Tools & Toys: Freeze the Day

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We've all seen the spots that literally stop you in your tracks. For example: Inside a crowded airport, all is noisy chaos while a pert blonde woman tries to wrestle her luggage from a baggage carousel. Two beefy guys smirkingly block her way. The blonde glares and suddenly everything just stops. Except for our heroine, who simply walks around the now-immobilized guys, grabs her bag, strides out the door, through stopped traffic, past a couple of pilots, one whose jacket is frozen against the sky as he flings it over his shoulder, and into her waiting Honda Accord.

OK, so after the sheer technical virtuosity, the audacity of the production effort, the Honda itself is sort of a letdown. And that can be a problem. As with the morph mania of some years ago, the first time you see a "frozen moment" commercial, it's a wonder. A few frozen spots later, it's a wonder that so many agencies have the nerve to jump on the same cinematic bandwagon, as if life is one big theater-in-the-round. (Probably the best-known frozen moment and surely one of the most creatively compelling, is seen in the Gap's "Swing" spot, but there the freeze enhances an already great idea.)

Meanwhile, the tech side of the equation becomes ever more intriguing. The production company behind many frozen moments, which it proprietarily calls Big Freeze, is Dallas-based Big Fish Films. Developed by director/cameraman Robert Latorre in 1997, the Big Freeze system, which is now available in version 2.0, is a tinkerer's dream. Each rig includes more than 600 computer-integrated, radio-controlled Nikon cameras. Deployed in a circle, these cameras can be synchronized to capture an image simultaneously, freezing the scene in time. Captured images can be viewed from 360 degrees, in any perspective along a perfect path. The technical possibilities are almost endless, and the Big Fish school of thought is the creative possibilities remain just as promising. Real-time frozen effects of 15 seconds and longer can be achieved, multiple passes can be filmed. Directors can select ramp speed in and out of the frozen moment, and simulate virtual dolly moves in the computer (see for more info).

Though the Gap spot was filmed with a competing technology, clients have flocked to freeze their moment Big-time. In addition to Honda, corporate stalwarts like AT&T, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft have produced commercials that use the Big Freeze. If they can freeze time, maybe now they can serve up a hot idea. We're motionless with anticipation.

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