30 Jun 2010

Old Spice “Questions” FX Breakdown

Old Spice has released a follow-up to their hit commercial “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” once again starring Isaiah “That Young Man Fills Me With Hope” Mustafa. This one is called Questions and it’s every bit as hilarious:

It’s a worthy sequel! The same clever, escalating scene transformations, but faster and more outlandish compared to the first one. It also looks like this outlandishness came at the cost of more digital enhancements. While the ad still adheres to the “all in one take” philosophy, I spot several tell-tale signs of post-production manipulation. Here’s my early, (utterly un-researched) analysis of how it’s all put together:

Phase 1

The initial beach vista is revealed to be a flat backdrop, but I don’t think it was actually printed on the panels as they get pulled apart. Instead the panels were painted a flat chromakey-able color with tracking markers and the beach image was placed on them in post.

Why? Because the cloud patterns in the real sky match exactly the ones on the flats at the moment they are pulled apart. That’s a key part of the whole illusion. Now, it’s possible that the real sky in the deep background was instead replaced to match the flats, but this wouldn’t be very practical, whereas chroma-keying the beach vista helps with the additional task of getting rid of any unwanted shadows the actor may cast onto the flats.

Phase 2

Once the panels are pulled apart, the actor appears to walk on a spinning log in the water, then marches across the water surface like Jesus. Hmm… Well, there are simple ways to physically create the illusion of walking on water and maybe even the log-walking, but there is a very obvious clue against this: watch carefully as he walks from the log scene in to the kitchen scene. The surface of the water is “parallaxing” from the change in the angle in a strange way. To me this indicates that a digital patchwork of water was used to mask the real foreground.

This real foreground probably consisted of a pedestal that approximated the shape of the log (and even spun in a safe, controlled way for the actor). This was surrounded by a solid platform which was also painted in a keyable color and was reflective. Such an arrangement would make it possible to replace the whole foreground with “fake” water and a digitally animated log while using the reflections to simulate ones that would appear if the actor was actually over water.

Phase 3

Nothing suspiciously extraordinary happens in the kitchen that could not have been done live on set. However there are some interesting reflections in the window ;)

Phase 4

As he does a SWAN DIVE off the waterfall, I’m sure we all recognize the familiar movements of a person suspended on a flying rig. This would mean that from the very start of the commercial, the actor was sporting 2 cables which extended from his shorts, up behind his torso and were digitally erased throughout the entire shot!

Phase 5

Here in the grand finale everything is probably once again real and physical (apart from the removal of the flying rig cables).  But what’s this?… Did you notice he’s wearing jeans and boots at the end? Here I’m stumped. Well, not so much stumped as I just don’t have enough data to draw a solid conclusion from the YouTube video alone. I see 2 likely possibilities:

  • Digital – The jeans and boots are composited into the image in post.
  • Physical – The jeans and boots are really there, but not as real clothes. Instead they are sculpted over the bike in the exact pose you see them, as a kind of half-mold, facing the camera. When the actor lands in the hot tub, he moves himself into position, putting his legs and feet exactly into the mold so as to appear that he’s wearing it.

I can only imagine the kind of noise the breakaway hot tub really made as it exploded open to reveal the motorcycle. Incidentally, the handling of the audio in the commercial is also interesting to consider. I doubt the actor was forced to preform the lines every time, shouting over the electric saw, the waterfall and the exploding tub. Instead I think the entire monologue was pre-recorded in the studio and then played back (very loudly) during filming for the actor to lip-sync to, as would be done on a music video. The audio track might have even contained additional audio cues to help the actor and the special effects crew execute actions at precise moments.

As I mentioned, this entire explanation is not based on any inside knowledge from the production. These are really my own deductions from observing the finished commercial. But in time, as the special effects secrets are hopefully revealed by the filmmakers, I’m curious to find out how much of it I got right! :D