CAMPAIGN CRAFT: TECHNIQUE: Vacuum ad gets fancy motion-control treatment [SH] Take an amazing journey to the middle of a carpet with Gideon Summerfield.

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 five.

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

different combinations.

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.’