Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Effective FX

Commercials are a collaboration, the agency team has an idea, the director adds his eye and elaborates upon the story, the music guys craft a natty track and you all head for post-production.

When you find yourself in a room with a logo that looks like an exploded wart or some kind of post-revolution communist poster hammering out a name like “BLAST!” or “BLACK MIST” then you know you’re in the hands of one of the bright young, or not so young, things who might just be able to resuscitate the corpse of your idea. Post-production is alchemy. It can breathe new life into an addled, over worked concept adding new distinctive layers of colour and texture, or it can be the final straw that breaks the pachyderm’s back, like lip-stick on a pig.
Sitting in a dark room looking at four screens of varying size play back an ad I’m either really proud and happy with or worried and hate, depending on which knob the geezer in front of me twiddles. I’m in turns frustrated and amazed, but all I’m really asking for is genius. Some of that stuff that took the Guinness Evolution ad from beer mat concept to all singing and dancing extravaganza, in reverse. In case you missed this potted history check it out at:
While you’re there take a look at the Guinness White Horses/surfer commercial. A piece of beauty in its simple idea and stunningly brilliant achievement:
Water-born SFX have come a long way since Cecile B D’Mille had Charlton Heston do his best Moses and part the Red Sea while clutching some heavy commandments, but it’s a miracle that’s still worth a look:

Not all SFX take place in darkened cellars, however, take the new Sony Bravia ad, it’s just brilliant. Actually that’s not true. The idea behind the commercial is brilliant, and all those crowding the shores at Cannes soon should be expecting to see it, a lot. However, the commercial is overshadowed by the film of the making of the commercial. Art abusing art, perhaps, or at least amusing it.

The guys from the unstoppable creative force of Fallon London thought it would be a neat idea to build a huge zoetrope to show the superb smoothness of the latest Sony Motionflow 200Hz TV picture. A zoetrope, for those who didn’t go to a proper school, is one of those old things that have still pics in and when you spin it shows something moving, usually something really dull like a horse. Or as grown-ups will tell you: “A zoetrope consists of a cylinder with slits cut vertically in the sides. Beneath the slits on the inner surface of the cylinder is a band, which has either individual frames from a video/film or images from a set of sequenced drawings or photographs. As the cylinder spins the user looks through the slits at the pictures on the opposite side of the cylinder's interior. The scanning of the slits keeps the pictures from simply blurring together so that the user sees a rapid succession of images producing the illusion of motion, the equivalent of a motion picture.”

Cool eh? Well it is if you can convince your client you have to build one in the ancient town square in Torino, Italy. And it has to be huge, big enough to show a life size footballer striking a ball perfectly. And that footballer has to be AC Milan’s Kaka. Stare in wonder at the ad at:
Better still; see it being built with some natty time-lapse stuff at:
As I say, SFX can make a great idea shimmer and pirouette. It can even make a tedious idea do a decent tap dance. One in the line of “cars that transform into things that can go places cars can’t usually” ads, the Nissan commercial where the big square car becomes a mechanical spider and scorpion etc straight out of Quake III is ok, but it leaves you wondering which came first, the idea or the technique. Steer your way to it at:

There’s also the Nissan Dualis commercial. Again a Nissan that changes into something better looking and shiny, (a decent car perhaps?), this time some kind of robotic post-transformer skater. It shoots up walls in tunnels and whizzes around other cars leaving you with the distinct feeling that Nissan drivers are crap at staying on the road, test drive the ad at:

It takes some serious keeping up to remain anywhere near in touch with the myriad of sensory inputs that can be sucked into the making of a commercial of any stature. Attaching yourself to Shots reels and other Adland promos helps and even plugging your life into Youtube has its benefits, if you can stop yourself pinching ideas along with techniques.
But nothing can replace a good eye and a sparkling imagination when it comes to the original idea.
My art director, a girl with an eye for a good thing, loves nothing better than surrounding herself with guys called Shaun and Gert in small dark cellars and tweaking their knobs. Her green/grey eyes closed to slits as she dictates eye-boggling colour balances and cutting-edge techniques tossing her glossy black beads about like a metronomic banshee.

To see SFX at it’s most elaborate, of course, you have to go to Hollywoodland, and the best place to dip into is always the trailers where they steal all the good bits and make mini movies to tantalise the public’s saliva glands. The new Star Trek movie looks like a stonker and you don’t have to be a life-long trekkie or an admirer of William Shatner’s unbelievable acting skills to appreciate the wonders of explosions in space. Beam up a couple of examples at:

Hopefully the film will live up to the glory of the trailers, unlike Wolverine where the best bits were glued together by endless dull stuff and hours of tedious soul-searching, why can’t these guys just get on with killing people? “Beam me up Scotty.”

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