Campaign Craft: Craft Secrets: Storm in a fish tank brings sea maidens to life for 501s work

Belinda Archer discovers how special effects made mermaids swim for Levi’s.

Belinda Archer discovers how special effects made mermaids swim for


The Mediterranean Film Studios in Malta have been used in the filming of

150 ads, movies and TV films in their 30-year history, and were the

location for the latest Levi’s film, ’mermaids’.

The studios incorporate two massive marine tanks, one for surface

filming and the other for underwater scenes. They are the largest in the

world and the surface tank has a natural horizon with the sea, which

creates the appearance of shooting in the open ocean.

’Mermaids’ recounts a young fisherman’s dramatic rescue at sea and

focuses on the shrink-to-fit feature of Levi’s 501 jeans.

Wind and wave machines, jet engines, tip tanks containing 300 gallons of

water and high-pressure hoses helped create the storm in the surface

filming tank that appears at the start of the 60-second film. Cameras

were attached to the fisherman’s boat to capture the tempest from every


The scene showing the hero’s plunge into the sea was shot in the deep

filming tank, which is more than 36 feet deep. A scuba diver, armed with

a 35mm camera in a special underwater housing, was used to track the

fisherman’s descent to the sea bed where he encounters the three


’The mermaids theme came about because we wanted to do something

different with water imagery to demonstrate the shrink-to-fit feature,’

explains the Bartle Bogle Hegarty art director, Steve Hudson, who

created the film with his copywriting partner, Victoria Fallon. The ad

marks the pair’s first TV work for Levi’s, although they were

responsible for the campaign featuring old people as ’original wearers’

that appeared in the style press last summer.

The actresses playing the mermaids, all of whom are accomplished

swimmers, had to spend four-and-a-half hours in body make-up on each day

of the five-day shoot. Their tails were created in post-production,

using images of real fish morphed on to their bodies by means of a

special warping process, and filming was arduous as the mermaids and the

hero had to hold their breath for regular 40-second takes.

The effects used to create the underwater imagery, the special

technicolour dimension and the scaly skin on the mermaids, were done in

post-production by BUF Compagnie in Paris. This involved computer

graphics and lighting created in collaboration with the director, Michel


Gondry, who has directed numerous pop promos as well as the 1995

award-winning Levi’s film, ’drugstore’, has paired up with BUF before on

films for Polaroid and Smirnoff. The company is also producing digital

effects for the new Batman movie, which is due to open in June.

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