Exclusive: behind the trailer's scenes

The Netherland’s most creative minds from ballet, film, photography, interactive design, and communications have joined forces with WE ARE Pi to create the campaign for TEDxAmsterdam 2011, themed Human Nature. This TEDxAmsterdam ‘Ideas United’ project launched with a behind the scenes documentary charting the creation of the ‘living brain’ that will open and close the TEDxAmsterdam event on 25 November.

The building blocks of the campaign are simple: people come to TEDx to fill their brains with ideas, so let’s celebrate TEDxAmsterdam by making brains from people. The initial result is a ‘living brain’ formed by 48 dancers from The Dutch National Ballet and Nova Dance College, which was choreographed, rehearsed and filmed in one-day in preparation for the TEDxAmsterdam event. On this day we spoke with some of the genius creative minds behind the campaign.

Choreographer Ernst Meisner instructing the dancers of The Dutch National Ballet and Nova Dance College

Ernst instructing the dancers

Choreography is imagination

The choreography for this astonishing project was made by Ernst Meisner, grand sujet at The Dutch National Ballet. How did he prepare? “Most of it you can’t prepare. It’s important to know what you want before you start, and the rest is improvisation and a lot of testing and practicing.” Ernst directed and physically manoeuvred the dancers, getting them into the formation of the human brain. “The hardest thing was to get 48 dancers to do the exact same thing over and over again, a difference of 10 centimeters for one dancer makes a big difference in the overall result.” Trust, willingness and professionalism paved the way for both Ernst and the dancers to achieve the final product much quicker than planned. A 12-hour shoot was planned with the achievement coming together in just 8-hours. The result is a beautiful and fluid process that brilliantly illustrates a living human brain.

Film directors duo Bill Tanaka

Film directors duo Bill Tanaka

A structured preparation

The directors, Bill Tanaka, documented the choreography using a two-camera set-up (one from above with a crane and the other, from the side with a dolly), capturing everything that happened within a marked performance space. “We visualized Rick and Barney’s (WE ARE Pi) concept of a living brain into a storyboard and scenes. We wanted to create a storyline, but with the feel of a making of.” A good production starts with a structured preparation, “creating a perfect playground on the day itself”. “On this day we’re trying to keep the vibe and mindset, by making sure all expectations are managed in advance. We want to make sure the crew can give all their energy to what’s important: using their passion to make something beautiful.”

Creative directors Hobson Chant

Creative directors Hobson Chant

Can we do this?

Although the end product is indeed something beautiful, there was some uncertainty about the possibility of the project. Creative director Rick Chant, one of the founding partners of WE ARE Pi, illustrates this uncertainty: “We wanted to create something that would represent TEDxAmsterdam nationwide. We had a graphic idea of people coming together over ideas and making a brain, but we didn’t have a clue whether it would be possible.”

Co-director Mathieu Gremillet

Co-director Mathieu Gremillet

Great result

Co-director of the project Mathieu Gremillet, one half of dance2film, is very happy with the result: “I think the final product is very interesting and unique. Everything went smoothly and of course I’m very relieved we nailed it. My partner Altin and I feel the teamwork was great, which is always an important key to success. All in all a great achievement!”

The project took executive producer Christel Hofstee (328 stories), somewhat out of her comfort zone: “As a producer I’m used to control everything, this time however a lot of things were uncertain. We didn’t know whether things would work out and if all the dancers together would look like a human brain. I learned to let go and trust all the creative people working on the product. It was a magic experience for me to see all these people working together.”

The soundtrack to the piece was a collaboration between Amsterdam based band Pigeon Horse Sex Tennis, a school choir and legend Rutger Hauer. It is a modern interpretation of a children’s classic that champions human endeavor and the joy of participation. It was produced by Micheal Kneebone at Toolbox.

Further Reading:

• A nation united, ideas united: The TEDxAmsterdam 2011 trailer
Download the press release

All photos shown in this article are made by Rosalien Derkinderen