We Let You See How a BMW Feels

See How It Feels, the new BMW spot from WCRS, sees Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones bring their fascination with capturing light on film into the realm of moving image. We asked them about the experience

CR: How did you land this job?

Nick Thornton Jones: It’s actually our first car ad – we’ve pitched on some in the past but never won them for the stupid reason that we haven’t got any under our belt. But we were approached by the creatives, two very nice blokes, Ross and Billy, who came and saw us in our studio at 8am one morning. Quite instantly we saw that they were completely on our page. They had genuine enthusiasm, and their ability to manage that energy was crucial to us getting involved. They knew what we can do with light and they wanted to introduce that as a metaphor for emotion and produce something new, exciting and different for BMW.

CR: So you were invited to pitch for the job?

Warren du Preez: We pitched against five big-boy directors, so we’ve been told. We believe we were the experimental, leftfield curveball thrown into the pot. We did a verbal treatment for which we talked to camera for about half an hour. This was edited down to about ten minutes by Christoph Williams, the editor of this job. He was involved all the way through the project from this early stage and he really did help us win the job. We also submitted a very loose mood reel which showed a selection of our work really – there was no literal coherency to it. We didn’t give much away in terms of what we wanted to actually do – more of a visual inspiration as to what we wanted to achieve.

NTJ: We’ve written treatments before and if you’re specific about stuff, you’re held to getting those exact things done and there’s no time or room for experimenting and really pushing to discover new ways of doing things.

WdP: I think Leon Jaume, the  creative director of WCRS, put his  conviction on the line to get us through the gate. Equally so, our books, our portfolio, our reel kind of holds most clients’ hands because they can see the light-fantastic world we live and create in – and it’s got the likes of Cartier, Nike, Issey Miyake among other corporation who have bought into what we do with light.

CR: How did you begin to work out your approach for filming the ad?

WdP: Our biggest challenge to start with was to find the right DoP to work with – someone who could not only interpret our world, but understand technically how our world, based in stills photography, works and translate that into motion. We got Dan Landin involved – a great guy who managed to bring out the best in us as directors. He really nurtured us through the experience. We also got laser artist Chris Levine involved straight away. We’ve worked with him for many years and his expertise and knowledge of working with lasers is profound.

CR: Car ads seem to be going in for lots of special effects and post house tricks these days. Not so here?

WdP: Our mantra on this was that we wanted to achieve as much as we  could in-camera and so there are a couple more vital cogs in our team © ß to mention. First is Dayton Taylor who has a company called Timetrack. Dayton has a rig that he bought from the Wachowski Brothers – the time slice rig used famously in The Matrix. He’s added a lot of expertise to that technology. It took myself and Dan and Nick to conceive the light painting and motion side of the film. Actually working the rig was down to Dayton. We also had Mark Curtis of Asylum there to help with special effects stuff. It was Mark who set up the pyrotechnics shot where we suspended a car nose upwards and showered it with sparks while we filmed it using Dayton’s rig.

CR: You hung a BMW vertically and sprayed it with pyrotechnics?

WdP: We’d originally had this idea of a tunnel of light – and then we worked backwards as to how, technically, to achieve it. Working out we’d need to suspend a car, use pyrotechnics…

CR: How else did you work out shots?

WdP: The whole premise behind everything we did was very much boys in their shed playing with their toys. We realised a lot of the shots on a really miniature scale. We had some scale models of cars and we experimented with light to fertilise and develop ideas.

NTJ: A couple of weeks before the shoot we spent some late nights in our studio in the dark experimenting with different backgrounds, environments, types of film, different surfaces, different types of cars and different types of light sources.

WdP: We were adamant we didn’t want to use conventional light sources. We were into the idea of taking a bank of LED screens to the shoot, but getting it all on a rig so it’s movable, pliable etc is just a nightmare. It forced us to come up with something else. Dan found these VersaTubes – sticks of light. We took them and made a big bank of light on a rig that we could feed Quicktimes into so we could use it as an organic, colour modulating light source…

NTJ: We also had 14 cars at our disposal on the shoot which we dressed with the help and expertise of Mark from Asylum. One car was sprayed matt grey from head to toe, one was completely matt black. Having differently textured surfaces and light sources meant we could get loads of effects combining them.

CR: Is there anything you couldn’t do on the shoot that you’d wanted to?

NTJ: We wanted to make a full-size acrylic model of one of the cars – but the costing came in at around £80,000! So we used a scaled down, clear acrylic car and there are some shots in the ad created by firing a laser through it and filming the projected image. In post this was enhanced using CAD data and the wheels were made to move. That’s all it takes to convince the mind that it’s a real car…

WdP: One thing we would have been gutted about if we hadn’t achieved it was the light painting element of the film. We even built a built a rig with BMW headlamps perfectly placed so that we could move them around and create in-camera light painting,  essentially with the product.

CR: What role did post-production play in the finished film?

WdP: The ad wouldn’t have been possible without the back up and augmentation of a great post house. Glassworks were absolutely key in their involvement – from pre-production to the shoot itself. Glassworks’ MD, Hector Macleod, and a couple of his 3D team were present at the shoot to manage, take care of and understand what was going to be coming into the facility at the end of the shoot. Lead Flame operator Glynn Tebbutt was an essential part of the process – he maintained the integrity between craft and CGI.

CR: How do you feel about the finished piece?

WdP: Very proud of what we’ve achieved. The light painting elements of the film, for us, are seminal – it’s never been done in this way before and we feel we’ve translated our stills world into motion. I think it will be a point in time, without being arrogant, where people will say “that’s when it happened – that’s when it was finally achieved.”

NTJ: We’ve come out of this really quite fuelled – this is just the beginning of us exploring our craft if you like, our language, but beyond a stills capacity and into the world of moving image. Process is the champion here – we were allowed to bring our way of working to this job and well, we feel really lucky.


 

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