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Technically Brief: Token – Finding the Groove

Since our Token video has gotten a huge response, receiving over 110M views in the past year, we wanted to share our process for how we concepted, developed, and executed what drives the piece the most: AUDIO.

To give some background, our concept for Token almost never got made. We offered up a wild, last minute idea that strayed heavily from our earlier concepts, one of which was about to be approved by the client. It set us up for a short turnaround with long work days BUT we ended up getting to make a commercial that was not only creatively satisfying, but truly challenging. This was way more than a fair trade for us. It also goes to show how earning the trust of a client allows for creative risks that can truly pay off.

So, this is where things got interesting. We had never created a track for a commercial based solely on sound effects. To do this, we had to completely overhaul our normal process and flip it on its head, essentially working backwards.

Creating the beat was easy enough.

Using Ableton to edit our audio together, we created a custom beat and strung it all together with a sweet bass sample.

Done. That was the easy part.

The tricky part was the sound effects.

We figured out that if we were going to make this idea work, we had to start with the sound effects we wanted included in the piece before even thinking about the track. Typically, the process of finding and editing SFX comes AFTER the shoot in post.

We decided that if we were going to do this right, we had to ditch that formula and essentially edit the entire piece BEFORE shooting a kilobyte of footage. We brainstormed a ton of SFX, most of which made it into the final product.

Now, a pre-vis approach is nothing new. We do it all the time to get a rough sense for how the a spot will be structured. What’s different about Token is that the pre-vis was attached directly to SFX meaning that any tweak in the song changed the boards and any tweak in the boards completely changed the song. Even though we were able to lock in both quickly, there’s no doubt that this was a high stakes approach to the pre-vis; any minor change would have had huge effects on the overall piece, causing a delay. But regardless of the risk, it’s a necessary risk we had to take to be able to make the Token launch possible.

With all that in mind, we carefully searched and recorded sounds that matched our list and started to piece them together in the edit. Since we didn’t have any visual reference to edit to, we went by intuition alone, making a story from what we heard with a few revisions here and there.

When that track was laid down, we started storyboarding each scene and matching it to the sound effects. After some deliberation on how the scenes should flow together, we brought the storyboards into Premiere and went about cutting them to the beat.

The result:

The final version ended up changing slightly but being able to see the edit before we went into production was huge. A storyboard alone is valuable to the production team but having a full blown proto-edit within the first few days of pre production (regardless of resolution) is like having blueprints for a castle. The structure is there even before you start piecing it together.

Under any normal circumstances, that approach either wouldn’t work or would be completely unnecessary. What we learned along the way is that switching up the procedure is sometimes necessary. Even if the idea is super simple, the execution might call for a drastically different solution. In Token’s case, the changes we needed to make to our normal process were obvious when we sat down and realized that the audio would be driving the visuals, not the other way around.

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