On paper, a commercial with nothing but singing belly buttons may sound like just so much lint, but TBWA/Chiat/Day's San Francisco office brings it off with brio in the summer-sexy "Belly Button" spot, for Levi's Superlow jeans. The song in question is the Diana Ross hit "I'm Coming Out" (strictly bare-midriff connotations here, thank you), sung by none other than Jamie-Lynn Sigler, better known as Meadow Soprano, who's also launching a music career. But that's just pop icing on the cake. It's the visual high concept that sells low-rise denim, but it wasn't till Partizan director Michel Gondry got involved that the execution really got, uh, gutsy. The original idea was simply to have the women manipulate their navels with their hands, according to art director Jeff Labbe. "But we got to talking with Michel, and he says, `I want the belly button to really sing.' So we go, `Great! How do we do that?' He says, `Don't worry, my brother wrote a program.' "
Michel's brother just happens to be Olivier Gondry of Los Angeles effects house Twisted Laboratories, who proved that nepotism can be single-mindedly beautiful. The :30 is nothing but abdominal effects but for one reaction shot of a stunned youngster who's ogling the flesh opera. One woman even has an appendix scar; is this a digital affectation? Not at all, says Labbe. "The Levi's tagline is `Make them your own,' so the scar's no big deal. It's a natural part of the woman. We just tried to keep it real." What about piercings or tattoos, which are conspicuous by their absence? "Tattoos are not a problem," Labbe insists. "One girl had a tattoo, but it was on her backside, you just can't see it," he laughs. "We did stay away from piercings, because when the belly button sings, the piercing gets in the way. The message needs to be clear. One girl, in fact, took hers out." Piercings aside, this is a very selective sort of shoot. There's the usual Mad Ave ethnic inclusivity, of course, but the physical characteristics are demanding. "We had to very carefully cast for the right belly buttons," says Labbe. "You can't have one that's too deep, you lose the detailing of the movement. You can't have outies either, obviously. It has to have a mouth kind of shape. The ideal girl has a flat stomach and a flat belly button."
Speaking of mouth shape, the key to the lip sync is a good old motion capture technique. After the stomach parade came a blue dot-painted mouth shoot of the tummy talent singing the song, which was married to the midriffs in three to four weeks of intensive animation.
Other agency credits to creative director Chuck McBride, ACD Jon Soto, copywriter Susan Treacy and producer Betsy Beale.