S4 Studios Brands Chiller Channel for NBC Universal

Hollywood's S4 Studios has completed the on-air animated and live branding campaign for Chiller, NBC-Universal Cable Ent.'s new all-HD channel featuring 24-hour horror and thriller programming. The campaign is S4's latest major stride as it continues its emergence into a full-fledged design studio. Chiller, which launched March 1 on DirecTV, will be available as an HD simulcast channel (also with standard def), with video-on-demand and broadband-on-demand also available.

Created by S4 director/designer Geoffrey Kater and writer/producer Larry Le Francis, along with creative director Thomas Helmintoller, the campaign consists of five original teasers, ranging in length from:5 IDs to a commercial-length :30; five multipurpose graphics packages for station IDs and bumpers, as well as a :90 pre-launch promo that introduces all of Chiller's graphic elements.

According to Kater, the design ideas presented to Dan Harrison svp, emerging networks at NBC Universal Cable Ent. and Sarah Pierce, the network's director of on-air promotion, emerging networks, NBC Universal Cable, were not what viewers might expect from an all-horror network. "What was most important to us was capturing the more psychological and subtle themes and visuals associated with horror," said Kater. "We wanted to create scenes that would be horrific without showing one drop of blood or violence."

The environment that Kater, Le Francis and Helmintoller created for their client was a city, one replete with all the elements present in a large, rundown, dark metropolis. "A big city can be a very scary place," said Le Francis. "But more than that, a city environment is a great leaping-off place to sample textures, gain perspectives and identify iconic design elements -- street signs, sewers, dark subways, corridors, alleys-- that we could use to provide us with those gritty urban dark visual graphic elements that we needed in order to create the proper psychological atmosphere."

Each graphics package dealt with a specific location in the city," Kater explained. "They included a freaky warehouse, a bus stop at night, a sewer, the inside of an industrial fan, and a wall with bricks that seem to breathe with a life of their own. Each package has a beginning, middle and end so that individual promos and channel bugs could be cut according to each station's needs." Other elements included an otherworldly airport security man watching a suitcase full of bones go through X-Ray, a melting painting and a haunted house guarded by a chain link fence made up of tiny skulls.

From storyboards to final turnover, the entire campaign was created entirely at S4's Hollywood office. After concepts and storyboards were approved by NBC-Universal, location and in-studio bluescreen shots were executed in HD. At the same time, Kater and the S4 team of animators created the CG elements using LightWave 9 running on Windows XP Pro. Once CGI was composited with the live-action bluescreen shots, After Effects 7 and Photoshop CS were utilized to add numerous effects until the over 100 HD elements were fully integrated.

"We were able to help a major studio brand a first of its kind network and give it a look that is different from anything else out there," added Le Francis... "This is an entirely new ballgame for us, and demonstrates our versatility as a highly creative design studio."

S4 Studios Llc. (www.s4studios.com) is a creative design and production studio specializing in entertainment branding, content development, 3D animation, visual effects and live-action production for television, feature films, commercials, trailers and home entertainment. Since its founding in 1999, the studio has built a client roster that includes NBC Universal, Cartoon Network, Flyer One Ent., 20th Century-Fox, Paramount Studios and more.

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