How'd They do That Spot?

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Dancing in the streets takes on an extra-groovy meaning in the Spike Jonze-directed "Crazy Legs," for Levi's Flyweight Jeans, out of TBWA/Chiat/Day/San Francisco. Set in steamy, traffic-congested Mexico City, the spot finds a slender-bodied hipster easing his way through the hot streets. Miraculously, the top half of his body remains coolly slack, while his legs frenetically wobble and twist double time, to a Latin funk track.

Although a dexterous dancer, known simply as Johnny, was cast in the silent role, no human has the ability to execute the bizarre moves he pulls in the spot. Enter Sea Level Inferno artist Ben Gibbs, who's already worked with the Jonze on a number of high-profile projects (see p. 40). "When we were first trying to figure it out, I was like, 'Wow, is this gonna be the one that just stumps me?' " Gibbs recalls. For starters, motion control was out of the question. "Having the camera tracking across the frame allows repeatable camera moves, but Johnny isn't a fixed object, he's a walking human being," Gibbs explains. "The benefits of using it wouldn't be solid, because of the variables of different motions."

So Jonze filmed the actor twice for each scene, during a two-day shoot: first, walking across each backdrop smoothly; then doing the dance sequences. It was Sea Level's monthlong task to fuse the syncopated halves together in Inferno. "There was never a time when Johnny did the upper body and the lower body together in one take," notes Gibbs. "All of my work was combining the two passes - one of him dancing and one of his upper body looking relaxed." Gibbs, who attended the shoot, notes that Jonze's stylistic decision to film the spot with long lenses actually helped expedite matters effects-wise. "It makes you feel like you're peering in on this guy from a long distance, and you also get a sense of the heat of the Mexico City summer. It really made the spot look interesting, but it was also one of the saving graces with the effects. A wide-angle lens has so much dimensional movement, things can just look wrong so easily; but a long lens compresses everything and makes it two-dimensional. That helped enormously in our execution, because it reduced the perspective."

And what about that particularly dazzling moment when Johnny glides past some windows with a "real" stride, while his lower half is still doing the super freak in the reflection? "We used two cameras, so we had a true reflection," says Gibbs. "We were clever about the camera angles, and there were also a lot of greenscreens put up around Johnny, just so we could have a camera seeing him from both directions." Did Sea Level have anything to do with the actual Plastic Man moves that Johnny executes? For the most part, no, says Gibbs. However, the scene where the actor does a serious sideways slide across the street involved the company's own fancy footwork. "His legs do tweak a little further out than natural," reveals Gibbs. "We built a wire frame for his body and just extended the limbs. We had some control over his joints."

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