William Binney was a technical director at the NSA but left in 2001 over concerns about its mass surveillance programs. In the late 1990s, he developed a system called ThinThread that could analyse data from emails, phone calls and internet searches to detect security threats.
A Good American charts the development of ThinThread and features commentary from Binney throughout. In interviews with director Fredrich Moser, he claims his system could have been used to analyse data without invading people’s privacy – and could perhaps have prevented major terrorist attacks – but says the project was sidelined in favour of building a more lucrative system called Trailblazer, which was never completed.
Up Creatives produced three CG sequences for the film as well as titles, posters and marketing material. The film premiered in the UK last week and is now out in cinemas.
In the film’s opening sequence, a mass of dots form to create a globe – an image also featured on posters for the film. Dots are then connected by lines, creating a visual representation of the vast network of communications that Binney’s system was able to monitor.
Creative director Jamie Balliu says the aim was to create something incredibly detailed and seemingly complex – “and yet simple when seen as a whole.”
Close-ups of particular nodes aim to illustrate how Binney’s programme could be used to hone in on communications around the world and identify particular communities and targets. A timeline graphic shows how activity – from a text message to an email or a flight booking – could be flagged up in real time.
Balliu worked closely with Moses and Binney to create the sequence. He also worked from Binney’s interface sketches to create the animations. The result is a graphic interpretation of ThinThread that avoids the usual shots of computer screens and lines of code in favour of a more abstract approach.
“It was clear from the get-go that we both wanted to avoid blockbuster sci-fi cliches of techie typefaces and interfaces. We wanted something that could be considered more classical and graphic, yet also a solution that would sit well next to the rich filming of Fritz Moser,” says Balliu.
Creative Director: Jamie Balliu
Senior Designer: Neil Evan
3D: Mark Lindner
2D Compositing + Animation: Jordi Pages, Klaas Diersmann