CAMPAIGN REPORT ON PRODUCTION AND POST PRODUCTION: My favourite special effect. Hi-tech wizardry with a massive budget can be less impressive than a simple, striking idea. Mairi Clark asked five directors to pick the effect that dazzled them most and desc

Roger Woodburn of Park Village chooses Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s Volvo ad shot by David Garfath through the Paul Weiland Film Company in 1993. The spot shows the driver talking at normal speed to the camera while the Volvo is crushed around him in slow-motion. Here the car manufacturer aims to highlight Volvo cars’ safety by showing how the side-impact bars limit damage caused by collisions. ’The overall effect is clever and glossy and, although the idea is simple, the result is startling. Contrasting a slow-motion crash with a man talking at normal speed is a neat trick.

Roger Woodburn of Park Village chooses Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s

Volvo ad shot by David Garfath through the Paul Weiland Film Company in

1993. The spot shows the driver talking at normal speed to the camera

while the Volvo is crushed around him in slow-motion. Here the car

manufacturer aims to highlight Volvo cars’ safety by showing how the

side-impact bars limit damage caused by collisions. ’The overall effect

is clever and glossy and, although the idea is simple, the result is

startling. Contrasting a slow-motion crash with a man talking at normal

speed is a neat trick.



I’ve never really worked out how Garfath did it,’ Woodburn says. ’I

wasn’t blown away by a really wonderful special effect; the commercial

impressed me because the idea is very simple and works brilliantly. The

trouble with many films these days is that they are easily forgettable.

Films should not be overly complicated; there are too many creatives who

use special effects in commercials when the ad actually requires a good

idea. Special effects are not a substitute.’



Ivan Zacharias of Blink chooses Tarsem’s 1993 spot for Smirnoff through

Lowe Howard-Spink, which won a gold at Cannes that year. The ad, set on

an ocean liner, shows a waiter strolling around the deck with a bottle

of Smirnoff vodka on a drinks tray. As he passes in front of the camera,

the bottle becomes the lens through which passengers and objects distort

into fantastic images. A fox stole comes to life and bares its teeth, a

pair of dinner-jacketed men become penguins while a flight of stairs

manifest themselves as a contorted piano. The film was made possible by

the combination of motion control, a computerised camera travelling on a

computerised dolly and 3-D computer animation. The bottle was shot as

normal and the scene was re-shot using motion-control. Then both films

were fed into a computer and the alternative images digitally edited

into the end film. As commercials were banned in Czechoslovakia,

Zacharias’s native country, he didn’t see any until 1991 when he left.

’Tarsem’s spot was new and original for me. It was more about atmosphere

than the style of the directing.



Technically it is extremely interesting, although I never found out

exactly how it was done. I admire the composition and the preparation

that has gone into it,’ Zacharias says. ’It is based on a strong idea

and is interesting visually. I have never tried to emulate the effect in

my films, although I did go through a period when I attempted to steal

ideas and moods. Today I develop my own ideas more.’



Derek Coutts of BFCS chooses a technique called ’time slice’ which Frank

Budgen used in his film for Capital Radio through GGT in 1996. The ad

shows a panoramic view of London with everything standing still. The

technique enables Budgen to show one instant in a movement of a few

seconds. It uses small stills cameras positioned in a series on a rig,

which were exposed at the same time and capture the same instant from

multiple viewpoints. ’I think the special effect was originally used in

a Rolling Stones promo but I saw it first in the Capital Radio ad,’

Coutts says. ’It is the only thing I’ve seen and thought, ’My God, how

was that done?’. I found out later that it comprised the use of a lot of

stills cameras and was actually very simple, which was the other great

thing about the effect. It was not computer-generated and the result is

really impressive.’ Coutts has been directing for more than 20 years and

feels that there’s now a trend towards directors using effects as an

alternative to an idea. ’I would never use a special effect just for the

sake of it, only if it was suitable for the story. That’s what was so

fantastic about the Capital ad, the effect conveyed the idea of what

would happen if there was no Capital Radio in London - it would

literally come to a standstill. I’m not saying that I haven’t seen other

effects that weren’t amazing, but that one blew me away.’



Daniel Barber of Rose Hackney Barber chooses the special effect used by

the Moving Picture Company in Ogilvy Benson & Mather’s 1973 spot for

Worthington ’E’ bitter. The ad features people drinking out of E-shaped

glasses as well as a huge glass ’E’ slowly being filled with beer. A

glass-blower was recruited to craft glass tankards in the shape of the

’E’. Barber says: ’I must have been five or six years old when I first

saw this and I was completely amazed. I couldn’t stop wondering how it

was done. I saw it just before I was given a go-kart and those two

things were then the most important things in my life. If I ever come

across a glass letter ’E’, I’ll probably buy it and fill it with beer.’

The ad inspired Barber to go into directing and the visual effect has

been replicated in films he has made such as channel idents for BBC 2.

’Since seeing it, I’ve been interested in liquid and lettering and have

found myself using them extensively in films.’ Although Barber doesn’t

know how the ad was made, he does have his own theory. ’I’d like to

imagine that there was someone below the table who blew beer through an

invisible straw into the ’E’. When you see something like that when

you’re very young, it blows you away and it sticks in your mind.’



John Lloyd of Spectre chooses two special effects used in two beer

commercials shot by Roger Woodburn through Park Village. The first is

WCRS’s famous 1990 ’dambusters’spot for Carling Black Label.

Controversial at the time, the film scooped awards that year, including

a Cannes gold lion, a gold and silver pencil at D&AD and two gold awards

at the British Television Advertising Awards.



’The ’Dambusters’ film is an extraordinary piece of work because it

looks real and is effective,’ Lloyd says. His other favourite use of

special effects in a commercial is Lowe Howard-Spink’s spot for

Heineken, also shot by Woodburn, where abandoned trolleys are led by a

mysterious signal to the supermarket.



The manager, who has just enjoyed a can of Heineken, is amazed. ’I can’t

imagine what inspires a director to create something as magical as that

- giving life to an inanimate object such as a trolley. When you watch

the ad, you just get carried away with the warmth and friendliness of it

and it seems perfectly feasible that the trolley is alive.’ Generally

Lloyd believes it’s quite easy to shoot spectacular scenes, ’even more

so with a budget of pounds 100 million, but if you don’t have that kind

of money then you end up using props like a rubber pipe. Those kind of

special effects are much better.’ He agrees with Woodburn that special

effects shouldn’t be the core part of a commercial. ’If you watch an ad,

the special effect shouldn’t stand out as the main part of the film. You

notice a bad special effect. When the effect merges into the story it’s

good.’



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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).