Nike’s latest soccer spot for the Mercurial Vapor IX boot, is an anarchic, tornado-like homage to megastar Cristiano Ronaldo. Riot police, fans, other teams and officials all lye in wake as he caresses through with superhuman force, obliterating all that be in his way. Imperial Woodpecker director Mark Zibert tell us about bringing the ambitious ad, from Wieden + Kennedy Tokyo & Portland to life.
LBB> It’s a pretty physical spot and combines an ambitious degree of in-camera effects and post. What were your immediate thoughts when you saw the script and what did you bring to the treatment?
MZ> Initially the thing that came to mind was the idea of the pitch as a battlefield – Ronaldo’s speed laying waste to the enemy. This conjured up images in my head of classic battle portraiture – giant oil paintings of the Revolutionary War, etc. The overly dramatic poses and expressions captured in those paintings have an epic feel, which was something we wanted to bring to the film.
Then I started stumbling across statues and war dioramas in my research and I thought it would be visually interesting to create a diorama of movement in an abstract setting, such as a gallery space. In the end I wound up shooting my photo studio wall as the background and shot stills of various earth textures to build the cross section of the subfloor.
I also grew up painting ‘Warhammer’ and ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ figures and dioramas, so I was excited to be able to bring my awkward childhood to a Nike soccer spot. But I was equally nervous to pitch it this way… it was definitely a love-it-or-hate-it approach.
LBB> What was it like shooting at a 20-degree incline on one of the sets? Did this present any unexpected or surprising issues?
MZ> Technically, I wanted to achieve as much in-camera as possible and, at some point during the bid process, I woke up in the middle of the night with the angled-set idea.
I think it gave us something we couldn’t have done with harnesses and fans. For example, the coach didn't have to hold a weird angle pose – he could just stand there, looking back. The slipping and falling all felt much more natural because they didn't have to force it. If we had to fake these little details, it would have become blazingly apparent under the slow-motion gaze of the Phantom. Gravity paid off.
The challenge was simply time. It took a long time to get the camera motion correct at 20 degrees.
LBB> It looks like a pretty demanding job for the stuntmen and performers. How did you capture them flying through the air and how did you ensure there was a suitable level of control in their performances given the challenges they faced?
MZ> We rehearsed a fair amount on a flat set with harnesses and the full stunt crew. All the guys in the air were wired, controlled by a ground crew, and the rigging was removed in post.
The cast was phenomenal – as was the crew. Sometimes you get lucky and find a cast and crew that share your passion for a spot and these guys were so collaborative and willing. I think it helped that we had the Phantom playback for them to watch. I think it also helped that Ronaldo was in the spot. It inspired a certain level of sacrifice.
LBB> In the press release our eyes were drawn to this sentence: "Stunt men and fence pieces were flying continuously during the shoot to create the desired effect.” We need to know more! What was the set-up?
MZ> Again, all of the stunts and moves were very organic and based on either the stunt performers’ own energy, gravity or wire rigs that were manipulated by the stunt coordinator. In the case of the fence pieces and debris, it was simply a matter of releasing them from the top of the angled set and letting nature take its course. Low-tech chaos. I think that’s what the Phantom was made for.
Andrew Miller, copywriter, and Naoki Ga, Art Director at Wieden + Kennedy Tokyo
LBB> What was the brief from the client and what were your immediate thoughts when you saw it?
AM> The brief was to find a way to associate the Mercurial Vapor boot with speed and to use Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s an amazing brief to have, when you have the carrot of working with one of the most iconic athletes in the world. –Andrew Miller, Copywriter
LBB> How long did it take to fully develop the concept and what were the key challenges you faced?
NG> The key challenge was to figure out how to get this idea across within the resources available for this project. We had a little over a month from briefing to shooting, so it was an incredibly intense pre-production time. – Naoki Ga, Art Director
LBB> It's a fairly bombastic, physical piece that looks like a challenge for the performers and with ambitious in-camera effects and post- as creatives did you have any concerns about feasibility?
AM> Knowing that it would be such a challenge to pull off made us feel like this was a really worthy quest. No one knew exactly how to do something like this, which left room for some nice moments of discovery along the way.
LBB> Ronaldo seems to have kept his head - and skills - amid the onslaught! - how did he rise to the challenge of your script?
NG> Ronaldo is a pro, on the pitch and off. He knows how to bring it when the cameras are on. We only had a very limited time to capture his action, and he was a total professional, nailing the move several times over.
LBB> Imperial Woodpecker and director Mark Zibert were brought on board to create the film - what was it about Mark that made him the right man for the job?
AM> Mark was a real pleasure to work with. He is a very smart director, who got the concept instantly and helped us push and take it further. Mark has an incredible attention to detail and at the same time is very ambitious when it comes to the big picture. He made the perfect co-conspirator for a spot like this.
LBB> The Mission crafted a heavy amount of VFX for the spot. What was it like working with the team there and what did they bring to the final production?
NG> They were a pretty dedicated teammate. Despite the complexity of the layers of VFX (which takes ages to render and sometimes crashed the system) they put in their 110% to make the visuals come alive.