Humanity’s Impact: How many plastic bottles do we produce?

Following the viral success of their recent film Wasteminster for Greenpeace (7.5 Million views in the first 2 weeks of release), which flooded Downing Street and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson with UK’s daily export of plastic waste, Studio Birthplace releases the pilot film Humanity’s Impact. Did you know that globally, we produce about 1 million plastic bottles per minute? What does that number even look like? This is what you’re about to find out in Humanity’s Impact. With the project, the filmmakers continue to make invisible stories visible, so we can better understand the overwhelming impact we humans have on our planet.

Set in a 1960s American suburb test site that is populated with plastic test dummies, the film unleashes 20,000 bottles per second that crash onto the unknowing cast of dummies. The bottles burst through the kitchen window, engulfing the family dog. The suburban paradise is quickly flooded, revealing the terrifying scale and rate at which we pollute our planet. Only 9% of the overwhelming pile of plastic bottles actually gets recycled, the rest is dumped or burnt, or ends up in landfills and our oceans.

“The film aims to create an eye-opening experience to bring a new level of awareness that a number or statistic alone could never achieve. Understanding humanity’s impact on our planet is the first step towards change.” – Directors Sil van der Woerd & Jorik Dozy of Studio Birthplace.

Both Wasteminster and Humanity’s Impact were made in collaboration with CG partners Method & Madness. CG Executive Producer Wenhao Tan and CG Director Alex Scollay used a bespoke data visualisation technology to create realistic physics of falling plastic using ‘Tyflow’ software. The team built a custom virtual reality camera rig which allowed an Oculus Rift VR headset to be mounted to a professional camera mount. This allowed the directors to physically hand-operate a “real” camera which added realism to the fully digital set.

“The biggest challenge in addressing the production brief for this film was to ensure we were able to transport viewers into the action so that they would leave feeling ‘humanity’s impact’ in a simple yet powerful way. We developed new ways of using CG technology (the method) that enabled us to bring the film to life in a non-clinical way, retaining the creativity of the campaign idea (the madness).” – said Wenhao Tan, Executive Producer of Method & Madness.

Directors Sil & Jorik gave the dummy characters overly cheerful expressions that are reminiscent of 1960’s ads. After all, it is largely due to the advertising industry that we have accepted single-use plastics in our society as ‘normal’.

The directors introduced comedy to the serious topic of pollution:

“We believe that comedy can be a powerful tool to help tell some of the saddest stories in our world. It can allow for an easy way in with the audience and make it easier to call out the ugly side of our consumer culture. We created mannequin-like dummies that not only represent us but that also put up a mirror to us. It is easier to make fun of a plastic dummy rather than a real human, after all, it’s only a dummy.” – Directors Sil van der Woerd & Jorik Dozy of Studio Birthplace.

The visual language of the film is a peaceful approach towards activism that is both educational and entertaining. By putting a picture to the numbers, the film brings to life the unimaginable that couldn’t be seen otherwise.

Attached to the film is a Call To Action from Plastic Pollution Coalition. It encourages audiences to back a petition that tells our planet’s biggest plastic bottles producer Coca-Cola that consumers DO NOT want their plastic bottles to pollute our planet.

To be able to understand our own consumption behaviour better, Studio Birthplace partnered with interactive design studio Superposition to release the augmented reality app Humanity’s Impact to help users relate to consumption-related data on an even more personal level. For example, users can drop 20,000 bottles into their own kitchen or bedroom, pledge to reduce their own plastic use, track their progress, take a photo with their data and share it on social media to motivate others to take part. The app is available for free right now on the Apple App Store and on Google Play.

For the app, Superposition combined the latest advances in mobile GPU, CPU and sensor technologies with Unity’s physics engine to enable smooth physical interaction between thousands of 3D objects and the user’s actual environment. As development progressed the team discovered and included several playful features such as golden reward bottles, discoverable facts and figures, and an anti-gravity mode. Looking forward, the app is ready to offer interactive experiences for future episodes of the Humanity’s Impact series.

“Humanity’s Impact is a milestone in our exploration of possibilities for an emotive and expressive relationship with the digital world through technology, code and design.” – Superposition

“Humanity’s Impact proves that augmented reality can be a tool for positive awareness by stimulating users to choose both the context and location for their interactions. We want to kickstart a future of augmented activism.” – Superposition