Making Commercials: Sunday Night on ABC
ABC promoted its Sunday Night line-up using live action and visual effects to highlight three dark, compelling stories.
By Michael Fickes
ABC wanted a promo for its fall Sunday night line-up equal to the strength of the programming, which includes Once Upon a Time, Revenge and 666 Park Avenue.
“They didn’t want people just staring at the camera,” said Nate Robinson, co-creative director of Ntropic, the visual effects and post-production house that handled the creative, direction, visual effects and post-production on the project. “In our research, we looked at hundreds of promos with the goal of re-thinking what a promo could be.”
“Collaborating with the ABC creative group, we developed a spot that touches on the stories in each of the shows,” added Andrew Sinagra, co-creative director with Robinson at Ntropic, which has offices in LA, New York and San Francisco.
Both Once Upon a Time and Revenge were starting new seasons, while 666 Park Avenue was a new show. The idea was to pick up where the first season left off for the continuing shows and to communicate the eerie evil of the new show.
Once Upon a Time
Once Upon a Time takes place in Storybrooke, a town filled with fairy tale characters. An evil queen has banished them to the real world and caused them to forget who they are. In the first season’s finale, Rumpelstiltskin brings magic from the fairy tale world into the real world.
The promo begins there, with a long, fast camera push-in following dense purple smoke – the magic – as it floods through a forest, into Storybrooke and engulfs the characters.
“We went to Vancouver, where the show is shot and photographed the town,” Robinson said. “Then we built the town using Maya and a 3D plugin called Glyph, which helped align Maya’s cameras.”
Joseph Uliano, the executive producer, and Maz Makhani, the DP, both from One World Productions, the LA-based production house, chose the Red EPIC and the ARRI ALEXA for the shoot.
“The EPIC has twice the resolution of the ALEXA,” Sinagra said. “The special effects needed the higher resolution. So we used the EPIC to shoot the Once Upon a Time characters against green-screen.”
For the Revenge sequence, the crew shifted to the ALEXA, which is better for skin tones and beauty shots of people, continued Sinagra.
“We brought in sand and bushes and built a beach on stage,” Robinson said. “I flew to the Hamptons, where the show is set, and took digital stills of water, which we matte-painted into the scenes.”
Robinson and Sinagra also designed the clothing for the characters in the Revenge segment. For Emily Thorn, the main character, they designed an elegant back dress with a train that grows, thanks to Maya, into long coiling thorny branches – symbolic of revenge.
In the sequence, the vengeful Emily walks slowly across the beach glancing at the other characters, whose expressions hint at how they feel about her. Finally, the camera cuts to a shot looking down at the thorns as they grow by coiling up toward the camera.
666 Park Avenue
The branches morph into an elegant spiral staircase, a fixture inside 666 Park Avenue, an apartment building where the tenants all seem to have sold their souls to you-know-who.
The segment identifies the main characters, the building’s owner and his wife, and the building manager and her husband.
“We shot the close-ups and portraits of the characters with the ALEXA,” Robinson said. “Then we used the EPIC for wide shots, which were effected.”
The effects create lighting flashes around the owner of the building, as a large 666 flashes beside him. The editing, handled with Avid, cuts scenes to the driving rhythm of “A Little Taste” by Skyler Stonestreet, an emerging artist from whom ABC acquired the rights.
Another Maya plug-in, V-Ray, handled the rendering, with Luster, from the Flame and Smoke suite, took care of color correction.
The result is a powerful re-conceptualization of a program promo that blends motion control, CGI, animation, layered compositing and flame effects with live shots of the characters in the worlds of their stories.
Just prior to press time, ABC cancelled 666 Park Avenue.