Polar Media: Branded Content

Storytelling has been at the heart of visual media since humankind first learned to draw. The most ancient cave paintings chronicle events of their time. Tapestries of ancient battles adorn the walls of many a museum. And in the contemporary world, film has taken its place among the most impactful of arts.

But storytelling doesn’t just mean the latest Hollywood blockbuster, indie short, or mobile game. For many, it’s the world of branded content. This is the realm of Polar Media.

Based in Balham (Gateway to the South) Polar Media is a boutique production studio. What gives them their edge is integration. Pre-production, on-site filming, editing, and VFX are all within their remit. Branded content relies heavily on communicating a core proposition in a short amount of time. It doesn’t have the luxury of building a narrative over a half hour long first act. It needs to hit its point early, and clearly.

“I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about branded content,” comments Joe Kane, founder and Creative Director of Polar Media. “People assume it comes at you without the space to develop creatively where you’d want to, but actually we’ve found the opposite to be true.”

That opposite is built out of the core approach of the team. “We’re all storytellers in this building,” says Joao Nobrega, VFX & Animation TD. It’s about getting the realism of the branded world to come to life, whether that’s through film, animation, or visuals - the message is what matters. And the story is its heart.

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As the business continued to grow their services increased in tandem. What was once pure filmmaking became film with animation, which evolved even further. “Our clients started asking for more visualisation. How this goes underground, or that goes underwater,” continues Joao. “There are a few ways we can tackle this. And one way is animation. But their eyes just flare up when we say we can actually do the real thing: what it’s going to look like in a couple of years.” In order to achieve a realistic representation of things that don’t exist, the obvious place to turn was film and television post production. 

Getting the right tools

Polar Media turned to the team at Escape Technology to provide the solutions they needed to realise the dreams of their clients. “The key software we use is Maya,” adds Joe. “We’ve started to introduce Houdini, and we use Nuke and After Effects to composite things. From then on it’s into the edit suite and Da Vinci. We introduced Arnold to render things a couple of years ago and I think Escape actually got us into the mindset where we needed to do that.”

Behind that motivation was the visualisation team’s passion for the best possible deliverable. With a CPU-centric renderfarm, Arnold was the logical choice to deliver photorealistic images with a cinematic sensibility. Its facility to operate over parallel cores and scale as the studio grows made it an even more attractive choice. And because Polar Media use Maya, Arnold integrates perfectly with their existing systems. It’s also easily accessible for new starters. 

“We looked at how we could improve our work,” says Joao. “All we want to do is improve our quality. But every now and then we bring in freelancers and not everyone is technically driven. Arnold was a really good and safe bet in that regard. It’s easy to use - we can set up anyone in half an hour - and straight out of the box it looks natural. And when something is good to start with it only gets better.”

In order to deploy a new renderer the studio needed to undertake something of an overhaul. But after the updates were complete and the renderfarm configured, the results were immediately apparent. “The outcomes just make everything fit naturally,” adds Joao. “It makes sense to have Arnold.”

For us here at Escape, it’s amazing to see a boutique agency embracing technology in the way that Polar Media does. From giving their team the best tools available, to seeking out new techniques there’s a passion for creativity and science deep within their core. “We specialise in tech,” says Joe. “In working with clients where there’s a tech element to it. A lot of science, a lot of astronomy, a lot of engineering and we get to visualise those things.” 

Polar Media works with some of the biggest brands in the world: BP, CERN, ETA. Their knowledge and expertise is in taking those stories and presenting them - telling them - in a way that engages and inspires. And we’re proud to be able to support the team in their work.