I Designed the Big Yellow Wave

Olly Williams talks to Gavin Lucas about his role as art director of the new Wave commercial for Big Yellow Storage written by CHI and directed by Dougal Wilson

CR: What is your job title?

OW: Production Designer.

CR: How did you get into this?

OW: I studied Technical Arts Design at Wimbledon School of Art – basically film/theatre design. I then worked for a couple of years in theatre before moving into music videos and commercials. I’m also part of directing team Diamond Dogs at HSI London.

CR: How did you land this particular job – you’ve worked with director Dougal Wilson before, right?

OW: Yes, I’ve done a few ambitious art department jobs with Dougal. The first job we did together was a music video for the band Klonhertz (CR Dec 03) in which all the characters and sets were made entirely out of paper. This idea was later adapted for an Orange campaign a year later with a slightly larger budget and a lot more paper. We’ve worked together on various other ads and videos since.

CR: So what were your responsibilities on this ad for Big Yellow Storage?

OW: Primarily, design of the set, sourcing and production of all the props and objects, and then designing and building the wave mechanism. We also worked with Drew Lightfoot (animation supervisor) and his crew to move everything around on set as you have to when making a stop-frame animation.

CR: Where, when and how long was the shoot?

OW: We shot at Black Island Studios for 14 days straight at the end of February. We had about two weeks run up to find and make all the props, design and build the wave mechanism and to work out how the hell we were going to make it work.

CR: Tell us about the set and how you achieved the movement of all the bits and bobs…

OW: The set was meant to be a simple room in a house, the kind of room that has been empty for a long time and could be turned into something useful. We built it on an “old” wooden floor, and aged the walls and windows etc to give it a kind of timeless look.

The wave mechanism itself was simple in theory, but horribly complicated in practice. We built a 30’ x 30’ metal frame on wheels, which was set into a track to keep it running straight through the set. On the leading edge of the frame we had a series of wooden crescent shapes, each hinged at the bottom and with sets of legs to hold them up, a bit like industrial deck chair legs.

The idea was that with each move of the wave, the crescent shapes would be ratcheted into the next position one after the other. They were all offset by a few inches to give the leading edge a “peeling effect”, similar to when a real wave breaks. The separate wave sections were then covered in huge sheets of Velcro that we had made up specially, which were held taut by a series of ratchet straps – like the ones you use on a roof rack. Each time we shot a new frame we had a team of people who had to crawl underneath the Velcro between all the metal legs with a torch and push each of the wave sections into the next position. This is a kind of scary place to be, when you’ve got tonnes and tonnes of weight from all the props making all the metalwork creak and buckle around you! The whole rig took about eight people to move each time we took a frame.

All the props were attached to the wave by strips of Velcro; each object had to be taken apart and have any unnecessary weight removed. Toys, stereos, and electrical gear all had to be taken apart and have the guts ripped out; and we had to rip the insides out of hundreds of books and replace them with polystyrene. Some of the props were made from scratch – we made 340 fake Le Creuset casserole dishes from vac-formed plastic, and about 24 fake polystyrene guitar amps. Everything was done like this to keep the cumulative weight down to a minimum. Each new frame meant that every object needed to be shifted about on the surface of the Velcro to give it the same effect as water moving through an ocean wave. We also had to saw a hell of a lot of the objects in half to give the impression that things were half submerged in the wave. We sawed through everything – 200 dolls, 18 guitars, a washing machine, and a very heavy piano. Did you know that when you saw talking dolls in half, they keep on crying?

CR: What other props did you use in the making of this ad?

OW: Well, there are three waves and each one is full of stuff relating to a specific age-group. The “baby” wave consisted of (deep breath): 48 large stuffed toys, 96 baby blankets, 288 medium sized soft toys, 180 medium sized plastic toys, 460 six-inch toy cars, 1310 plastic balls, 1440 wooden building blocks, six bin bags-worth of baby clothes, 48 potties, 180 small soft toys, 250 dolls, 620 small matchbox cars, 720 plastic fruits, 18 bits of kids furniture and 1380 Duplo blocks.

The “student” wave consisted of 375 CDs, 300 cassettes, 195 VHS tapes, 237 pairs of trainers, 75 bits of sporting equipment, 38 sports bags, 54 vinyl records, 173 books, 113 kitchen appliances, 33 speakers, 47 musical instruments and 31 pieces of furniture.

And finally the “adult” wave contained 1243 pieces of cutlery, 350 plates, 250 glasses and cups, 350 small chrome utensils, saucepans, bowls etc, 85 cushions, 340 Le Creuset dishes, 10 TVs and a mix of 50 larger objects, including a piano. Oh, we also used about 500 feet of Velcro and we shot 4320 frames on five cameras in total.

CR: Holy-schmoly that’s a lot of stuff. What was the props budget?

OW: I don’t have the exact figures to hand but I can tell you that we spent about £38,000 in cash in shopping sprees over the course of a couple of weeks, including about £7500 in just two hours at Toys’R’Us, and thousands of pounds in various charity shops. Needless to say we, ahem, flooded various charities with all the stuff after the shoot.


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