Behind the Work: Tim Brown Directs Slow Motion For Westin

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A man flies into a t-shirt floating in mid-air, handsprings off a trampoline into some shorts, and jumps neatly into a pair of shoes, all surrounded by abstract, white-washed sculptural objects resembling gym gear.

You might be forgiven for thinking this is the opening of a modern dance performance. It's actually more pedestrian than that: It's one of three spots for a new campaign out of BBH New York and 1stAveMachine for Westin Hotels. The idea: It's so effortless to go to the gym at our properties, it's practically graceful.

Taking the Work out of Workout
This is the first U.S. outing for London director Tim Brown, best known perhaps for his work on the in-camera masterpiece that was Google's "Extensions" spot in the U.K. "[Westin and BBH] wanted to do something different that would stand out in the hospitality market," he says. Hotel ads are typically marked by shots of plush beds and happy people jumping into swimming pools -- this one is downright artistic by comparison. "This sense of ease of getting into the garments, we wanted to create a choreography that makes it seem like it's not a chore to go to the gym," says Brown. "It's a dance."

The most surprising detail of the shoot that Brown reveals is the size of the studio it was shot in. Watching the spot, it feels like the shoot happened in a large, linearly set-up room and the actor simply jumped from prop to prop to reach the conclusion.

"It flatters me that you think that," says Brown. "In fact, the space we shot in was about 20 feet by 25 feet. New York was incredibly busy that week, nothing was available, so we created two areas within one studio."

Brown said a lot of test footage inspired the idea. The team bought a regular Joe slow-motion camera, a "a low-fi everyday thing," and used that to test different speeds and ideas. The next few spots, expected to air this weekend, evoke the same abstract, artistic feeling and involve a shower and a bed, Brown hinted. "We tried different materials to represent the water, there was confetti, then we tested the bed to make sure the feathers exploded right," he says.

Biggest Obstacle-A Pair of Shorts
For this particular spot, each piece of clothing was hung by a fishing wire of sorts. "The shorts themselves were a bit of a nightmare," says Brown. They were hard to hold up and ensure the actor could slip his legs in correctly, so they ended up adding a trapeze bar and some big rigs to support him while he made the jump.

Brown says the actor himself, who has also done theater performance for Spider-Man -- "He's the green goblin or something" -- was also a good sport, considering the physical demands placed on him. The first time he tried to get into the shirt, he couldn't quite get through the entire fabric, and went headfirst into the concrete floor.

A New Take on Slo-Mo
"One thing I really wanted to introduce to this piece was movement with the camera," says Brown, adding that many slow-motion pieces can often feel static. But to get movements within the shot, the camera itself needs to be moving at a fast speed to keep up with the speed of the frames that are being shot per second.

Brown then rigged the Phantom Flex camera onto a bungee cord on the ceiling, so it could dangle and be swung. Someone then would swing the camera across the studio. A 360-degree rig on the floor tracked around the camera while the actor did his moves. "We used the Phantom Flex because it has a quick back-end and download logging system," says Brown. "The files we were shooting were huge, 2,000 fps."

Brown says he is especially happy with the shot because it is practical and hands-on. "I like working in-camera--you can frame it exactly how you want. I like the process of 3D and stuff, but I'm much more interested in live-action's challenges," he says. "It's right there in front of you."

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