I've not shot a car commercial yet, there is nothing on my portfolio that has anything to do with cars, but I wanted to shoot one. But how could I shoot one at high spec, for a well known, luxury car brand, without having the portfolio to back my skills up? Two words, spec ad.
Spec Ad (Speculative Advertisement) -
Definition - To create an ad based on your own ideas without the ad agency or brands input.
North-West, commercial director, David Ellison and I have been working on an idea for a car ad for about 6 months. Neither of us had shot anything car related before so we knew we had to create something off our own backs to get it onto our portfolios. We wanted to shoot something very high spec, something unique and something that would be regarded as luxurious. We had no idea what car we would have access to, what colour, size or anything, but we knew we wanted something cool.
We initially contacted Jaguar and they flat out refused to help with what would be seen as external marketing, so we thought we would hire the latest model from a car rental and just foot the bill ourselves. The problem was we wanted a black car and the supplier could not guarantee the colour, we were a little put off by this but thought there was not much we could do about it and proceed with whatever colour they provided. That was until David's contact at Bentley got back to him saying they would send us a car to do with what we please for a whole weekend... Result.
It made sense for us to shoot this in a studio, we would have more control over the lighting and in particular the weather. English weather needs no introduction so we brought a vague idea to Justin Windle at The Big Shed studios in Trafford, Manchester. By chance or ridiculous luck, Justin had just picked up a high performance car turntable. Done, we had to use this and incorporate it into our idea, rotating the car, a high end car, whilst parallaxing on a dolly had to yield some cool results, especially if we had a cool looking lighting setup...
David had a vision of basing the concept on an idea of singularity and an infinite point of infinite complexity, so I thought about having a setup of symmetrical hanging lights around the rotating car, like a forest of lights. With the camera moving one way and the car rotating the other way, we could pass close to some lights in the foreground and get a lot of depth in the frame.
To keep inline with David's idea of singularity and symmetry, the lights would need to be setup in a way so no matter what position the camera was, they would still look symmetrical.
Now we had a basic idea for the ad, it was critical to get the placement of the lights right, so I turned to C4D yet again.
Justin sent me the blueprint for his studio and the schematics for the placement of his overhead lighting support. With these plans I managed to accurately input the data into C4D and rig up an overhead grid to match that in The Big Shed. Now once I dropped in the car, I could start to place the lights in relation to the overhead rigging and what would and wouldn't work.
We tried a few different ideas for the placement of the lights, higher, lower, but we thought the best look was to have the camera at the same height as the car and all of the lights a few inches from the floor. This was fine except that the car was rotating and we needed to make sure there was enough clearance with each light whilst all remaining equidistant and symmetrical.
We ended up placing them in a star like configuration.
The main advantage of pre-visualising this way is that I can see exactly where I have placed the lights in relation to the car and the other lights, pretty much down to the inch. As I rotated the car with the setup, I could see that it was colliding with two of the tubes, a small adjustment of half a foot, and the car could do a full rotation without any obstruction. Knowing all of this information before the pre-light was invaluable and such a time saver.
I originally had a concept to shoot this ad with Quasar tubes, but for the whole idea to work I needed a full 360 degree light output from the fixture, as we all know, Quasars only use 180 degrees as the ballast is stored in the back of the light. So we ended up going with a brand called Encapsulites, as they had decent enough light quality, for the price, and were readily available from a stockist next door to the studio. We used 12x 6 foot tubes in total.
Before hanging the lights though, we had to get the car onto the turntable... Which was no easy job.
Justin and I tested the platform with his Volvo XC90 and it took us a while to get that on correctly, the Bentley weighs about 400kg more and is A LOT more expensive.
The platform has a payload of around 2.5t, which is around 2500kg, the weight of the Bentley, with a full tank, is around 2450kg, so we were pretty much at the top end of the weight scale for the turntable.
There are a couple of key measurements you need to do first, the distance between the middle of the back tyre to the middle of the front tyre. Then the distance between the inner walls of the front and rear tyres. With these measurements you can then line up the 4 paddles which the car drives onto. Next you need to know the weight distribution of the car, in our case it has a ratio of 58:42. Meaning weight is distributed 58% at the front and 42% at the back, so through trial and error you can adjust this on the turntable. However, we wanted the centre of the car to be dead centre on the turntable so it rotated in a perfect circle, this meant adding more weight in the boot of the car.
From there you have to line the car up with the turntable, place wooden planks down as a ramp and underneath the paddles to support them whilst the car is moving on.
This whole process is achingly slow, moving the car inches and centimetres at a time. We had to make a few modifications to the paddles to increase the height of the car so the undercarriage could safely clear the middle of the turntable.
It took us around 4 hours to get the car onto the turntable, there were some heart in mouth moments, but the turntable took the weight and performed flawlessly.
Now the car was in place, we could now begin to hang the lights. As I mentioned earlier, I modelled the overhead lighting support rig in C4D to accurately mimic that of the studio. I knew exactly what over head beams each light were hanging on and also how far apart each light needed to be so not to collide with the rotating car. We hung the lights up with strong fishing line and powered them from the existing overhead 13 amp sockets. With the plans to hand I could easily and quickly communicate with my gaffer on the positions and there was no need to guess.
Every light was in the exact position that I planned and worked out very well.
I added the DMG Lumiere SL1 panel at the back behind the car just to give a little edge around the car and through the windows.
Shooting the actual car was only a small part of this whole production, in fact it was by far the easiest part. As the car was on a turntable, and the camera on a dolly, I'd have to say this was in fact one of the easiest shoots I've done. The turntable made covering the car incredibly simple. The hard work in this project had gone into the planning and the pre-rig, the shoot was only about 10% of the whole project.
We wanted to continue with the highest quality throughout the whole process of this project which meant collaborating with someone on the post-production. We called on Standby Productions, as they are renowned for producing some of the highest quality work in Manchester.
After our initial meeting, David and I agreed that these guys got the idea and I firmly believed that they would add that something special to the final product.
To read more about the post-production process, head over to their blog. (LINK WILL BE ADDED ONCE THE AD IS COMPLETE AND RELEASED)
CAMERA AND DOLLY
I try not to focus on writing about the camera much anymore, mainly because it's a small cog in the works for me. I used to be all about the camera but you come to realise that each camera has its purpose and there is no one size fits all.
In this instance it made sense to shoot this ad on RED, mainly because it was available to us and that we could shoot 6K and have room for manoeuvrability in post-production. That's it, that's why we chose the camera.
The dolly we used was again the one that was on hand to us at the time. It was Justin's home made skate dolly. Justin sent me some pictures as I had a few questions on how he made it. If anyone is interested in a breakdown of how it was made, I am sure I can get that sorted.
BTS VIDEO & PICTURES
Check out the BTS video from the shoot day. GIves you an idea of the lighting and camera setup.
Also, please consider supporting me on Patreon so I can continue improving these blog posts. I have plans to release some how-to lighting videos in the coming months. There is a lot more in the pipeline and with your support I can get this content out at a more consistent rate.