How'd They Do That Spot?

By Tk Published on .

A black-leather-clad guy on a yellow motorcycle speeds through solid-silver traffic in L.A. He screeches to a stop outside the Staples Center, where we cut to an underground parking lot, in which the rider, helmet finally removed, turns out to be Lakers' star Kobe Bryant. After a closeup of his shoe, fade to a "Forever sport" title and the Adidas logo.

A creative collaboration of little-known Portland agencies Whatya Think and Red Button, and directed by Stiefel & Co.'s Andrews Jenkins, there's no dialogue, no voiceover, not even any music, just engine-revving sound design by Machine Head (see story on page 44). As for the street scenes, this is a Los Angeles that exists only in the digital realm, thanks to West Hollywood visual effects/broadcast design studio A52.

"From the beginning, I wanted to shoot something that couldn't be shot," recalls Jenkins. "That meant both camera work and effects work had to be absolutely integrated. We sat down with A52 numerous times and talked about what we were looking for. From there, I had them out on the set every day. They were an integral part of the whole process."

Jenkins "had a very strong vision of what he wanted and he boarded up what was in his mind's eye," says A52 managing director and executive producer Liz Roewe. "He had pictures of how he wanted to build what we called the `spaghetti junction,' with wild overpasses and whatnot. So we talked to him about what pieces he needed to film to put that together. Then we got into the technical aspects of shooting it all, so in post it could be blended perfectly."

"The idea was to have rich, metallic colors throughout, but the bike would pop out as this bright-yellow force," explains A52 visual effects artist Patrick Murphy."We had to cut the bike out of every shot and replace it with a new grade that we created using the Inferno." And along the way, "I got to build a hyper-real version of L.A.," Murphy chuckles. Indeed, every shot involved the replacement of buildings, freeways and skies - all while matching grain, motion blur and the target color grades.

Murphy, along with A52 effects artist and supervisor Dan Sumpter, shadowed the first unit on location, taking measurements of camera positions. "Then, we found buildings that we thought would fit into the scenario and shot them with the same camera and lens," Murphy explains. Moreover, "The skies were gray during much of the shooting. We had to shoot all new clouds and track them in."

Isn't this all a tad anal-retentive for a few seconds of film in which the backgrounds mostly just whiz by? Not at all, Roewe claims: "If something's wrong, the viewer's eye is so well-trained it will notice something's wrong, even if it's speeding by. The fact that it doesn't look wrong to the eye, like maybe there is this street that can be shot - that's the magic for us."

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