Randy Roberts Makes a Cinema Ad for the Love of It
" Sticks and Stones " is a 40-second spot showing objects falling from
the sky to the music and lyrics of Nat King Cole’s " L-O-V-E." Actions
on-screen reflect what viewers hear in the song. For instance, the
lyric, "’V’ is very Extra-ordinary," is represented by a UFO hovering through the air, quickly followed by a newspaper with the words, " Extra."
Storyboarding Old Ideas
"I think with a pencil in my hand," says director Randy Roberts, Rhythm
& Hues ( Los Angeles, CA), who got his start as a painter and
illustrator. "I’ve got a library of notebooks that go back years and
years. During down periods, I’ve taken some of my old ideas, gone
through them and made full storyboards." For " Sticks and Stones,"
Roberts went back to early sketches of a beat of music represented by
objects falling and hitting the earth. "I had just done the first KCRW
spot,Ã¢Â€Â˜Balance,’ and I realized that this idea would also fit with their
image campaign." The concept evolved into flipping cards, and the Cole
song eventually followed.
"The song dictated everything," says Roberts, who was a musician at an
early age. "When I worked as an animator, I always tried to work to a
track, rather than do the animation and then have the track fit in.
Music can be much more complex than the visuals."
Making a Spot For Free
Because KCRW campaigns are basically glorified public-service
announcements, talented creatives choose to do high-caliber work for
free. Roberts sketched the concept for " Sticks and Stones " around
five years ago, and shot the material "when opportunities came up," he
"If I have a couple of extra hours or some downtime on a shoot, I’ll
try to pick off a little piece of the ideas in the notebook," he
explains. "I already had some of the background elements shot." For
instance, Roberts captured the monkey and baboon on a shoot in Africa,
knowing he’d use them later. Another time, after a shoot in the
California desert, Roberts rallied the crew to stay late and shoot the
background element. "It’s one of those things where everybody out here
listens to KCRW. We took a motor home and a scissor lift and a whole
truck full of junk, and just started dropping it and doing a still
Keeping With The B-E-A-T
Once "L-O-V-E" was chosen, the challenge was timing the falling objects
to the beat and lyrics of the song. Because the shots were picked up
over the course of years, it was impossible to have a visual effects
supervisor on set, although Roberts rarely uses one. "My first 10 years
in the business were as a computer graphics animator, and I did a lot
of effects work as an art director. It’s so second-nature to me," says
Roberts. "I tend to work very well with motion-control operators and
Flame artists because that’s the area that I’m extremely comfortable
with. I do like having a Flame artist on set, but a lot of times I’ll
just say,Ã¢Â€Â˜Save the money.’"
The 35mm film was timed by Company 3′s Stefan Sonnenfeld and
transferred to DigiBeta before turning things over to SolDesignfx’s
Roberts and Rhythm & Hues editor Michael D’ambrosio edited the
footage, and when an object didn’t fall on every beat, it was up to
Heusser to supplement the items that fell with CG objects (the
dumpster, the spaceship) while spacing everything evenly on screen.
"There was a lot of roto work in there," says Heusser, who worked in
Discreet’s Inferno. "Lots of frame-by-frame in Flame, cutting people
and objects out, difference matting, and moving stuff around. We did
some roto in Combustion as well.
"I pretty much had to start with a blank shot of the desert and
individually place every object that fell," Heusser continues. "It was
a little more complicated than just cutting objects out, because once
something came to rest, I had to create a film loop of it so that it
maintained its grain structure and stayed alive in the scene. That way,
it would stay there even if something fell in front of it. I’d then cut
that out separately and move it somewhere else."
Heusser was able to finish the mattes of the falling objects by using
difference matting (a technique involving the subtraction of one plate
from another to be left with a new element) as opposed to hand-rotoing.
"Difference matting in most scenarios doesn’t work well, because film
has grain and movement, there’s movement in the camera gate, there’s
movement in the telecine," says Heusser, "but on this job, it worked
well. Possibly because the desert is such a wide expanse, the objects
were generally far away, and grain was pretty good."
Heusser’s biggest challenge was getting the pacing and timings to the
music to feel right. Once those decisions were made, the rest became
fairly mechanical. "It took a little bit of playing with things to get
the right feel for it. You couldn’t just take an object and plop it
anywhere. You wanted to feel a progression around the screen and make
it flow. But that was also the fun part."
Both Heusser and Roberts share a preference for spot-work over
feature-film projects. "[Commercials] are like personal films," says
Roberts. "That’s my passion right now. You get on a bad feature and
you’re on it for over a year. In commercials, if it’s the worst
experience in your life, it’ll be over within a couple of weeks to a
Charlex went high-def recently, when the Manhattan company upgraded its
Smoke and Flame seats to the new SGI Tezro platform. The step-up means
that artists will be able to work faster and spend less time archiving.
Chris Byrnes, Charlex’s president, jokes, "They’re going to have come
up with new reasons to take a smoking break, because they’re not going
to be waiting around for their jobs to archive." Running on Tezro will
also speed up SD work exponentially he notes. "As a business, we’re
concerned with HD’s cost of entry. This a very elegant HD solution. At
the same time, it’s resolution-independent, so you can work with film
plates, high-def elements, or NTSC elements all in one project"….
Visual effects artist and editor Jay Tilin has joined R!OT Manhattan.
Tilin, employing both Quantel’s Henry and Discreet Logic’s Fire, is
known both for his award-winning spot work and for longform and
music-video finishing. Tilin’s recent spots include Ralph Lauren, The
Olive Garden and Victoria’s Secret. Jump-starting his R!OT gig, Tilin
has already completed projects for Nexium, New Balance and Value City
Department Stores. Tilin recently left The Anx and Tapehouse, NY, where
he was an editor for over 12 years…. Brooklyn, NY -based Dancing
Diablo recently designed and animated promo spots for Paramount/MTV
Films’ The Perfect Score. The spot combines stop-motion and live-action
footage where a cupcake comes to life and explains why a young student
needs to do well on his SAT. Creative partner and director of animation
Peter Sluszka explains the animation process: "We created a flexible,
animatable cupcake that looks like the real thing. We shot
green-screen, which was later keyed out. Our model had to match up
perfectly. Using the live-action footage as a reference, we calculated
camera angles and lighting to make the composite as seamless as