LBB’s Addison Capper on the year’s most spellbinding film craft in the worlds of advertising and music videos
Sometimes the best craft is that which the viewer doesn’t notice. But, given our all-round geekery when it comes to the practices of colour grading, direction, editing, VFX and the like, we notice and appreciate. And we want you to as well.
LBB's Addison Capper has rounded up some of his favourite bits of film craft from the advertising and music video industries of the past 12 months. Enjoy this audiovisual romp through 2019!
FKA twigs - Cellophane
This promo for FKA twigs' Cellophane is the perfect example of what you get when incredibly talented people work together to the utmost of their abilities. Firstly there's the fact that twigs learned to pole-dance for this very video, a testament to her vision for it. Then there's the vision of Andrew Thomas Huang. The Object & Animal director has a background in visual effects, and it shows here, intertwining with his imagination as a director to result in something that's nothing short of art. Tasked with bringing his ideas to life was London VFX company Analog Studio, who commended the director for using his own experiences to help them push through the film's trickiest challenges.
Matt Chandler, a director at Analog, gave us some techy background to how they pulled the job off. "Particularly challenging shots included the inverted mirror floor shot - which needed extensive 2D work to remove the camera track and reflections," he said. "3D tracking in the reflected CG curtained environment was also a continually tweaked section and the twigs creature went through a number of creative explorations and versions - both in appearance and locomotion. I think the materials on the creature were very successful. There is something both tactile and ethereal about it when it comes into frame."
BMW - The Small Escape
I could wang on for a long time about the story behind the incredible short film but we're here for the craft so stick to that I will. (Although for more on the story you can here
.) The production process was a whirlwind worthy of the film's subject matter. To get things started, director Alex Feil foresaw shooting the entire film in Berlin. He ended up shooting one scene in the city - the modern-day museum at the end. They shot the rest in Budapest but elections stopped them shooting anything in the street - their alternative was an empty parking lot. Then a rumour circulated of another branded escapee story that was to be released on on Germany's Independence Day, October 3rd - more than a month before BMW and agency Jung von Matt had planned to launch theirs. In a bid to beat the other film, they set a new launch date of October 2nd and cut post production from six weeks to just two, all the while still having a location that looked nothing like the death strip that cut Berlin in half.
Alex told me of the efforts of the production designer, Erwin Pub, who he says constantly calmed him down on set. "Although it was not budgeted to have so much production design, he found creative ways to make it happen. Some locations were just finished five minutes before we started shooting. He called for many favours… I vividly remember sitting next to him in the production van when he tried to convince one guy in Dresden, Germany, 450 miles away, to bring the period correct streetlights to our set. Of the post production team's work, he said that he was "speechless" that they turned it around in such a short amount of time - the death strip and all the backgrounds at the border checkpoint are 100% CGI.
The New York Times - The Truth Is Worth It
This campaign needs little introduction. Created by Droga5, the powerful work for the New York Times has rightfully cleaned up on the 2019 award circuit, picking up both the Film and Film Craft Grand Prix at Cannes Lions, as well as an Immortal Award. Rebecca Skinners, managing director and executive producer at Superprime Films, was the Film Craft jury president in Cannes. "Over seven days of judging there were many perspectives and discussions across all of the work," she said at the time. "But when it came to the Grand Prix it was unanimous. A bold and courageous campaign crafted in a unique way.”
An integral part of any craft but particularly so here is the edit, which was handled by Final Cut’s Jim Helton. He gave me a little insight into his process for the project: "I find that separating the elements of an edit - image, sound, graphics - and making them strong individually informs how to combine them. This was a big part of the process in making the spots for the New York Times as we had a fluid script and a changing bank of images and interviews. I worked closely with creative directors Toby Treyer-Evans and Laurie Howell as each aspect evolved. Elements needed to develop independently as assets became available so working on the soundscape for the pieces would at times be an independent process as would doing the layout and timing for the graphics or assembling potential imagery and collaborating with Furlined directors Martin + Lindsay on things to shoot to bring the films to life as well as refining the rhythm and tone of the edit.”
Argos - Book of Dreams
There's a lot to love about the 2019 Christmas campaign from Argos. For Brits there's the nostalgia attached to the opportunity to flick through copies of old Argos catalogues, a stalwart of British households of yesteryear when it came to writing letters to Santa. The spot itself is also a real joy and features a bounty of production design knack from Stink directing collective Traktor, production designer Nick Foley-Oates and Bulgarian production service company Icon Films. Arthur Harry, a creative at The&Partnership (the agency behind the campaign) told my colleague Laura Swinton
: “We really fell in love with the treatment from Traktor that suggested keeping it all in-camera so it felt really crafty and the transformations happened before your eyes. It lent itself to that Christmas vibe where you make your own Christmas cards and decorations."
ITV - Television
Half an hour before this spot launched Nils Leonard, the co-founder of Uncommon Creative Studio, was still fine tuning it in a studio at The Mill, London. This phrase is used too often but 'Television', created for British TV channel ITV, was a labour of love. Nils and Academy director Billy Boyd Cape spent five weeks immersed in ITV's archives, poring over decades of footage to track down the clips that best told the story they were trying to tell - when ITV broke the mould to give a voice to the voiceless. Also of note here are the grade from Cheat's Toby Tomkins, which is deep and warm, and the precise editing of The Assembly Room’s Ed Cooper, who turns the televisual trip through time into a real emotional arc. And there's the that impeccable writing. You can read more about that here
Apple AirPods - Bounce
We're long-time fans of the mind-bending work of Oscar Hudson - last year we took a deep dive into the camera trickery behind his most spellbinding music videos
. 2019 saw the Pulse Films director turn his attention to his first big commercial work - a spot for Apple's AirPods that stays true to the in-camera trickery imbued in his promos. After watching 'Bounce', it really is startling to hear to hear just how much of the gravity-defying movement was captured in camera. Oscar and the production team shot a series of scenes in Kiev before recreating the town in a studio with the 'pavement' sitting off the actual floor to allow for ample amount of bounce. The movement was inspired and choreographed by nouveau-cirque acrobat Yoann Bourgeois, who conceived a bespoke performance for the film.
Travel Oregon - Only Slightly (More) Exaggerated
With its mythical characters and seemingly limitless imagination, Psyop's 'Only Slightly (More) Exaggerated' for Travel Oregon evokes giddy memories of 'Spirited Away', 'My Neighbor Totoro' or pretty much any other title from the celebrated Studio Ghibli. The film is a continuation of the studio's work on the same campaign from 2018, which we collectively fell head over heels for in the office. The project, out of Wieden+Kennedy Portland, marked an interesting challenge for Psyop directors Kylie Matulick and Todd Mueller, and animation studio Sun Creature. Each of the scenes we see in the film - from venturing deep into the Oregon Caves National Monument and paragliding over the Steens Mountain to tucking into Portland's culinary offerings - is inspired by a real place so, despite the inspiration of Ghibli's otherworldly creations, they had to keep the narrative rooted in the real, exaggerating each and every one of those Portland places just a little bit, as the name suggests. The end result of both this year's film and its predecessor is collectively magical, transporting the viewer to a place that they'd really quite like to visit. At least that's what it did for us, anyway.
MedMen - The New Normal
Documenting America's history with marijuana was always going to be a bumpy ride. But while the subject matter of MedMen's first ever commercial is provocative, the production is as silky smooth as can be. It's little wonder when you realise that the cannabis giant enlisted Spike Jonze to direct it. But there's more to unpack here than a superstar director behind the lens. His vision relies heavily on the seamless transitions through diorama-like scenes imagined by production designer James Chinlund, who recently lent his hand to the new Lion King film.
2 Chainz X Adam Scott - Expensify This
"What would you treat yourself with if your wealth was like Bill Gates?" This is the question Andreas Nilsson asked himself when developing concepts for this attack of the senses for Expensify. The Biscuit director is speaking of his inspiration behind casting a man with a third eye for the Super-Bowl-ad-cum-music-video. Reunited with rapper 2 Chainz - with who he has history for the famous (or infamous) 'Birthday Song' - the director, along with agency JohnXHannes [which closed in October when the founders parted ways], has dished up a veritable feast viewers' eyeballs here. The styling is key with stetson-clad characters starring side-by-side with morph-suited dancers, the aforementioned three-eyed man and a plump, gold-plated, joint-smoking chap adorning some kind of massage chair. Then there's the unexpected jaunt into another dimension via an animated sequence by Augenblick. "‘Less is more’ was never really the theory behind this video," Andreas told me, stating the obvious
. "So, of course, it needed an animated sequence. We were inspired by old Max Fleischer work like Betty Boop and Japanese artist Keiichi Tanaami."
Miller Lite - Followers
“The choice to go black and white and to have classical music was about allowing the idea to exist in its own kind of parallel universe and to not be defined by time,” director Ringan Ledwidge explained to LBB's Laura Swinton
about this gorgeous spot for Miller Lite. Entitled 'Followers', the film eschews modern-day filmmaking conventions - ones driven by our obsession with social media and speed of delivery. The story has time to breathe and the viewer along with it, thanks to Ringan’s long-term collaborator, editor Rich Orrick. What's more, the black and white camera and classical music both stand out among modern commercial tropes. Composer Philip Kay and Woodwork Music were brought in to create a playful, cat-and-mouse score
“I wanted a universe that was familiar but allowed me as a filmmaker to enjoy and have fun with the points being put across. I didn’t want it to be a lecture -and all the questions the audience are asked, I ask myself on a daily basis. There’s an absurdity to our interactions with tech and I think this execution allowed me to explore that further.”
Cheerios - Right on Tracks
In an interview with It's Nice That, Nexus Studios director Johnny Kelly said that he always presumed that this project for Cheerios would be produced with 2D animation. Upon hearing the songs - written by 72andSunny LA and sung by Walter Martin - all he "could see was puppets". And isn't the world a much brighter place for that? Created to teach kids important life lessons, Johnny's creations are as entertaining to the *ahem* adults of LBB as they are to their target audience. Johnny brought in the help of illustration collective Nous Vous to bring his character ideas to life before expert puppet maker Andy Gent - who worked on Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs - created them for real. Check out more of the films here
Ed Sheeran & Chance The Rapper - Cross Me
According to Riff Raff Films / Pomp&Clout director Ryan Staake, "MPC used every tool in their toolkit on this". He's referring to 'Cross Me', a beguiling, VFX breakdown-inspired promo for Ed Sheeran and Chance The Rapper. The film is set in a motion capture stage and uses the technology as the focal point of the narrative. The full behind-the-scenes story of how Ryan and the team at MPC can be read here
. We were tickled to learn that the concept was inspired by Staake’s fondness for VFX breakdown videos. Us too, Ryan. "[I] have always geeked out on the look of the various passes, the bones, the pre-renders, the lighting passes, etc. It’s such a clear way of showing the step-by-step process of something being created."
Check out every year's list:
2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019