Q&A with Psyop directors Marie Hyon and Marco Spier
What was the creative brief from the client/agency?
The brief from the agency was to create a poetic, sophisticated, and awe inspiring Olympics campaign that embraces the idea of, “impossible is nothing” for the people of china. With the agency, we created four spots in total. The first spot was an anthem called “Together”. For this spot, we created a landscape of the nation supporting their athletes. It was important for us to create the intimacy between the supporters and the athletes. We wanted to make sure the fans were not seen just as the masses but to feel their emotion of being part of something big.
The other three spots were athlete specific spots that told their personal stories of their Olympic journey. With these spots, we were able to explore the world of imagery that is very dream like, allegorical, and surreal. Along with the agency and their Asian sensibility in storytelling, we were able to imagine three very unique looking spots with the type of stories we haven’t really encountered in the western market.
What was the feeling/aesthetic you were going for in creating the spots? Tell me about the creative process.
The aesthetic we were going for was to create something really epic. Not in the loud, over the top kind of way, but something understated, intimate, but big at the same time. This is why we’ve wanted to create the world of live action mixed with pencil. It seemed like the right mix of mediums to shape our campaign because of the blend of live action, for the athlete’s recognizability and human emotion, along with pencil, which has a softer delicate quality, creates a look that is quite unique. But with this mixture of techniques, we faced many challenges. We had a lot of work ahead of us. First off, we spend weeks preparing for our shoot in Beijing by previsualizing all the spots. Because the mixture of live action and animation needed to be absolutely integrated, we have to plan out all our shots so that we were very well prepared. We then flew to Beijing to shoot the athletes over the course of six weeks. The biggest challenge that we faced was to create the right mixture of live action and pencil. We wanted to avoid the dizzying look of simply a pencil filtered video effect, as in an A-Ha video of the 80s. The clients felt the emotions and facial expressions were very important to them so we wanted the look not to distract from the human emotion and the story. By having too much activity of hand drawn lines, we were losing focus. The delicate balance of all of these things was our greatest challenge. For us, we feel the technique pushes our boundaries of “impossible is nothing”
How many people worked on the spots?
Total, we had about 65 people working on the spots—from 3D to roto to compositing, to tracking—you name it, we used it.
What tools/programs were used in the production?
Principally we used XSI, Maya, Massive, After Effects, and Flame.
Did you face any challenges creatively?
The main challenge was really figuring out a way to create the look. We had made these beautiful styleframes, and then we had to figure out how to make them move. Hence, a three month research and development process and the help of countless compositors, and our collaborators, Boolab, in Barcelona. Finally, we hit upon a solution that incorporated composite techniques with hand drawn cell animation, and we had our look.
Anything else you think I should know?
Just that this was one of the most challenging and satisfying experiences of our careers. Despite all the work, we were actually sad that it was over, but at least we had some amazing pieces to show for it.
Comments on “Hu Jia”
Hu Jia is one of our favorite spots of the Adidas Beijing Olympics campaign because it was a rare opportunity to create a sport ad that has such a poetic story.
Diving is a very quiet sport. Very precise. The actual jump happens within a split second. The meditative moment before the jump seems to determine everything. Success and failure are closer together than in any other discipline.
Meeting Hu Jia in person, seeing him practice his art, was one of the most inspiring moments in our career. we have never experienced that kind of control and perfection. It makes one humble. There is this artistry and concentration in his performance and his personal story of will, dedication and drive, that gave us the perfect platform to create a poetic visual journey. We were hoping to capture some of this inner beauty and dedication in our 60 second piece.
We wanted to evoke dream-like situations with some of the scenarios. We’ve all been there and experienced those frustrations in our dreams. You are trying to reach for something or fight someone, but can’t quite do it because you feel restrained in some way, limited. We wanted to bring this sensibility across as a metaphor for his struggle to climb to win Olympic gold.
The pace of the spot was very important to us. This piece had to flow and not be rushed, so we chose to tell his story simply. We created a journey that is languid and surreal. The underwater world functions as a portal to his memories in the seconds after his pivotal jump .
Technically this was one of the more challenging commercials for us. We had to be very considerate of Hu Jia’s time and any risks involved. Even though he does hundreds of jumps a day, the jump featured in the spot has an extremely high level of difficulty. Only a few people in the world can even execute this jump, and Hu Jia limits himself to only one of those per practice session.
As you can imagine, that put a lot of pressure on our team. We shot this jump with 4 cameras at a time, all in high speed. One camera was underwater, with a team that we flew in from Australia.
Hu Jia was such a perfectionist that he ended up executing the jump an unprecedented 2nd time, that we captured from a 5th camera angle. The day was incredibly memorable.
It was an amazing process for us, and we learned a lot. Working with TBWA China, we were given the opportunity to make an Olympic ad unlike any other. We all wanted to create the most awesome spot ever. We hope it shows.