Push for Ultra HD TV Grows: Behind Samsung's Blockbuster 4K Gladiator Ad

Spot for the Curved Screen UHD TV Has Incredible Level of Detail

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Forget flat screens. The next generation of TVs you're going to mount on your wall are curved -- at least, according to Samsung, which hopes to pioneer this market with its new UHD (Ultra High Definition) TV, capable of displaying video shot in 4K and gently curving inward to provide, Samsung says, a more immersive experience.

The global marketing campaign for the curved UHD range -- which start at $3,499 for a 55-inch screen -- kicked off this week with a commercial filmed in 4K.

While not the first ad shot in that standard -- others include Sony' Bravia's Volcano -- Samsung challenged itself further by making a cinematic-style ad featuring intricate crowd scenes and close ups, where ultra high definition can really show off detail.

The brand called on CHI & Partners, London, to deliver something beyond the traditional viewing experience for the global TV ad. "We wanted to create a commercial that involved and surrounded the viewer to dramatize a TV innovation that allows an immersive viewing experience like never before," Yoon Jung Lee, VP-TV global marketing, said in a statement.

The creative team, including art director Monty Verdi and copywriter Micky Tudor, came up with the idea of a gladiatorial coliseum, in which a father and son (who are actually watching the action from their sofa) find themselves surrounded by a baying crowd at the heart of the arena.

With Nathan Price of Park Pictures on board to direct, the coliseum itself was erected in a disused quarry in New Zealand (a good choice for its filming grants as well as hundreds of seasoned extras fresh from movies like "The Hobbit"). Director Price wanted as much of the action to be captured in-camera as possible, so the eight-week shoot necessitated a huge cast (with some 350 extras) and crew.

But the real coliseum set was still less than half full, so the rest had to be filled in by a visual effects team from MPC, led by Franck Lambertz and Carsten Keller. The cinematic opening shot was developed from a series of concept drawings by MPC's in-house team, who started with just a matte painting. The crowd viewers ultimately see is a combination of in-camera shots, digital work and additional detailed matte painting.

A particular challenge of filming in 4K, Mr. Lambertz said, was that the resolution is so clear that even tiny background details must be absolutely perfect. "When viewing the spot on a 4K monitor the detail is absolutely mind-blowing," he said. "Even the most minute expressions on members of the crowd are amplified, and all the architecture -- concrete and wood, and even the leaves on the trees are incredibly detailed."

CHI & Partners worked alongside "Spartacus" costume designer Barbara Darragh to create a bespoke look for the gladiators and emperor's entourage – the look is deliberately not "too Roman" but more international, with some of the fighters sporting Maori-style war paint and every character styled in an individual way. (CHI commissioned portraits of each character, which it plans to show in an exhibition next month.)

While some of this caused headaches with the production team, and there were some "animated meetings," Mr. Lambertz said he was excited to be part of a pioneering experiment. He added, "4K is going to be standard in the future -- we don't have to sell it to our clients, because everyone is asking about it already."

But the question could be asked: Is all this level of detail really necessary when, let's face it, most consumers won't, for now, be watching the ad on a UHD TV? The agencies involved declined to reveal the ad's budget, but 4K production is inherently more expensive due to the sheer amount of data involved and time taken.

"The 4K version will really work well in showrooms, where people are deciding to buy the new models," Mr. Lambertz said.

4K in demand
Demands for filming ads in 4K are already commonplace, according to agencies. Framestore London's head of engineering Andy Howard said the shop has had a lot of requests from clients to work in 4K, leading to 4K projects for the likes of Sony, Samsung and Burberry, which used the standard for its recent Shanghai launch show.

"There is a good chance it will became standard faster than high definition did because the TV sets are becoming affordable much quicker," Mr. Howard said. "While HD sets were at a premium for years, you can already buy a 55" ultra HD television for less than £2,000." (That would be $3,368 in U.S. currency -- still a steep price compared to HD sets.)

Mr. Howard also pointed to the rise of online streaming, with broadcasters and content producers such as Netflix ramping up efforts to support 4K content. Netflix has said it will stream in 4K if the bandwidth is available.

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