Nike: “Unlimited You”

ROLE: Senior Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
AGENCY: Wieden+Kennedy (Portland)
DIRECTOR: The Daniels

Nike commercials tend to look and feel the same. And understandably, that comes with the territory, when you’re one of the world’s most recognizable brands. So when the “Unlimited You” campaign came along, it was an unexpected and creatively inspiring breath of fresh air.

This series of ads, represented by the anthem spot featured above, directly attempts to subvert the expected Nike style, taking an over-the-top mash-up approach to athletic inspiration, pushing the limits of one’s ability to absurd levels of achievement. It gives a whole new meaning to the tag “Just Do It.”

There was a huge team for this, and all the compers got a segment or two to work on, as well as the additional shots for the shorter breakout vignettes. I touched some of the earlier living room shots with the kid making baskets in front of his synced-up flatscreen. But my main contribution was the crash test sequence with Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon, and the tennis-baseball training with Serena Williams and Giancarlo Stanton.

The crash test sequence was entirely assembled in 2D with multiple plates and elements. Matte paintings extended the limited set environment. Additional glass, smoke, and debris were added to augment the impact. And extensive retiming and animated repo’s were needed to make the players “impossible” actions convincing. For the cutdowns, each featured a different timing, so all of the work had to be repeated for a 15 and 10 second version.

The Serena / Giancarlo training session required an animated ball, damage to the court, and extensive retiming for the players’ swings. Additional work was done to clean-up and flush out the tennis court environment. And there was a fair amount of beauty work and sweat removal for each. The cutdowns added a handful of shots.

Beats: “Firestarter”

ROLE: Senior Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
AGENCY: Hustle L.A.
DIRECTOR: Adam Hashemi

Barring a few crazy in-suite incidents, involving some over-the-top conflicts amongst creatives, this Beats spot was incredibly fun to work on. Scored to the Prodigy’s breakbeat techno anthem “Firestarter,” the premise imagines a football (soccer, for the U.S.) game set in the tunnels of the London Underground.

A few shots were actually taken on location. But for the most part, the action occurs on a 15-20 foot section of tunnel, constructed against greenscreen. Fairly straightforward, or so it would seem. Unfortunately, the majority of the footage was captured on grainy black and white film, to lend a gritty authenticity to the game play, which it does. But it also rendered the greenscreen useless. And mucked up the LED tracking markers needed to get a decent camera track.

So aside from the look dev, which actually proved to be quite creative, the biggest challenges centered on roto and tracking. The enjoyable bits came from assembling the tunnel with geo and projectors, all built entirely in Flame. Alignments were tricky, as was getting the lighting to integrate. But thanks to the limitations imposed by the black and white film, comps actually tended to move quickly, with less rather more integration issues to worry about. That proved to be a relief, because there were quite a few shots.

The look was intentionally stylized, so there was a bit of experimental give and take in its creation. Some challenges arose, when players or the ball needed to be repositioned among all the dynamic camera moves and player activity. The interspersed color shots of players also required tunnel extensions, lighting effects and transitions, and in the case of the endcards, CG crowds and stadium additions.

I worked on look dev, and handled roughly a third of the tunnel shots, as well as one of the crowd/stadium shots.

Nissan Heisman House: “Tebow’s Dream”

ROLE: Lead Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill

Nissan’s annual Heisman House spots featured something special for 2016. Along with the usual round of comedic antics, this year featured a special Tim Tebow music video.

The song itself is something akin to a country rock-rap song with an occasional millennial whoop to punctuate itself. The visuals are literally a performance in the clouds. I’m not sure how the creatives involved pitched this one, but it sure revels in its ridiculous premise.

Workwise, I have to admit, it was a lot of good fun. The spot was intended to look a little cheesy, so of course, I leaned into that aspect with tongue firmly planted in cheek. And although not intended as the slick, classy comp job, these shots did prove to have their own complications. They still had to look good, while intentionally looking bad.

Most of the plates had limited-to-no greenscreen backing. And there were no tracking markers to help align the elements. So quite a bit of push and shove had to be utilized to get everything working together.

All of the cloudscapes were assembled in Flame, cobbled together from various stock footage, and repurposed assets from previous projects. Thanks to the alligator paint job on the Nissan Armada, there was no car clean-up or beauty needed. But Tebow did need some glimmer in his eye.

Myself another Flame Artist handled all of these shots.

Super Bowl 2016 | Heinz: “Wiener Stampede”

ROLE: Senior Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
PRODUCTION CO: Biscuit Filmworks

My clearest memory of working on this spot is watching all the office dogs try on the hot dog bun costume. Of course, it worked best on the little dogs. But that didn’t stop the big ones from trying.

This humorous Super Bowl spot for Heinz Ketchup has a visual play with the whole wiener dog conceit, transforming a pack of dachshunds into a literal hot dog stampede towards a row of anthropomorphized condiments. Harry Nilsson’s melancholic ballad “Without You” adds the sonic cherry on top.

Shot in Cape Town, the dog footage was surprisingly good, requiring little to no augmentation. There were a few tricky split screens to multiply the number of dogs, the most challenging being those running towards or away from camera. And the leap towards their owners, dressed in condiment costumes, required extensive retiming, repositioning, and 2D comp finesse.

There was also some bun and harness clean-ups, which were harder than they might seem, due to the running gallop. And the wide stampede shots required additional CG dogs, since production couldn’t round up that many dachshunds in South Africa, nor keep them under control long enough to get the shots – hence the split screens.

Additionally, there was human costume cleanup, as well as removal of trainers, crew members, orange cone markers, and occasional dirt kick-up from the field. Also, sky and background replacements got thrown in the mix, late in the game.

There was a large team, so the work was evenly divided. I mainly handled the tricky split screen gallop shots, all condiment clean-ups, a handful of harness/bun and field clean-ups, and a couple of background replacements. CG dogs were relegated to Nuke.

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