I Crushed The Vodafone desks

Dare’s “Dangerous” Dave McNulty speaks to Gavin Lucas about his desk-crushing duties on Vodafone’s new online “Who needs a desk?” campaign

CR: What’s your job title?

DM: Creative video effects designer at Dare.

CR: Tell us about this project and your responsibilities.

DM: James Cooper and Flo Heiss (Dare’s creative directors) came up with this idea of crushing desks – to drive home visually the idea that Vodafone’s mobile office solutions do away with the notion that a fixed desk is a necessity.

I was called in for a development session and I thought “wow, this could be an opportunity to create an amazing piece of video art”. That’s my background – along with video effects and direction. I had recently done a job with a company called The Machine Shop (TMS), a practical visual effects company, so I had the idea to make a device that crushed real desks. After an initial conversation with Paul Mann at TMS it became clear that creating a crusher was indeed do-able and Vodafone then gave us the go-ahead to crack on with it. My responsibility on this job was that of director.

CR: How did you go about commissioning the desk crushing device?

DM: I sent some sketches and elevation drawings over to TMS of my idea of what the crusher should look like – very simple in form: four main struts, like a four-poster bed, and an industrial looking central crusher section that comes down in the middle. The specification that we gave them was simply that it had to crush desks. They came back to us saying they could use a two-ton crane hydraulic system with a lifting power of two tons – turn it on its end and it would have a crushing power of just more than two tons. Obviously it’s quite tricky to work out how much pressure is required to crush a metal desk – even manufacturers couldn’t tell us what weight their desks could withstand.

CR: But the crusher made by The Machine Shop did the job?

DM: Absolutely! However just to make sure, we cut chunks out of the legs to weaken the desks, as steel uprights can take an enormous amount of pressure before they snap. We wanted to make sure that our takes went without a hitch so we took an angle grinder to the back of the legs (of the steel desks). We also cut into the legs of some of the sturdier wooden desks – so they’d snap in a dramatic way. The Machine Shop crew were on-set to do this, helping to prep desks and setting explosive charges and smoke bombs inside the monitors and computer towers…

CR: Ah, so there were some in-camera effects?

DM: Yes, smoke and mirrors involved as ever – to make sure that each crush really was visually spectacular. One of the desk monitors did actually explode of its own accord. We all had safety goggles on, and the operator wore a safety mask but when that monitor went, half of it got catapulted out of shot and lodged itself into a piece of equipment off camera!

CR: Safety was a big issue?

DM: Very much so. We all stayed at the opposite end of the studio (a very deep space) and we had a large Perspex safety screen to hide behind. Our director of photography, Jonathan Harvey, was able to watch a big hi-def monitor set up behind the safety screen during each take.

CR: How many desks did you crush?

DM: We created six different crush films for the Vodafone site with a seventh to be buried online somewhere as a bonus. However, we crushed 12 desks in total. We had planned six desk-crushing scenarios: one desk has invoices piled high, another is a more girly desk with diary and fluffy pen on it and so on. We had two takes on each desk type. A seventh desk-crush will be out on the net and that is actually the second take on the diary-scenario desk. I wanted to publish it as a director’s cut because it was such a monumental desk to crush – a huge mahogany beast with leather inlay, brass fittings, the works. It didn’t make it to the site version, but it really did get crushed with style – reduced to matchwood in seconds!

CR: The films on the Vodafone mobile office solutions site all appear very large on-screen and the quality seems much higher than most potentially viral content. What’s the secret?

DM: It was shot on video but we used VariCam HD (high definition). It’s quite a new format – and one I’ve been interested in for the duration. It allows you to have a higher frame rate – you can go up to 60 frames per second (which we did on this) allowing us to slow it down so you can see all the detail in the smashing and exploding of things. Actually, in the finished films you don’t really get a sense of the violence of the real-time crush which took just a few seconds.

CR: So is High Definition video the future for you?

DM: It was certainly perfect for this job and, in fact, during the development of this campaign we’ve realised at Dare that this should be the way forward for shooting good quality web content. Shooting on

Hi-Def allows us to make our footage and video assets “future-proof”. Also, remember that a web browser on most 16-plus inch screens is actually a higher resolution than a standard television PAL picture.

CR: You mentioned smoke and mirrors – how much post was done?

DM: A bit of colour correction and rig removal is about all we did in post. We stuck to the original concept of simply having the desks being crushed; maintaining that industrial feel by not adding superfluous bells and whistles.



Milton Keynes