Imagemakers Impart Advertising with Style, Special Effects and 'Shaky Cam'

Lights, Camera, Direction!

By Published on .

Advertising imagery came alive in the 1960s, and the business has never been the same.

Thanks to the work of a corps of influential imagemakers, advertising joined TV, movies and music as a force in popular culture.

While the industry's legendary art directors, copywriters and creative directors usually garnered the acclaim for their respective agencies' best work, the final product was often a collaboration with film directors, photographers and special effects crafts people.

Indeed, the introduction of the imagemaker was largely responsible for the success of the industry's creative revolution. Still photographers were wooed into boutique agencies by an increasingly influential group of art directors. Onofrio Paccione was not only an agency art director in the '60s (he eventually became a principal in his own shop, Leber Katz Paccione), but went on to an award-winning career as a photographer. Arnold Varga, another of these renaissance men, created award-winning print campaigns for Cox's Department Store in McKeesport, Pa., in the late '50s.

Others made lasting contributions to the quality of print advertising, among them Henry Wolf, Bert Stern, Art Kane and Carl Fischer. Art directors also looked to the fashion magazines for inspiration. In the process, they turned photographers like Richard Avedon, Annie Liebowitz, Bruce Weber and Stephen Meisel into advertising stars.

Top still photographers often made the natural leap into directing TV commercials, where again they rewrote the rules. Howard Zieff, who shot Doyle Dane Bernbach's famous campaign for Levy's Jewish Rye, and Steve Horn, who is still a major force in commercials, started as print photographers.

"Howard was unique to the business," said Barney Melsky, a veteran production executive who represented Zieff in his print days. "He broke out of the white-bread casting box and made commercials into mini movies."

Back then, the top directors ruled the roost -- much like they do today. "You were always so flattered if they liked your storyboard," said Frank DiGiacomo, former copywriter at Della Femina, Travisano & Partners and now a partner at New York-based Travisano DiGiacomo Films.

Even large agencies got into the act. Young & Rubicam, during creative director Steve Frankfurt's tenure, can claim several outstanding imagemakers. Bob Giraldi started as an art director at Y&R before he directed the infamous Michael Jackson commercial for Pepsi.

Stan Dragoti, now a partner in Moss Dragoti, whose directing career flourished for a time in both movies ("Mr. Mom") and commercials (Wells, Rich, Greene's famed "I Love New York" tourism spots), is another Y&R alum. Neil Tardio, Dominic Rossetti and Ed Bianchi, all top directors during their prime in the '70s, came out of Y&R as well.

It was Zieff, however, who first elevated commercialmaking to the near-art form it's become today. His work includes such famous DDB spots as Alka-Seltzer's "Spicy Meatballs" and Volkswagen's "Funeral."

Film directors such as Joe Sedelmaier and Joe Pytka followed in Zieff's footsteps, and also elevated the quality of advertising.

Sedelmaier worked first on regional brands such as Southern Airways and later on national Federal Express, Wendy's and Timex advertising, peppering his ads with slack-jawed, deadpan losers and buffoons thrust into absurd situations.

Pytka's work projected a disarmingly simple visual style and an ability to capture human emotions in deft, subtle performances. His campaign work for Henry Weinhard beer and John Hancock in the 1980s preceded his noted celebrity turns with Ray Charles for Diet Pepsi and with Michael Jordan for Nike. Those successes turned him into the top-ranked U.S. commercials director -- a position he still occupies more than a decade later.

Meanwhile, several West Coast-based special effects houses made lasting contributions to the technology of commercialmaking. Robert Abel & Associates was, at the time, a groundbreaking effects house, producing dynamic visual effects for 7 UP and countless other brands in the '70s and early '80s. Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic has since taken up the mantle of industry leader in effects commercials. Its morphing technique, perfected for feature films, became a staple of TV commercials.

Leslie Dektor, a South African, revolutionized the static notion of film composition with a now-classic '80s approach that came to be dubbed "shaky cam." Best illustrated by his work for Levi's 501 jeans, the style is still prevalent today.

Ridley Scott arrived from England, as did many other talented filmmakers in the early 1980s. His best example continues to be Apple's "1984" spot, although traces of his dark vision can be seen in his work for Chanel.

On a more contemporary note, music video director David Fincher, who has since moved on to a successful film career ("Seven"), brought a new look in cinematography and a different style of pacing to TV commercials. His Nike women's campaign from the early '90s remains as strong visually today as almost anything seen on MTV.

In contemporary advertising, the most arresting imagemaker is the Briton Tony Kaye. His U.K. Dunlop commercial, produced in 1994, is arguably the most surreal, abstract bit of impressionism ever produced by a major agency (Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO) for a major brand.

Dubbed "visual stylists," directors such as Kaye have attempted to turn modern TV commercials into high art, with mixed success.

Most Popular
In this article: