CRAFT: Levi's - 'Odyssey'

The latest spot for Levi's shows actors running through walls and from the tops of trees. The special effects team worked closely with director Jonathan Glazer to create the impossible.

'Odyssey', the new Levi's commercial from Bartle Bogle Hegarty is a spectacular visceral display of man's quest for freedom.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer, this dramatic allegorical tale sees a young man and woman sprint at top speed to break through an endless stream of solid walls, hurtling unhindered across a building before exploding into the night sky. The duo then leap onto the trunks of two slender trees, sprinting onwards and upwards into the cosmos.

The project commenced with storyboards from Glazer, after which a large special effects team from Framestore CFC was brought in. This included: special effects producer, Rachael Penfold; head of film animation, Dominic Parker; co-head of 3D commercials and CG supervisor, Markus Manninem and visual fx supervisor, Mark Nelmes.

"Once we looked at the storyboards we realised the need to capture the effects in CG," explains Manninem.

"It was essentially a leap of faith to create the explosive action because we knew Jonathan wanted the characters to have a fluid movement as they threw themselves through the building. He really wanted to capture that speed and fluidity."

After careful analysing, both Manninem and Nelmes realised no-one had previously created this specific effect in commercials, yet both Manninem and Nelmes had worked on features so were familiar with the required look.

For Glazer, who describes the spot as "a 60-second love story", it was about "making the impossible look real."

Six weeks of pre-production and a solid one-week shoot captured the necessary imagery. Then ten weeks of heavy post created a 'first draft' for Glazer to discern the commercial's look. Further tweaking after inspection by Glazer's pensive eye created the final results.

He states: "The effects are a key component and needed to be done expertly so that you couldn't see the joins but just enjoy the journey."

The main challenge for the effects team was in creating the look and feel of bodies hurtling at full speed through the walls, without losing momentum. This effect commenced by creating a specific look in-camera during the shoot.

"The main issue was creating dramatic action from the actors against a blue screen; we needed to get a visual reaction even though we had no walls for them to fly through," explains Manninem.

An effects team attempted various practical solutions to solve this problem. The first involved building styrofoam doors that flipped open as the actors hurtled through them, but this turned out to create too much of a reaction.

"We finally installed cork guns that fired out particles to hit the actors as they hurdled through the imaginary walls," continues Manninem.

"This was the perfect solution as it made the impression of walls exploding and gave a realistic reaction and look of anticipation from the actors as they traversed across the set."

"We had to make sure that Jonathan was comfortable with everything we had on film during the shoot even though there was a lot missing," adds Nelmes. "These type of effects may be the norm for big features, but this work was big for a commercial."

Even Glazer, a famous perfectionist admits: "It came out pretty well, it was a hard one but I like the simplicity of it."

So will it win awards?

"The thought hasn't even crossed my mind," says Glazer.

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