CR: What’s your job-title / profession?
ST: I am normally credited as SFX Supervisor. I design and supervise a wide range of physical special effects. On an effects-heavy brief, this often means taking on all or most of what is put in front of camera and functioning as SFX art director.
CR: How did you land this job?
ST: I have worked with Blink Productions for many years, although not previously with this directing team (Pleix). I was approached by the executive producer and went in for an initial meeting. I got on well with the directors straight away as I think we all come from a fine art background. The guys had already produced some very thorough visuals so I could see where they wanted to take the project – they clearly wanted a fairly functional but designed look, like a cross between a research facility and an art installation or happening.
CR: So was the shoot at Artem?
ST: The shoot took place at Black Island Studios. We had four days to build the set and five days to shoot.
CR: Did you build the entire set?
ST: Yes, my brief was to realise the entire set. This involved designing and building the lighting ramps, the car track, the car, the carwash brush, the liquid chute, the sponge drop, the foam spinner and the bubble-making robots. Later on in the process, art director Robin Brown was brought in to help with coordinating the various elements and dressing the set. But for my part, I assembled a team of technicians bringing together a wide range of skills from soft fabrication for the sponge cubes to CAD.
The bubble robots were two real industrial robots which we hired for the job. Some time ago I had pitched for another commercial which was to involve a number of industrial robots and had come across a company here in the UK which deals in reconditioned robots. While I didn’t actually get that particular job, I had kept the contact for the company. We fitted the robots with hoops and painted them a special vintage green. We programmed them to make big looping arcs through the air as we found this produced the best bubbles. We adapted one of them to carry the camera to get that special “travelling with” shot.
CR: Is there a magic formula for creating the ultimate bubble-mix?
ST: We trawled the internet for bubble recipes and tried many different concoctions to find the best formula. Several of the recipes referred to a particular brand of liquid soap from the USA. We couldn’t get it here so eventually we contacted a professional bubble performer who seemed to have a source and he supplied us with several tubs of the stuff to order.
CR: What else did you have to build/create?
ST: We designed and built the foam machine using a huge disco foam generator and we added a custom made expansion chamber with a rotating head. As is quite typical for our kind of work, the tight schedule meant that this rig was not tested until the day before the studio shoot. Fortunately it worked very well! The carwash brush was made from real brushes mounted on a frame on a track so we could move it in on cue. It was soaked with thickened water immediately prior to shooting to extenuate the spray.
CR: Thickened water?
ST: Yes, water with an added industrial thickener – the kind used in cosmetics or paint.
CR: The car in the ad looks like a vintage Mustang. Please tell us it’s a model and you didn’t cut one in half…
ST: I am afraid to say it is a real Mustang and we really did cut it in half. It broke my heart too. On the morning it arrived at our workshops I sat quietly in the driver’s seat for five minutes and contemplated our plan. I remembered hitch-hiking up the west coast of America in the 70s and getting a lift in a car just like it. In those days there was no irony or post modernist lustre, it was just another car… Anyway, we marked it up with a laser pointer and attacked it with angle grinders.
When it had been sectioned and modified we sprayed it flame orange. That makes it sound easy. In fact, it was quite tricky as cutting the car in half made the structure very weak. We had to carefully weld in a new frame to support the weight and stop it collapsing. The boot was modified so we could release it remotely specially for the shot where it opens and balloons spill out. The wiring had to be adapted so we could control the lights and a set of large castors welded onto the floor pan so the car could roll along the track. The interior and dash had to be cut and carefully finished to give a good look. The car was definitely the most labour intensive part of this job for us. It took six people a week of long days.
CR: What happened to the Mustang?
ST: The agency took it, I think, for their reception.