DirecTV: Just like heaven

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In DirecTV's new campaign for NBA Season Pass, from BBDO/N.Y., three spots play on the idea that the service is heaven for basketball nuts-and it would have to be, since, as the name implies, Season Pass lets fans watch all the basketball games they want. To illustrate the sheer bliss of this notion, five fans die under rather mundane circumstances then rise up through the sky as spirits to rest ... back in their chairs watching basketball on TV. Effects from The Mill's New York office and effects artist Dirk Greene lend the ghosts a definitive visual style that lets them believably pass through walls and ceilings and retain expression and personality-but in-camera techniques also played a big part. The three spots, "Vase," "Chair," and "Chinese Food," describe the different deaths of the characters: a conk on the head from excessive rocking against a vase-supporting bookshelf; a wipeout from tipping back a chair on a linoleum floor; and rancid leftover takeout.

The first task for Greene was working with copywriter Ari Weiss and art director Aaron Adler to decide on the look for the ghosts. According to Weiss, there were few mandatory criteria. "The most important thing was that the ghosts read as ghosts as quickly as possible," he says. With the help of some references, Greene set out to explore visual options. "We spent a couple of days coming up with a variation of looks," Greene says, "including how transparent they would be, how monochromatic, how glowy, as well as how much detail of the person or clothes we would keep. We did a couple of extreme examples. The agency creatives chose a slightly bluish monochromatic look, and we added particles to make it more ethereal." Greene explains that particle software, like the kind that simulates rain, snow and dirt, can be a key element to an effect. "We took the shape of the body and broke it down as if it were composed of molecules. And then those molecules were animated around. If we had a glow, though the object isn't moving it has particles moving around it that make it look more interesting. It's a bit of an added extra, but you'd notice if we took it away. We didn't want it to simply be a semi-transparent bluish person."

After the look was finalized, Greene confronted the footage shot over three days in L.A. "The first two days were spent on set and locations," says Weiss. "The third day was spent shooting the actors in harnesses against greenscreen to accomplish the effect of floating up to heaven." Among set footage was blank background plates of the scenes (two living rooms and a kitchen); plates with the actors interacting with their environment; and plates that used a lightbulb suspended from a rig and rising up through the set, so that realistic light and shadows would be captured in-camera. In front of the greenscreen, director Craig Gillespie shot the actors on a rig that suspended them above the ground. "There were fans pointed to show clothes and hair moving," says Greene. "It was supposed to add a bit of gravity to it."

Rising above helicopter-shot skylines and through the roofs of houses, the effect is an impressive, but quick trip. "We spent quite a lot of time trying to finesse how fast he was traveling," says Greene. "We didn't want him to shoot straight to heaven, but we wanted to show that he was going with some force."

Along the way, of course, Greene had to track the different transitions, which included clouds and the floorboards beneath each set, as well as the speeds of the light and shadows. As a kicker, he also animated items that would be affected by the ghosts when they return to their seats, because those scenes were not shot on the background plates.

"This campaign would have been very difficult to pull off without Craig and Dirk," says Weiss. "On the shoot, Craig made sure to get more coverage than we could possibly use. When we got to the Mill. Dirk was able to pull all the footage together and make it look seamless."

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