Nicos Livesey for BBC World Cup
Viewers who gathered in pubs and living rooms across the globe to watch the FA Cup final on Saturday were treated to an embroidered history of football at half-time. The short, made in the lead-up to the World Cup starting this June, is the product of months of work undertaken by The London Embroidery Studio and animator Nicos Livesey.
The London Embroidery Studio’s work began back in November 2017, when it was approached by BBC Creative to pitch for an embroidered stop frame animation for the World Cup, taking influence from “Bayeux Tapestry and the graphics of historical posters from the Soviet Union,” senior embroidery designer Lucie McKenna tells It’s Nice That. The studio won the pitch off the back of detailed A3 samples, and in January hundreds of needles and threads got to work. Portraying the spirit of the game through depictions of players, teams, pitches and general football excitement, the short encompasses a number of techniques, including appliquéing fabrics into frames, and building an epic creative film showing the emotional highs and lows bound to dominate this summer.
Below we chat to Lucie in-depth to find out exactly how the embroidered triumph was created.
Can you tell us a little bit about the narrative of the piece and what you wanted to portray?
The idea was to create football’s version of the Bayeux Tapestry, telling the emotive and recognisable narrative of World Cup history, picking out a number of memorable moments, including Gazza’s tears way back in 1990, and a memory that I can recall most vividly: Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal in 2010 – working on that scene was my favourite because I felt so connected to how I felt watching it at the time!
What is the lengthy process of creating a short like this?
The sampling process was fun and explorative. It started off with single players, experimenting with different sizes, ensuring they could be recognised at all times, before testing backgrounds and full frames. We then started to put sequences together so they could be test shot, which was super fun, starting to give us an understanding of just how quickly 20 seconds and umpteenth frames goes by! Production time was set for the duration of three weeks at the start of April and we had to ensure our schedule was completely cleared for this time, a challenge in itself as we work on short turnarounds and very short deadlines, often turning multiple projects over week by week. We knew from the start that three weeks was insanely short for the amount of work and so we hired 14 extra digitisers and assistants to come in and help make it happen. We quite literally worked around the clock to get all 650 frames done. I think we all felt like we totally lost the month of April, ha! We split up into teams and worked on set sequences, using the formula of stitches established by the sampling period. The time spent digitising was huge, and demanded a lot of attention, as well as that we had a small team taking care of the machines – threading, framing up fabric, and catching any breaks. Although we spent weeks sampling before we got started on the final frames, there were still so many untested areas and hurdles we had to come across every day during the production period – padded leather footballs, many player’s faces, viking seas, transitions between different scenes – meaning the base colour fabric changes. This was quite stressful as we knew we didn’t really have the time to go back and forth on things, or make mistakes. In total we created 650 frames, at 28cm x 19cm, each taking around three hours to digitise and two to three hours to stitch.
What were the most stressful and enjoyable parts of this process?
The most stressful part was knowing we didn’t have enough time from the offset; it was a huge accomplishment getting the monumental amount of work finished within three and a half weeks. The machines were going 23 hours a day and we were all working crazy shifts. That was really tough and the pressure to work quickly on something that needs so much care and attention to detail was intense!
The most enjoyable bit would be having a big team of dedicated people keeping each other going, it was a great feeling and every single person made such a huge impact on keeping the momentum going.
For weeks before the production of the final frames started I was sampling new players and faces every week, in constant contact with Nicos and Alex at Blinkink. Feeling that close to the development of the embroideries all the way along the journey to their final form felt really exciting and pretty awesome to look back on.
How do you feel about the finished project now?
Pretty chuffed! We’re very excited for it air. It’s so great to be a part of something that will be broadcast on the BBC over the summer. Embroidery is a long and beautiful process, it’s also costly, so getting to work on this felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity to create something really special. It’s wicked seeing all the embroideries come to life in the final animation and feels good to be a part of something that will become a part of World Cup history!