Never has a vacuum cleaner commercial been so frantic, so
in-your-face or just so downright scary as Electrolux’s ’jungle’ (better
known as ’bugs’). Thirty breathless seconds are over in what seems like
Sure there’s plenty of digital tomfoolery going on behind the scenes of
Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s brilliantly fresh approach to domestic cleaning
equipment, not least the highly realistic computer-generated mites
animated by the director himself. But more has been done in-camera than
most would suspect, with models hewn from latex rather than intangible
Excellio, a shiny, black weapon of a product, is whipped out and shown
to be so strong that it drags even dust-mites, those tenacious
blighters, kicking and screaming from deep within a carpet. In the
helter-skelter, high-speed dive into the pile, you can even see the fear
in their ugly little faces.
This fantastic voyage, deep into the depths of a carpet, was only made
possible by the pin-point accuracy and fine camera control of a
computer-operated motion-control rig, in the hands of an expert like
SVC’s Dennis Henry.
Even before the storyboard was sketched, the director, Eric Coignoux (of
the Anglo-French production outfit, Partizan Midi Minuit), came to SVC’s
White City motion-control studio to explore the idea with Henry and the
model-maker, Derek Henden.
They decided that three separate moves would depict a nozzle-eye view at
three very different scales. The speed of each would be matched and
blended in post-production to give the sense of a single, unbroken
As the camera penetrated the carpet there would be the sense of rapid
magnification, bringing microscopic features to huge proportions.
The first shot Henry set up was the approach to the carpet, at regular
1:1 scale. The second was a dive through the pile, which appears to rise
to 20ft. The final shot tunnelled through the dirt at breakneck speed,
chasing mites magnified to the size of hogs.
The first was the simplest, involving the camera pointing down towards a
square of carpet on the floor and speeding towards it, stopping just as
it touched the pile. The motion-control camera was fitted with a
boroscope, a long, narrow tube-like lens, so the larger camera-head
didn’t come close enough to cast any shadows.
For the second shot Henden’s team built a model of enormous carpet
fibres 20ft long with a cross-section of around 4ft x 4ft, lit from
inside by halogen lamps.
This was shot on its side in the motion-control studio, with the camera
coming in at one end and travelling its length. But with no 20ft long
lens, Henry had to enter from the side. He used a periscope lens, which
is like a boroscope with a right-angle bend. The model-makers cut a
trench the width of the lens to let the camera get right to the model’s
To achieve the high speed needed, it was shot at a slow rate, of around
one frame per second. In the studio Henry tried to match this shot’s
resulting speed to that of the first by recording both on to a small
disk-recorder and watching them side by side.
The final shot, at the greatest magnification and in which the bugs were
later placed, was the most complex. Henden built the model in five
modules, each around 8ft x 8ft, which could be plugged together in
The base of huge carpet fibres were implanted, standing around 5ft high,
and lit from inside as well as externally. Through the huge fibres
Henden’s team constructed a channel for the camera to track, twisting
and turning like a roller-coaster. ’It looks just like a bug-eye
Steadicam,’ Henry says.
The channel was designed so the camera-head could barely fit in. ’The
fibres were really close up so there’d be a degree of motion-blur as the
shot went past. But it meant we had to be all the more accurate with the
Henry could have painstakingly measured the pathway through the model
and the angles of every turn, and then fed the final figures into the
rig’s computer. But he finds it faster and more natural to do it by
At the start of the shot, the camera was cranked at 18 frames but this
was dropped to 12 frames to give the impression of going faster and
The model was also dressed with cob-webs and debris which was blown
around with a wind machine. And as it was shot, the model was shaken, by
studio-hands, ever more frantically.
The computer-generated mites were animated at Buff in Paris. Animators
visited SVC’s studio to measure the rig and the models. Using these, as
well as X, Y and Z co-ordinates recorded from the rig during the shoot,
they could digitally replicate the camera moves and the model’s
positions on their computers. This helped them to position the bugs
accurately, so they’d sit perfectly when composited with the final
But without any actors, couldn’t the whole thing have been created on a
computer? Not nearly as convincingly, Henry argues, not until computers
really are capable of photo-realism.
’And with motion-control people are always wanting to go faster. If you
want it fast it has to be a studio-mounted rig.’
Dennis Henry entered the business in 1982 at the age of 16, joining Cell
Animation when it was still a small opticals house. He started out as a
runner but ended up running the slide department.
In 1985, he was hired as an assistant by the rostrum cameraman, Ed
Dobbs, and went on to shooting animation, animatronics and special
effects. ’Animation and opticals are good training for motion-control.
You have to be clean and accurate.’
In 1987, SVC launched a motion-control department, based at its Wardour
Street facility. Henry oversaw the building of the cosy studio and the
installation of the IMC rig and computer. ’It quickly became a
successful and busy studio. And I was instantly thrown into all aspects
of motion-control, lighting, set-building and film-making.’
By 1995 the amount of work at Wardour Street outgrew the small studio
and SVC decided to open an additional dedicated facility with a much
larger studio. Henry supervised its specification and building.
Based in White City, the 23ft-high studio has a C-shaped cyclorama of
42ft x 41ft x 42ft and uniquely boasts a ceiling piece to help light
difficult situations. It houses the latest Mark Roberts rig and
computer, with 40ft of track. It’s the newest and most extensive
motion-control facility in London and features an artist area with
showers, a kitchen, a workshop, a viewing gallery and conference
After a decade in motion-control work, Henry has more than 500
commercials under his belt and he now heads a team of operators. ’I’m
also getting the opportunity to light jobs for clients such as BSkyB and
the BBC. And some of my old clients from Wardour Street still prefer to
have me lighting for them, leaving the motion-control work to the rest
of the team.’