The Blade Runner director on being a ‘pain in the arse’ with a new project that dreams up cosmic worlds, write LBB’s Alex Reeves and Laura Swinton
When Ridley Scott was working on his ambitious new film for Hennessy he says that he was in and out of post house MPC “to the point of being a pain in the arse”. The director behind Blade Runner, Alien, Thelma & Louise and G.I. Jane has been drawn back to the world of advertising, and with his project for Hennessy he’s been flexing his production design background and getting stuck into the detail. The four-minute film from DDB Paris and RSA Films weaves glorious cosmic landscapes to explore ‘seven worlds’ or the seven flavour notes of the cognac brand.
Coaxing Ridley Scott back to adland was a big achievement for the agency DDB Paris. In a week when adland creative hero Lee Clow has announced his retirement from the industry, it’s interesting that Ridley – who directed his epic Apple ad 1984 – has just jumped straight back in. The Legend legend told LBB that the appeal of working on the spot was twofold.
“Well I’m good at worlds and universes, and advertising is very competitive,” says Ridley. “I’d like to see how I can fair today after so many years.”
The master world builder embraced the challenge presented by DDB Paris’ ambitious vision – the scenarios depicted in the spot may have been brought to life in delicious detail by MPC but they were initially sketched up by Robin Hood helmsman Ridley, who threw himself into the journey.
Those creative blueprints were a godsend for MPC’s Head of 3D and Creative Director Carsten Keller. “It was a massive learning curve and career highlight for me to work with Ridley,” he says. “It is extremely inspiring working with him and to see how he creates ideas, draw concepts and comes up with fantastic ideas on the fly. For me he is someone to look up to as he is so influential and hands on and involved in all the creative stages from storytelling all the way to post. His drawings are extremely helpful. They are very strong right from the get-go – they are very visual and striking and explain percent of the story. All the magic of the work starts with his drawings.”
The film relies on spectacular VFX work, realising Ridley’s vision of a cosmic interstellar world that combines surrealism with 50s pulp sci fi. From the beginning, the production team knew that it would be a project that leaned heavily on CG, says RSA’s Debbie Garvey. “From the initial ideas from the agency and Ridley’s interpretation, it was always clear that VFX would play a major role in achieving the vision…these were extraordinary worlds that would need a completely different approach to bring them to life,” explains Debbie.
Bringing this vision to life required intensive research and experimentation – particularly for the fully CG ‘worlds’ of ‘wood crunches’, ‘spicy edge’ and ‘flowing flame’. “The problem was that there is not that much reference in real world that we could copy from … so most of our ideas came from motion concepts that we presented to Ridley,” says Carsten. “That’s a method of coming up with lots of different ideas and workflows without spending too much time developing them fully. After Ridley narrowed these ideas, looks and behaviours down we could go into more detail. That’s how we fleshed out these worlds and characters step by step.”
But while the overall concepts were so removed from the real world, the team managed to ground the film with a sense of photorealism thanks to the attention paid to textures, explains MPC Creative Director Ryan Jefferson Hays.
“This goes back to our early development in referencing real world textures and environments that would be the base for the VFX to enhance and give this other-worldly feel to the project,” says Ryan.
The project was a long one, with around two and a halve months of pre-production and 10 weeks of full production. At one point, MPC had 50 people working on it, drawing from their crew in Bangalore too, with 35 London-based talents working on CG and compositing.
“If you think about it … we produced around 100 shots in 100 weeks with 35 people. That’s quite extreme – even for commercial standards!” says Carsten.
According to Debbie, tying all of this together required intense cooperation. “It had to be a very close collaboration as the VFX were very much part of the creative process so regular Skype, calls, meetings when possible, and a constant flow of references, feedback and ideas from Ridley,” she says. “Ridley was very involved on every frame of the process.”
Having re-entered adland with his ambitious Hennessy film and a recent Turkish Airlines spot, Ridley is setting himself an intense personal challenge. The notoriously hardworking director told LBB that he was enticed by the rapid evolution of the 2019 ad industry – all that’s left for him to achieve in advertising is “to keep up with the pace.”
But his producer Debbie has a somewhat different perspective. For her the biggest challenge is, “to keep up with Ridley – he is relentless and constantly challenging you with new ideas. We also had the challenge of being good enough…. Ridley is the master of visually stunning movies and there was no compromise on this commercial - it had to look amazing!”
CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER: Thomas Moradpour / Michael Aidan, Antoine Varlet
BRAND DIRECTOR: Emmy Aoun Gestin
DEPUTY HEAD OF MARKETING: Antoine Varlet
CREATIVE AGENCY: DDB Paris
PRODUCER: Quentin Moenne Loccoz
EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Alexander Kalchev
CREATIVE DIRECTOR: Pierre Mathonat, Alexis Benbehe