By Michael Fickes
Agent D3 Dwyane Wade breaks free of the Zen Master in "The Escape," episode two of Nike Air Jordan's
Dominate Another Day campaign.
In the second episode of Dominate Another Day, the new Nike Air Jordan campaign from Wieden+Kennedy/NY, brand spokesman Dwyane Wade escapes from a Zen Master, leaps a snake pit and whips a gang of ninjas — with the help of Animal Logic, a computer-animation and VFX house based in Sydney, Australia, with offices in Santa Monica (www.animallogic.com).
Wade, the Miami Heat's shooting guard, led the team to an NBA championship in 2006. In the Dominate Another Day campaign, he trades in his nicknames — Flash and D-Wade — for a spy moniker, Agent D3, and assumes the identity of a James Bond-like character.
His mission: To re-claim the NBA Championship rings, which have been stolen by a Zen Master protected by ninja warriors.
The campaign so far has been rich in spectacular VFX and practical-effects shots.
In the first commercial, "Launch," D3 pilots a jetpack to Miami, ejects and appears to descend flying under his own power with the assistance of a wing-suit. As he reaches the ground, he catches a rider-less, racing motorcycle from the rear and leaps onto the bike.
In the first spot of Nike Air Jordan's Dominate Another Day campaign, D3 flies over Miami in a jetpack
The close up jetpack scenes were shot against greenscreen with Animal Logic tracking and compositing the footage into shots of the Miami night sky. A stunt man handled the motorcycle scene leaping from the front of a camera truck following the bike, dragging his heels and virtually skiing along the road before vaulting neatly into the seat. "All we added for that scene were sparks flying off his feet," says Benjamin Walsh, Animal Logic's VFX supervisor and art director.
In the second spot, "The Escape," Animal Logic supplied a handful of relatively simple effects to the early scenes then displayed its skills by turning a small room into a cavernous, columned chamber and blowing up a high-rise building in a scene reminiscent of some of James Bond's most destructive rampages.
"The Escape" opens with D3 on his back, chained to a round rotating table. Beside him stands the Zen Master; D3's basketball magically hovers over the prone superstar.
The Zen Master's fingers glitter with the NBA rings that D3 seeks. Leaving the chamber, the Zen Master, dressed in purple to recall the rival Los Angeles Lakers, activates a purple laser, created by Animal Logic in Autodesk Flame. The laser, seen cutting into the table itself via an effect created in Adobe Photoshop with matte painting, will kill D3 as the table rotates and sends him into the beam.
Goldfinger, the third Connery-as-Bond movie, portrayed a similar scene: Tied to a platform, Bond watched in horror as an industrial laser cut the platform and threatened to rend Bond in half.
In the updated Air Jordan version, D3 displays no panic. He simply turns his head and positions his diamond ear stud to reflect the laser's animated beam back into itself, destroying the laser gun. He bursts the prop chains in a practical shot to which Animal Logic added 2D sparks with Flame.
Unchained, D3 leaps up, grabs the ball, animated in 3D with Autodesk Maya, and throws it at the entrance to the chamber, where a barred door is clamping down like jaws.
The basketball blocks the bars from closing completely and D3 leaps through the opening, landing on one side of a pit filled with animated black mamba snakes, among the most dangerous in the world. It's no coincidence that the leader of the L. A. Lakers is Kobe Bryant, whose nickname is Black Mamba.
Now free, D3 strolls away from an explosion in the building where he was trapped.
An aerial shot shows D3 leaping over the snake pit down to another chamber as one of the black mambas strikes at D3 but misses.
When he lands, he passes through a red beam, crafted in Flame, that sets off an alarm. An actual NBA shot clock starts counting down from 24, as ninja warriors flood the chamber.
The ensuing fight is largely a series of practical camera shots showing D3 evading the ninjas. In one scene, where a ninja aims a throwing star at him and he blocks it with the basketball, Animal Logic animated the ninja weapon in Flame.
Animal Logic's most extensive VFX appeared in the chamber where the fight occurs. It appears to be a huge rectangle extending a great distance, with stone columns on either side outlining what might be a large entrance hall.
In reality the room was a small space that director Noam Murro, of Los Angeles-based Biscuit Filmworks, wanted to enlarge. "The director shot the fight scene with greenscreen on the back wall," Walsh says. "Then we took photos of the room from different angles to use as source material. We manipulated the images and extended the space with Photoshop matte paintings. Then we built a rough 3D set extension in Maya and projected the matte painting elements onto the concrete columns and chamber surfaces to allow parallax when the camera moved.
"We also used Flame to add atmosphere to the scene by creating light beams with subtle CG dust particles."
D3 escapes by firing a grappling gun into a skylight above and pulling himself up through the opening. "This was done in post, too," Walsh says. "We shot a stunt double attached to a rope on a greenscreen set. The rope pulled him through a practical glass skylight rigged to shatter."
Biscuit Filmworks' DP Simon Duggan shot the scene from below and above. The only practical elements were the stunt double, the rope and the glass. "The building and the environment were matte painted with Photoshop," Walsh says.
The pyro and one-third-scale model for the explosion were created by Kevin Harris fx in Fort Lauderdale.
After his escape, we see D3 walking on the street. In the background a tall building, ostensibly where he had been imprisoned, explodes and flames shoot out the top.
For the pyrotechnics, Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Kevin Harris fx made a one-third-scale model of an actual Miami high-rise. "Harris set explosive detonators on top of the model," Walsh says. "Vertical tubes filled with fuel lined the inside of the model. On the first take, the explosion blew off the top of the building. For safety, we did an additional take of just the flames shooting out of the top of the building. But the first take worked fine."
The final scene shows a composited live-action plate of Wade walking on the street, with the burning miniature building in the background. 3D debris blasting out of the windows helps sell the scale of the miniature, observes Walsh.
And so, Wade, Dywane Wade is on the loose again. Stay tuned.
When It Takes Animal Logic
Founded in 1991, Animal Logic earned its reputation producing award-winning design, VFX and animation skilled in both commercial and feature-film production.
In the commercial world, the company also has handled spots for Acura, Honda, Hyundai, Subaru, BMW, Kaiser Permanente, Verizon and other major national advertisers. But Animal Logic is perhaps best known as the animation house that made Australia's first digitally-animated feature, Happy Feet, which garnered a 2006 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. In 2010, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole was produced at Animal Logic in Sydney marking Australia's first animated feature to be released in stereoscopic 3D.
"Our Sydney offices are a tremendous resource," says Animal Logic producer Scott Boyajan. "There are 250 employees there, with animation and VFX capabilities for features as well as commercials."
"We do the front-end conceptual and pre-viz work as well as the compositing and finishing here in Santa Monica," adds Benjamin Walsh, Animal Logic's VFX supervisor and art director. "The animation is done in Sydney, which is an enormous resource. They can power through the toughest CG jobs."