Profile: Rehab Studio

This fun-loving, cutting-edge digital group knows all the tricks for getting people involved. Laura Snoad talks to co-founder Tim Rodgers about its ’hand-built digital’ approach, gaming and the integration of social media

Rehab Studio’s interactive digital projects are addictive feats of technical wizardry which marry emerging technology – often custom-created for clients – with slick production values. The consultancy’s projects for brands like Doritos, T-Mobile and Google are renowned for generating a tsunami of hits within days of launch and have gathered so much interest that Rehab Studio plans to open an international office later this year.

The group’s latest hit was You Tube’s Life in A Day, a project that allowed people to upload footage taken on 24 July 2010 to be made into a user-generated feature film by director Kevin Macdonald. The sleek build of the site, which notched up 37 million views, was matched with apps that allowed users to access and monitor content, including a ’global heat map’ for upload hotspots.

At only five years old, the consultancy has come a long way in a short time. It was founded in Belfast in 2005 by interactive designer Tim Rodgers and his friend and former hacker Jurgen Prause. The pair bonded over a mutual love of music and Belfast’s party scene, and decided during a round of double cheese burgers after a heavy night out that they should combine forces, and go into creative ’rehab’.

Rodgers and Prause spent a year building the business in Northern Ireland before starting a second office in London to tap into the creative hub – and clients – of the capital. Despite its two bases, specialists from both offices collaborate on projects, with the 15-strong creative team located in London and around 20 developers in Belfast. It’s a tight-knit community consolidated by a buzz of morning Skype calls and regular parties – a scale and approach that Rodgers is keen to maintain with the company’s success.

Rehab Studio uses the method it calls ’hand-built digital’, which describes its collaborative approach to ’hand-coded technology and hand-finished design’, says Rodgers. ’We’re not a cookie-cutter kind of company, we’re not a factory. Every project starts from a single sheet of paper.’ These sheets can soon turn into 3.5m-long decision trees, such as with its Doritos’ iD3 Advergame with AMV BBDO, in which Rehab Studio turned live action footage into a 3D interactive game.

To promote Doritos’ mystery crisp flavour, code-named iD3, players were tasked with going undercover to locate a gang boss after their own identity was stolen. Each user account could be linked up to the newly available Facebook Connect, allowing the game access to personal photographs to make the ID fraud harrowingly realistic.

The group has a ’healthy research and development set-up’, which allows its developers days off to create and play with new ideas, such as those found in the Webcam-navigated Circle of Protection site for Tetrapak and more than a million personalised ’thank you’ videos for Google Adwords’ tenth birthday, celebrated last year. The videos integrated customers’ names, embedding them on the moon or forming them out of a swarm of robotic bees or lines of dominoes.

A healthy bit of competition and the integration of social media is at the heart of many of Rehab Studio’s most popular sites, helping them to generate a community and repeated plays.

The Impossible Hoop Challenge, for Cadbury’s Spots V Stripes campaign, made with Fallon London, challenged players to catapult a ball through street, park and beach levels, while negotiating a surreal deck of objects including Grenadier Guards, swordfish and a giant duck.

The simple concept was made more addictive by allowing users to move the elements themselves and developing a physics engine, which works like gravity, but with some random elements. ’We knew with being able to move the elements around that there would be some really gnarly shots, so we built in an action-replay function, which can be re-watched and posted to Facebook and also tweeted,’ says Rodgers.

As for the future, Rodgers enthuses about developments in augmented mobile Web and digital installations. He says, ’Because we’re dealing with new technology, we are always learning, always being challenged and never just rehashing the same project over and over again.’

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