Neil Smith


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Neil Smith
Nike Apparel "The Great Return"

It’s hard to explain exactly how we achieved the edit on this spot. While it wasn’t exactly difficult, it was labor intensive and required huge and constant concentration. Everything about the project was huge — over 500 source tapes, over 32 hours of rushes, 48 cameras. There was a wealth of detail, from how we labeled tapes to the method used to make the EDL. I could probably write a book (well, maybe a pamphlet) about the precise system we worked out. For me, the most exciting aspect was the element of the unknown. Although Director Rupert Sanders had shot a successful test, it was only after the first night of loading the dailies that we knew for sure our method was going to work.

Rupert had an idea to shoot an entire commercial with a multicamera movable rig, and cut it so the action would look and feel like a videogame. The endline of the spot was "Made to move,” so he wanted to make an ad that was made to move. So far so good, but how was I supposed to cut it? Watching the dailies was like living in a two-dimensional world and trying to imagine what a third would be like. I had to construct each take, frame by frame. Each piece of action was actually the same event shot from 48 different angles on a horse shoe-shaped rig with a vertical arch in the center, so by piecing together consecutive frames from consecutive cameras I could generate a camera move as the action progressed. The idea is actually quite simple. The problem is you can’t see what you’ve got until you animate a move and if you make a mistake (miss out a camera or skip a frame) you have to start again. A lot of counting and swearing.

Nike "The Great Return
Each take could be constructed with a move going in any direction. You could start with the camera position left and move round to the right. Or start right and move left. Start top and move down. The paths led in so many different directions it was hard not to become mesmerized. Sometimes starting a move a couple of frames later would produce an entirely different result. I began making up a different array of moves for each take and slate, not even thinking about overall structure. It was frustrating but necessary, since once Rupert and the agency arrived I would have to have options available.Once I’d been through all the slates (which took about three days), I could begin to assemble the whole piece. The main structural decision was how to pace it. Do we want a gradual introduction of the camera moves or just kick off and keep on until the guy pauses for breath? In this instance, we felt more was more. However, while the camera moves are present throughout, a subtle build comes from the careful sequencing of the scenarios. We also looked at removing the hero’s pause for breath at the end of the spot, but decided it was rhythmically more interesting to keep it in.

The music was really tricky. We tortured ourselves with several different directions until W+K art director Monica Taylor said, "It’s the sound of him we need, not the sound of the rig.” This was a turning point. Previously we’d been looking for pounding techno; now we realized we wanted a kind of old-school funk, something human, confident, a sound that makes you want to move like he moves. Like the clothes: made to move, make me move. Clint Mansell, the composer, was amazing, as was Brian Emerick who realized the videogame sound effects brief superbly. My favorite thing is the choice of New York locations, which are slightly weird and empty, like a videogame. All exaggerated perspectives. Oh, and the way we made the music drop out, then cut in over the end title. It always makes me smile. Just when you thought it was over . . .

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