How a Small, One-Stop Shop Brought High Production Values to a Gritty On-Air Campaign

Brothers Joel and Jesse Edwards run their boutique production company Evolve Digital Cinema in Chicago as one tight ship, often handling full production and remote or in suite editorial, graphics and color grading for a single client. National Geographic Channel, with whom Evolve had worked with before, recently tapped the company to produce its season 2 promo package for Wicked Tuna, a reality show following the competitive livelihoods of high-stakes commercial bluefin tuna fisherman working in the North Atlantic. The resulting series of spots, which led up to the season premiere last Sunday, are splashy yet stylized meditations on the intense drama of deep-sea fishing.

The Edwards brothers, along with Evolve co-founder Bill Roach, shot the package primarily with the Red Epic, both on the boats and in the water, and used a Phantom Flex for the signature slow-motion shots. A 30-camera GoPro Hero 2 rig captured a few of the more extreme angles off the edge of the boats. Joel Edwards then edited and comped the promos in Adobe CS6, with some tracking help from Imagineer Mocha Pro, and used Blender, the open-source 3D suite, for the CG assets. He graded them in DaVinci Resolve and used Red Giant's Effects Suite for After Effects and GenArts Sapphire for additional color effects. The full post team included both brothers and Ninos Houma. Sound effects were created by London's Radium Audio Ltd.

We asked Joel about the creative influences and technical challenges of this hard-driving campaign. 

StudioDaily: These teasers all have a really distinct color palette, almost like color-tinted postcards from the early 20th century but with a much harder edge. What were your influences here? 

Joel Edwards: We were really trying to go for something different and that would pop on screen, something that would cut through some of the other clutter on TV. The goal was to combine lush colors and saturation but with a hint of vintage vibe and HDR pastel tone. We also wanted a lot of grit, so a lot of lump/chroma sharpening was done as well. The result is something unique and hopefully something that sticks out.

Did Nat Geo Creative Director Andy Baker, who co-produced the campaign, come to you with a specific look in mind? 

Andy and the creative team at NatGeo had sent us some references and wanted some of the spot to carry that crushed blue tone, but they also gave us some great freedom to experiment as well. He was also very involved in the process all the way through post.

How did these spots differ from others you've done for NatGeo?

These had some very different concept creative, a competitive captains face-off and and a narrator-based essay. There were also some big script differences from some of our other campaign works. For a color palette, we always try to get everything it's own style and look, and I think the Wicked Tuna campaign definitely has it's own style and look. 

What else was unique about this project?

JE: This project was the first time we completed a campaign start to finish in Adobe Creative Suite. We had picked up and started merging to Premiere Pro CS6 right after the verdict was in on FCPX. Like many post houses and editors, we still were using FCP7. It was a great program, but it's also a sinking ship, so we'd been integrating Premiere Pro slowly. Turned out it was a fairly simple process, since it works so well with the other programs we were using all the time, like After Effects and Photoshop. We're actually very proud of the fact that we did the whole project in CS6 and were finally able to put down FCP7. There's no going back. While CS6 is a little buggy on a few of our older workstations, the pros far outweigh the cons. Creative Suite is the future for us. 

Were there any deadline challenges or other production hurdles that you had to contend with?

Yes! Even though we had a good timeline in place, things always change, like creative direction and client feedback. We're a very hands-on small shop. Everyone's busy doing 100 things, so it always seems to be a rally at the last hour.

What's your favorite scene in entire package and why?

It's a tie between the whip pans of the captains facing off in "Face Off" and the "No Rest"  night-time lightning storm scene. I think we pulled off some really high-end concepts in both, especially high-speed, night shooting in a fake rainstorm with CG lightning comps. It's feature-style VFX, and that's what we were going for.