Hewlett-Packard Goes Effects Postal

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"Il Postino," one of the latest from the visually stunning Hewlett-Packard campaign from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, carries the old post office bit about "rain, sleet, snow" to the nth degree, as a diehard neighborhood letter carrier remains true to his cause even as the Earth gets trammeled by a runaway robot, loses its gravity and is sucked up into a black hole. Thanks to an army of artists from Method and Stan Winston under the command of MJZ's Fredrik Bond, the spot accomplishes a whimsical crazy quilt of calamities via everything from puppetry, post and cleverly conceived live-action sleight of hand.

As cataclysmic as it sounds, "It's quite childlike in its delivery," notes Method producer Sue Troyan. "USPS and HP didn't want it to be scary or threatening in any way. Fredrik is all about keeping things real, and campiness was a key aspect of how he wanted the spot to look." Hence the scene where a clumsy giant robot stumbles through the neighborhood, for which the agency and its collaborators agreed puppetry was the way to go. "In CG, usually you're trying to make everything look real," explains Cedric Nicolas. "But when you puppeteer, even if you're trying to make it look real, there's always something weird happening that gives some kind of character to the puppet itself." Inside the 7-foot-tall robot puppet was one of the Stan Winston artists, with two others controlling the arms. "In the end, the robot looked like it was kind of drunk," Nicolas adds, "which is what made it funny. It would have been difficult to achieve that in CG. It would be too real looking. Puppeteering creates these great nuances of character." As for the scene in which the Earth loses it gravitational pull, actors were pulled up via wire rigs that were later painted out. However, the illusion of gravity loss comes not from the human floaters, but the objects rising around them, which were shot separately on high-speed film and comped in. "By adding those objects around them in very slow motion, you have the feeling of gravity, not just of guys being pulled by wires," says Nicolas.

Most difficult was the scene in which the entire neighborhood - trees, homes, even the runaway robot -shoots upward into space, the mailman left clinging for dear life to a bright blue postal box. Again, the challenge was keeping the fear factor to a minimum. "Fredrik was really demanding on the rhythm of the suction, which is more like that of a vacuum cleaner than an actual Earth disaster," says Nicolas. "That was the key to what makes it funny." The painstaking animation involved an eight-hour overnight render.

The final scene, which looks like a painterly animation of the entire globe getting inhaled into the vortex, was actually captured in live action. "We were supposed to do that in CG, but Fredrik wanted so badly to do it in-camera," Nicolas recalls. "We gave him so much shit that it wouldn't work, but he stuck to it." The production designer Dominic Watkins wrapped a rubber Earth tightly onto a polystyrene sphere, from which it was pulled out and shot. "In the end, it was way funnier than the stuff we did in CG," laughs Nicolas.