Just how did Greenpeace drown Downing Street in plastic waste?
Studio Birthplace takes us through the mammoth process of modelling a CG replica of Britain’s political epicentre, and 1.8 million kilograms of trash, for the satirical yet alarming Wasteminster campaign.
An attention-grabbing new campaign from Greenpeace sees a dummy Boris Johnson behind his plinth outside 10 Downing Street making an impassioned speech to the press about the UK’s valiant efforts to curb plastic pollution. Slowly, at first, then with exponentially increasing pace and volume, a cascade of plastic waste rains down on the prime minister, becoming a tidal wave that engulfs the street (while a comedically menacing Michael Gove watches from inside). Fusing uncanny satire with alarming visuals, the campaign by Studio Birthplace has certainly got people’s attention. But just how was it made?
Directors Jorik Dozy and Sil van der Woerd from Studio Birthplace worked with production company Park Village and CG studio Method & Madness to create a film that uses comedy to tell a powerful and urgent story. First, the team created mannequin versions of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove that were intentionally not identical to their real counterparts, to represent them but also “introduce some distance to these real politicians,” says the team in a statement. “After all, they are only dummies. Our intention was not to ridicule politicians, but to place their dummy-personas in a direct conflict with the invisible consequences of their own actions.”
What Boris is saying in his speech is also very much based on real-life, voiced by impressionists Jon Culshaw and Matt Forde. “We didn’t want to put words in Boris’ mouth,” say the directors, “so we went through interviews and speeches of Boris and his government where they discussed plastic pollution and the environment and extracted quotes. All statements in the film were made by Boris and his government.”
Then, Studio Birthplace looked to real-world data to visualise how much plastic waste the UK exports on a daily basis – 1.8 million kilograms, to be precise. The team researched the most common items that make up plastic waste, landing on 150 different items such as shopping bags, drinks bottles, detergent bottles, crisp packets, yoghurt pots, takeaway containers and coffee cups. Then, they 3D-modelled and textured every single one, not only in its original form but also various crushed and damaged versions, to add to the realism. The team researched the average empty weight of each of these 150 items and concluded that it takes an average of 37 plastic items to make up one kilo of plastic waste. That added up to a total of 67.7 million items of plastic waste that the UK exports every single day.
Next, the team built an exact digital replica of Downing Street using library photographs and satellite imagery to make it as detailed and realistic as possible, down to the light fittings and pigeons. And then came the fun bit: to unleash their pre-made avalanche of trash onto it. To define the actual size of the plastic pile, first, they combined 1,000 of their items into a single, large ball. They then dropped 67.7 thousand of those balls onto the digital set, giving the team a realistic representation of what it would actually look like to dump 1.8 million kilos of waste. The team also used software called Tyflow to calculate how these millions of items would interact with each other in a physically accurate manner. In total, the two-minute film required 14,600 hours of render time, or 20 months, to create the final shots – and the studio notes that the CO2 emitted by the render farm was compensated for.
Overall, the film leaves an indelible image of the shocking amount of plastic waste that the UK exports every day, which has been washed and sorted for recycling but is then shipped off to third world and developing countries, often to be dumped and burned. The creative team concludes: “We hope that this film helps to make critical big data about humanity’s impact on our planet more relatable and that it lifts the veil of a reality thus far unseen.”