• D&AD Awards 2019
    Extended deadline: 13 March
  • Extended deadline: 13 March
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R/GA Sydney and Google Play wanted to do something that supported Australian music through a unique collaborative project. Having initially no idea what kind of work they wanted to create, both teams agreed that the work should be authentic, interactive and in-keeping with the chosen artist’s’ vision.

With four number one albums, a rapidly growing number of fans and multiple ARIA Awards, the Aussie hip hop group Hilltop Hoods seemed to fit the bill.

The group put forward the track  ‘Through The Dark’ – a song that was originally never meant to be more than a personal project, but had struck a powerful chord with fans. Written by Dan Smith (MC Pressure) for his son, ‘Through The Dark’ was based on the true story of his son Liam’s battle with leukaemia and the six months they spent in hospital as he underwent treatment.

When the song was released, the group were contacted by fans eager to share their own personal stories about how cancer had affected them and their loved ones. Moved by this, Hilltop Hoods put in place plans to give something back with a new initiative for CanTeen, “Side of Stage”. Under this project, young people affected by cancer would be given the opportunity to meet their favourite artists backstage, in a new kind of live music experience.

Creative Idea

Thus, the concept of an interactive film that conveyed this personal journey and experience through mobile was born. Drawing on the intense emotional highs and lows of the treatment process, the idea was to use light versus dark, hope versus fear and life versus death as central themes.

This developed into the idea of two worlds running simultaneously that allowed the user to seamlessly switch between, dictating their own personal journey in this way.

The site would be responsive so that when the device was tilted and rotated the analogy of a world, quite literally, turned upside down would be brought to life.


To reduce the file size and improve performance, the team settled on a low poly style animation. With 13 different scenes and at about 4.5 minutes long, it was key to keep things under 150MB.

Working with director Mike Daly, they began to craft a 3D film, starting with character and environmental concepts before kicking off production. Keeping the band close to the throughout the design stage, the teams combined symbolism with realistic elements to tell the narrative and settled on father and son as two mythical creatures.

Designed in Maya, each scene consisted of the interaction  between environment, shaders, lighting, cameras, camera paths and characters. However, as complicated as this all was, one of the most challenging aspects of the project was to translate all the components into a mobile device from Maya.

The team wanted users to be able to move around in a scene, not just up and down between the two “worlds”. So to ensure animators had a fine grain control over the way the camera moved, four camera paths  were introduced— one at the top, one at the bottom, one to the right and one to the left. This way, the screen of the user’s device could then be moved between these camera paths depending on the rotation of the mobile or scroll on a desktop.

To keep the program within a manageable loaded memory, individual scenes had to be created on the fly and hidden behind a “curtain of black”. Once each of the 13 scenes were finished, they’d fade back into this, would be cleaned up, unloaded and destroyed before the next scene loaded.


‘Through the Dark’ helped catapult Side of Stage into being as well as tell Dan and Liam’s story. Working together, teams were able to be part of an amazing and worthwhile project.

Not just an exercise in technical prowess and an opportunity to flex some real creative muscle, the project ultimately helped shed light on what is often a silent struggle, giving voice to millions of people suffering through the same experience.

Through The Dark - An Interactive Film from Hilltop Hoods & Google Play Music

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