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Making Commercials: Wireless Visions

What if symbols of the interactions between you and your wireless devices appeared all around you?

By Michael Fickes

[Above Top] Absolute added blue birds throughout the spot to symbolize tweets the hero is receiving and sending. [Above] In the spot, a CG Hemingway inside an e-reader joins the hero in a rowboat courtesy of Flame.
[Above Top] Absolute added blue birds throughout the spot to symbolize tweets the hero is receiving and sending.
[Above] In the spot, a CG Hemingway inside an e-reader joins the hero in a rowboat
courtesy of Flam

CTIA–The Wireless Association recently released “Your Mind is a Wireless Place,” a 30- and 60-second commercial about how we use wireless technologies in our lives. The spot follows a day in the life of a man in a surrealistic wireless world, a place where symbols illustrate wireless technology in use.

Absolute, a visual effects and computer graphics company based in London and New York, created the symbols with animation and VFX tools, including Maya, Flame and Nuke. The New York office handled the project, working closely with Director Brent Bonacorso of Rabbit, the production company with offices in New York and L.A. The agency, Washington, D.C.-based GMMB, imagined the concept.

“Our assignment was to make subtle references to the digital world, said Nathan Kane, Absolute’s creative director. “The more you watch the commercial the more connections you’ll make.”

The spot opens as the hero awakens one morning and hops out of bed. When his feet hit the floor, a 3D GPS map of a cityscape unfurls magically. The animation symbolizes the GPS capability inside the hero’s phone. Like the hero, it has awakened.
“We modeled the GPS map in Maya and gave it photo-real qualities with light and shadows,” said Kane. “The client wanted it to read as a real GPS map. We worked back and forth to satisfy both concerns.”

Dressed and on his way, the hero encounters a jazz band. He leans down to drop money into an open guitar case. A CG blue bird is perched on the case. Animated birds appear throughout, symbolizing tweets the hero is receiving and sending. The voiceover hints that the bird is a tweet: “A little bird told me about a band.”

The commercial’s most spectacular scene begins with another voiceover: “An old man shared some fish stories.”

You see the hero in the bow of a rowboat, with the sea surging up and down and a threatening sky on the horizon. At the stern sits a man with a heavyset body. His head is shaped like an e-reader, which shows an old photo of Ernest Hemingway. Remember The Old Man and the Sea? Hemingway’s photo cracks the slightest of smiles, thanks to Flame.

But the smile doesn’t last. A giant fish leaps out of the water, swallows the rowboat and its occupants whole and disappears in a massive splash back into the water. “We shot the two men in the boat against green-screen,” Kane says. “The fish, as well as the water and the sky, were computer graphics. The splash was technically difficult.”

Absolute used Naiad, from Stockholm-based Exotic Matter, to create the splash. “It’s a software tool designed to create water dynamics,” he said. “We composited the water and the splash into the scene with Flame. We also added real water splashes that we shot against black, which made it easier to key.”

For another scene, Absolute created a 3D animation of The Doodler, the main character in the smart phone game Doodle Jump. “In the game, The Doodler is 2D,” Kane said. “We worked with the character’s creator to get it right in 3D.”

In a charming scene, the hero and a female friend walk hand-in-hand through the city, sort of. Actually she is inside a Skype screen with Paris in the background. “We shot them walking on the street,” said Kane. “Then we rotoscoped her out, made a matte painting of a Paris background and composited her in. This was done in Flame — no CG.”

The next scene reprises the characters by showing them in picture frames – illustrating smartphone and web cam capabilities. Hemmingway and the hero appear on a dock with the fish – They have overcome.

Finally, at dinner the hero and all of the character-symbols relax and talk. With a smile, the hero looks around the table and blinks, causing the scene to freeze.

That’s the point: Wireless technology gives you more control over your world.

November 9, 2012