On January 23rd, 2022, the Hamil Bros, along with their beloved sidekick, Darkwing Dansby, departed Lubbock to head to Midland for the Affinity Steel 2022 Super Bowl commercial shoot. The kicker? We had less than 20 days to complete and deliver 2 ads that were unlike anything we had ever done before: using 3D animated characters as our main talent.
The Back Story
For nearly a year, Affinity Steel had been aiming for a specific concept for their 2022 Super Bowl ads. After exhausting all of our options, we finally formulated a plan to help us execute the ads they wanted.
Unfortunately, the stars would not align for those ads and we were forced to go back to the drawing board. It was the beginning of January and we had to come up with an idea and execute it.
As ideas often do, this one appeared to manifest out of nowhere… What about robots? Why couldn’t we have an ad with a person-sized humanoid bot and then one with a large mech?
I spent a couple days with some free robot 3D models to practice animating them to see if it was feasible. By January 4th, I had a large Gundam animated and reached out to Affinity Steel with the pitch. Sold! They wanted to go that route.
If you know me, you might think I’m a glutton for punishment. I like to take on work that stretches me. I didn’t know how we were going to do this, but I knew we could and, we were going to find a way regardless.
I wrote the scripts, pounded out the shot lists and did as much pre-animation on my bots as I knew how. I then spent hours upon hours scouring YouTube for tutorials on how to enhance what I already knew I was going to do.
The clock was ticking and our hands were tied on scheduling. The soonest we could begin production was January 24th.
That meant working all the unpaid overtime until the ads were done. *Please note: this is not a complaint; this is the life of self-employment in this type of service industry.
My only security blanket was knowing that I had a plan.
Fast forward to Monday, January 24th, we’re loaded into Affinity Steel and ready to go.
The challenge in shooting this ad was that every shot needed double or triple the coverage (coverage meaning the amount of unique takes it would take to make the shot work).
Every shot required a list of things:
- A 360° image of the surrounding (to help integrate the robot into the shot) *more on this in future blog posts
- A color-check shot (to make sure colors are consistent between lenses and cameras)
- A reference shot (for the Store Bot, we had Dansby stand in because he was close to the size of our robot)
- The actual take (we used a tennis ball on a light stand to give us a height reference for the bot)
- A plate (a version of the shot with no actors or references in order to get a clean background)
The other interesting challenge that was presented was that we lit every interior shot (not including the montage). You may be wondering why light a shot when there’s no actual characters in some of the shots, and that is an excellent question.
To address that, I go to my trusty sidekick, The DV Rebel’s Guide by Stu Maschwitz. One of the most important lessons I have held onto from that book is the idea of shooting every visual effects shot like you would a practical effects shot. Stu defines the two this way: “Those familiar with film effects work know that there is a difference in special effects and visual effects. The term special effects generally denotes practical, or on-set, “physical effects” such as blowing up a car or making steam come out of a manhole. Visual effects (often shortened to VFX) are things that will be added or assembled later, such as the glow from a lightsaber or a futuristic skyline full of flying cars.”
Why shoot at VFX shot the same way you would a practical? Believability. The more “natural” the shot is, the easier it is for a viewer to accept what they are seeing.
The interior shoot day went extremely smoothly. The exterior day, not so much. The wind and weather didn’t cooperate like we had hoped, but that is the nature of things and we still ended up with the shots we needed and were very happy with the results.
The post production process was the most challenging arena on these ads. It’s one thing to add an explosion or rain to a shot, but adding a main character is something else entirely and I have to say that it would not have been possible without the help of our friend Robert Deltour (no relation to the large mech). Robert went above and beyond to help make sure our mech moved like a large robot would and helped with animating him. (to see more about Robert, check out our post on A Good Dame for a Sandwich)
These ads were a challenge unlike any we have taken on before and we will be diving in a little further on these ads with a VFX breakdown in the near future.
In the meantime, we hope you enjoyed watching these ads as much as we enjoyed making them, and we would love to talk to you about enhancing the visuals of your business in a way you never thought possible.