DIGITAL ART: HIGH ARCHITECH

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The chaos and confusion of a dystopian financial future provides a powerful visual hook in "Launch," a new :60 for First Union Bank, directed and designed by Steve Beck at Industrial Light & Magic.

The design-intensive spot, created by Publicis/Hal Riney & Partners/San Francisco, begins with complex, noirish, paranoia-inducing compositions in which drab businessmen battle a threatening array of imposing architectural elements. One of the faceless men leaps off a tall building, a seeming Depression reference, only to open a golden parachute (literally). The bleak opening (à la Blade Runner and Brazil) then turns carnival-like, with mean-spirited clowns and other surreal freakshow images.

"We wanted to create an eerie, Twilight Zone-meets-your-bank-statement atmosphere," says Beck, an Art Center grad with a fine-art and design background. Also, "We wanted the architecture to be confusing, alienating."

Beck used Magritte's bowler hat man and Fellini's odd framing and pacing as art direction models. He borrowed elements from U.S. currency -- "Whip out a dollar bill; it's full of bizarre stuff" -- and structural ideas from none other than Nazi architect Albert Speer.

The result combines live action with digital matte paintings and digital painting, compositing and editing. Flint, Flame and Inferno were all used with obvious virtuosity; but when one of the Magritte men falls and cracks like porcelain, it's a practical effect, achieved with simple costuming sleight-of-hand and a prosthetic arm. Amazingly, all of the buildings were digital, except for two models of the First Union tower used at the end. Some bizarre elements -- including a huge coin that moves across frame and some pieces of wide-angle cityscapes -- were CGI. The trick to managing difficult big-budget spots? "I try not to worry so much about the effects," says Beck. "I stay focused on getting the story across. The viewer should feel something -- confusion and chaos -- and then relief, that they can do something to insure financial security."

Other ILM credits include visual effects supervisor George Murphy, senior producer Paul Hill and production designer Sean Hargreaves. The DP was Thomas Kloss. Agency credits include CD/AD Jerry Andelin, senior copywriter Paul

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