There are things so basic in life that it would seem that there is no way to advance or improve upon the concept. For example, the wheel has essentially stayed the same since it was created. Minor improvements have been made but the original idea remains. Running is similar; place one foot in front of the other and repeat at a quick pace. Running enthusiasts laugh at this statement. Footwear advancements alone in the past three decades have been monumental. Still, the essence of running is about commitment and challenging one’s self to improve. A desire to challenge, inspire, and aid runners with this was the impetus for Nike to work with Birdman (a Japanese interactive design agency). Birdman (working with BBH Asia Pacific) conceived and constructed the Nike Unlimited Stadium as a creative and interactive experience for runners to challenge themselves. Located in Manilla, the Unlimited Stadium is symbolically in the shape of an infinity sign as a reminder of the endless possibilities each of us are capable of achieving. The massively popular display/interactive track is 100 meters long and is exceptionally creative, functional, and stimulating. These were the exact characteristics Nike wanted to spur on runners. Birdman is one of the most creative and attention receiving design agencies in the world, due in large part to the unique minds it attracts. By hiring creative professionals with nontraditional backgrounds, Birdman has been able to create radically unique concepts for their clients. Visual Producer Akane Inada Millar already had a successful career in fashion but was eager to be a part of Birdman’s team when offered a position. Her perspective and skill set (in addition to her English/Japanese language skills) have made her an invaluable asset to this lauded company. As a key participant in the designing and implementation of Nike’s Unlimited Stadium, Akane contributed in a variety of ways which helped achieve the success of this daring project. The Unlimited Stadium was the largest and most adventurous project Birdman had created at the time and required their most talented and responsible representatives.
Fitness and sports companies like Nike are proactive rather than reactive. They attempt to discover ways of improving the performance and enjoyment of their customers rather than providing a means of fixing a problem after the fact. Vision and creativity are what is required in these situations and these words are a perfect description of Birdman. Conceiving the idea of the Unlimited Stadium was masterful but manifesting it was nothing short of bold. The Stadium’s 100-meter footprint contains 200 meters of track for runners to compete against themselves via personal avatars. Participating runners wear RFID tagged trainers which are synced to the LED screens that encompass the track. The visual effect of the lighting and images is as profound on those watching as those competing on the Unlimited Stadium.
While a number of people were involved in creating this concept, it was a small group of approximately five people, including Akane, who were on point to manifest the Unlimited Stadium in Manilla. Assisting the Birdman team in communicating with the team in Manilla, Millar took part in decisions involving aesthetics to create the proper vibe for the project. Motion graphic data was referenced to guide the look of the avatars while the key colors (the volt+) was a tie in with the shoes being promoted. The fonts were all Nike’s designated font and their branding was distinct and easy to follow.
The Nike Unlimited Stadium is visually stunning but more importantly, the desire was to create an experience for the runners which would be challenging in a benevolent manner. In terms of translating, Akane needed to be very specific and accurate with her words and terminology to communicate exactly the right emotional aspect that was desired. It was paramount to Birdman that this experience be unlike any other experience the participating runners had ever seen. The look of these “ghost” avatars was important in setting this tone but even more so were their actions. Millar explains, “Initially the idea was to time every meter and let the avatar keep running in your best time. However, in this method, it would be hard to keep track of your avatar. We discussed ways to improve and decided to time each lap and make the avatar run in the average speed of your previous lap. This was more entertaining for the runner and every lap became another challenge. Each lap became another chance to improve upon your best.
It was funny that some male runners were choosing female avatars for motivation.” Akane continues stating, “It was the creative director’s idea to make the avatars do gestures that would encourage the runners to better their records. For example, if the avatar beats you in the previous lap, it would be waiting for you at the starting line, tapping on its watch. This made the animation more interesting as if the avatars had their own mind. Without these they would seem more robotic and cold. The participants really embraced this style of friendly and funny competition. It was so satisfying to have such an immensely positive reaction to exactly what we created.” The creative director which Akane referred to is world-renowned Aste Gutierrez. Aste declares, “To be very honest, the project would not have happened and achieved the success it did without Akane. She was the anchor on the production side, bringing so much to the table in so many areas: helping with the art, managing both tech and production, motion graphics, running shoots, and even translating. She's simply one of the most amazing people at her job. In sport, we always say your greatest competition is yourself. After working with Akane I can tell you that she is so successful because she takes this approach in her work. She always wants to challenge herself to do better each time, just as we did with each lap on the Unlimited Stadium.”
Nike’s Unlimited Stadium was a universally lauded success. Birdman and Akane both received accolades for its production. Akane admits to receiving an unexpected reward from her work. She reveals, “Aste is such a respected creative director that working with him was a bit intimidating, although he is extremely friendly. Just as intimidating was the fact that everyone from Nike and BBH were so fit and active. All of our team members had to run the track every day for debugging and I was confronted with my shortcomings. I’m still not a runner but I’m definitely more fit than I was before working on this project. The first thing I did upon returning to Japan was to join a gym.” Proof of the far reaching effects of the union of inventive promotion and sports.