There is no substitute for real photography. You can create new worlds in CGI and animation, but a photograph lends a subject authenticity, even when we know it shouldn’t.
This project began as an experiment with a close collaborator, Matt Morgan. Matt focuses on post production, whilst I specialize in tabletop cinematography. In tabletop, one of my key tools is Motion Control (MoCo). MoCo is essentially the process of placing the camera and key environmental elements on centrally programmable motors. This allows for extreme precision and perfectly repeatable camera moves and actions.
Whilst many people tend to use MoCo as a complex dolly, Matt and I had been discussing using it to synchronize multiple video plates of the same action. With all elements in harmony, you can cut and paste to build a moving image and animate with real photography.
Matt and I co-directed this piece, conceptualizing the project together and sharing the overarching creative direction of the piece. I also served as the Director of Photography, taking charge of the practical elements of capturing the images whilst Matt took over the post-production responsibilities.
Directors: Ahad Mahmood & Matt Morgan
Director of Photography: Ahad Mahmood
When we came across Vans’ customization platform, we thought it was a perfect product to work with. We loved the UI and the experience of customizing a pair of shoes; Matt and I designed the commercial to communicate this experience with real shoes and practical effects in order to create a sense of authenticity.
The first step of the process was to create a Pre-visualization (Previz) of the commercial. A previz would push us to set our timings and movements and allow us to reverse engineer what images I would need to create to have the appropriate assets for post production.
We customized ten pairs of shoes, each tailored to create particular elements that would match our previz. It was important that the element being highlighted in the shot had enough color contrast between the other parts of the shoe so Matt could isolate it in post. Additionally, I knew the shape of the shoes had to be extremely consistent, so I worked with our SFX rigger, Ilya to make a series of inserts to fill out each shoe.
As both the camera and product would be moving independently, we had to create surfaces that would accommodate the camera movement. I needed be careful when photographing the product as my lighting had to create the impression that there was no distinction between the surface the shoe sat on and the background.
With MoCo, precision and consistency are imperative. When shooting, I had to make sure every shoe lined up in the exact same spot; if the registration was even slightly off, the shots would not overlay well. Throughout each shot (composed of two to ten ‘plates’/video passes) every element must be consistent; if there is even a subtle change in lighting, the textures may not match.
Since the goal of the piece was to use real photography and animation to create a sense of awe, we knew it was important to shoot the ‘explosion’ practically. To do this, I worked with Ilya to break the hero shoe down to individual elements. We then placed each piece on a white sneaker and shot it pulled off with fishing line. In post, with a little bit of VFX, we would composite the plates so the actions occur simultaneously on screen.
Director: Ahad Mahmood & Matt Morgan
DP: Ahad Mahmood
Post: Yacht Club Films
Color: Jared Rosenthal @ Prom Creative
Sound design: Bobb Barito
Motion Control: Ed Hansen @ Gizmo Effects
Rigging: Ilya Smelansky