distance your personal ideas from the bigger goal. That’s one of the big lessons. When an idea gets rejected or an asset you created isn’t received well personally it feels bad and that’s not something we like to do, but it’s part of the job.

"If you take it as an input to make your product better, that’s the best way of thinking about it. Rejection is a way for you to go ahead and make sure your shot is getting better.”

A 'sat-nav'-style screen that Territory designed for K's (Ryan Gosling) vehicle in Blade Runner 2049

With a new studio space in artistic Islington, Territory is ever-expanding.

“More and more people are interested in imagining the future,” says David wrapping up our conversation. “We’re working with some really innovate directors who are open to changing film production techniques.

"We’ve been able to take motion graphics and visual effects ideas and influence the filming process – which has been amazing. And we’ve got some new projects coming through soon that will really make the most of that. It goes back to that toolset influencing the creative and story making process that we really believe in and we just want to keep pushing that. But it’s always to make the creative better.”

HowWeWork takes you behind-the-scenes at some of the UK’s leading creatives studios – giving you an insight into how they create their best work. Groundbreaking games, market-changing rebrands, mind-blowing visual effects – these companies produce these and more.

In this series of stories and videos, we interview a variety of creatives from each studio to discover their workflow and creative process. We speak to creative directors and designers, heads of studio and programmes to learn how they all work together efficiently and effectively to produce projects that are more than a sum of their parts.

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