A52 and Director Phil Joanou Defy Physics

Over the past weeks, viewers of the NCAA Tournament and other high-profile broadcasts have seen numerous :15 UPS spots ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® each appearing to be a single, unedited shot ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® in which UPS driver/delivery agents literally ‘cover more ground faster than ever.’

In a spot named ‘Snow Truck,’ a UPS truck arrives at a beach covered in snow. In ‘Elevator’ and ‘Light Switch,’ drivers in one place defy physics by magically turning up someplace else. And in ‘Ten Feet,’ ‘Rain’ and ‘Overpass,’ UPS trucks respectively go from Manhattan to the mountains, from Texas to Oregon, and from the Mojave Desert back to Manhattan again ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® all in a matter of seconds, with no visible edits. Crafting each spot for The Martin Agency called for MJZ director Phil Joanou to capture some very exacting performances under meticulous conditions in locations ranging from Manhattan to Los Angeles, Lone Pine and Mojave, Calif. Among his production collaborators were director of photography Jeff Cutter and a team from LA-based visual effects and design company A52, which included VFX supervisor Tim Bird and producer Ron Cosentino.

“We thought, simple :15 second spots, one take, no problem. WRONG,’ explained Joe Alexander, SVP and creative director for the Martin Agency. ‘Once we started talking to Phil and the team at A52, we realized we had six little Rubik’s cubes on our hands, each with its own matrix. We always wanted one camera move to ensure that the spots left you thinking ?‚àö√ë‚àö‚â§How’d they do that?’s, but we underestimated just how much the slightest variable would throw off the entire move. It was critical that we made adjustments on set. Having a tight, collaborative team like Phil, Tim and Ron there every step was crucial.”

‘With Phil, we had to ensure that we made a :15 spot on set, and covered the whole performance in the time allowed, so we were doing a lot of the problem-solving, in terms of timing and editing, during the shoot,’ added A52 Tim Bird. ‘From a VFX supervision point of view, we essentially took a back seat as Phil got his rehearsals right and tried to help find moments where we could create seamless transitions without them becoming too obvious.’

Production approaches used to capture the live performances included operating the camera handheld or with a Steadicam. The ‘Ten Feet’ spot had the camera operator walk up to the windshield for the first segment in Manhattan, and then a Technocrane was used to rapidly pull back from the truck for the second segment on-location in Lone Pine, Calif. In post, Bird and his team used various techniques to match-up the different segments for each spot, and in ‘Ten Feet’ in particular, the tricks included creating artificial reflections for the truck windshield, to visually aid the transition from city to mountains.

‘This approach of trying to match different hand-held camera moves to make them appear as a single, unedited shot is historically tricky. These days, however, tracking features are becoming more and more integrated into a Flame artist toolset, and powerful external tracking systems are available to handle especially tricky tracking situations. In this case, we used 3D Equalizer to do many of the tracks, and then we re-imported the data back into the Flame. What this means is, today, essentially nothing is untrackable.’

Along with Joe Alexander, The Martin Agency project credits also include creative directors Andy Azula and Chris Jacobs, art director Kevin Thoem and senior producer Brian Cooper. MJZ executive producer is Laura Rich, and their project line producer was Paul Manix. A52 team also included executive producer Mark Tobin, and each spot was edited by Katz at LA-based Cosmo Street. Company 3 Stefan Sonnenfeld handled telecine, and sound design and final mix credits go to the team at Eleven in Santa Monica.

About A52
Established in 1997 as a home for the very latest high-end photo-real visual effects technologies and the industry most innovative and talented graphic design artists, West Hollywood visual effects and design company A52 creates award-winning imagery for the world most visually ambitious commercial and television projects. The company work has been earned AICP Show recognition for six consecutive years along with recent ‘Outstanding Commercial’ Emmy, Andy, BDA, Belding, Clio, British Design and Art Direction, International Monitor, International Automotive Advertising, London International Advertising, One Show and PROMAX awards. For more information, please call Mark Tobin at 310.385.0851 or visit www.A52.com.

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