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Making Commercials: Lowe’s Flicker-Cut Campaigns

The big-box home improvement retailer has come up with another campaign with riveting visual effects.

By Michael Fickes

Stardust EP Dexton Deboree and Director Seth Epstein on the set of the Lowe’s flicker-cut campaign.
Stardust EP Dexton Deboree and Director Seth Epstein on the set of the Lowe’s flicker-cut campaign.

Recent spring and summer television campaigns from home improvement retailer Lowe’s look like stop-motion, or like stop-motion done fast or differently or something. What is that technique?

“It’s stop-motion, but not traditional stop-motion,” says Dexton Deboree, executive producer and managing partner with Stardust LLC (http://stardust.tv), a production and post-production house with offices in Los Angeles and New York. “Doing it the traditional way – shooting a few thousand still frames and moving the camera a fraction of an inch for every set up – would have cost too much and taken too long. We developed a technique that imitates stop-motion.”

Call it “flicker cutting.”

Each of Lowe’s Co.’s two campaigns – spring and summer – includes a number of 10-second, flicker-cut spots with five-second price and logo card endings. The spring campaign features vignettes of family members preparing the yard and flower gardens. Each vignette carries a label: “Tilling,” “Planting,” “Mowing,” “Trimming,” “Seeding” and so on.

Summer follows with more vignettes. A young boy with a plastic lawn mower follows his father with a real power mower back and forth across the lawn in a vignette called “Teacher.” At a cookout vignette called “Light,” dad lights the grill as the family gathers at a picnic table. In “Glow,” the kids collect lightning bugs in jars. “Flicker” shows the family roasting marshmallows over a flickering fire. The kids wave their sparkling sparklers in “Sparkle.”

There is no dialog. It is just the flicker-cut vignettes, the titles, end cards and a charming, simple musical track from the Japanese band Lullatone.

Stardust provided live-action production, design and editing for both campaigns, which can be viewed from Stardust’s website.

BBDO wanted something different

The project started when advertising agency BBDO showed a stop-motion reference piece – a short film. The agency wanted to find a way to mimic stop-motion without raising costs or requiring more than a typical two- or three-day shoot.

Stardust had just bought a Panasonic GH3 DSLR with motion capability. Stardust Director Seth Epstein decided to shoot a test spot with it. “The camera loads the video as a series of 24 frame sequences,” Deboree said. “Seth shot it, and then we pulled out every fourth frame and experimented with playback speeds.”

BBDO liked the look, and the campaign went into production.

Collaborative production

Deboree said that the production process – particularly pre-production – involved constant collaboration with BBDO. “The agency would develop a 10-second script, and we would talk through what products to feature in each spot and how to work them into the storyline,” he said.

For spots shot outdoors, Lowe’s wants any product shown to be their product, Deboree continued. If the camera points at a flower garden, the flowers in the garden have to be Lowe’s products. It’s the same for indoor shoots. In the kitchen, for instance, the countertop, oven, lighting and other products shown must come from Lowe’s.

Shooting and editing

With the concepts and product selections complete, Epstein shot the vignettes for both campaigns over three days.

He shot about 90 percent of the video with the idea of pulling out every fourth or fifth frame. The other 10 percent was shot in still frames and edited together – like conventional stop-motion.

The edit posed challenges. “It was important to pull out frames without altering the depth of field,” Deboree said. “That could interrupt the seamless feel of the spot.

“The editor also had to make sure that the frames on either side of what was removed had evenly lighted backgrounds and foregrounds,” he continued. “A dramatic lighting difference caused the video to almost strobe, instead of providing the subtle flicker we wanted.”

The editor pulled out the frames in the rough cut. Then Epstein and the editor went through the video with an eye to refining the flutter effect, pulling out a few more frames while adding others back in.

Once satisfied with the look, they created the EDL and finished both campaigns.

August 6, 2013