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Gatorade – UNIT9 Films & TBWA Activate Water for Gatorade

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  • Director of Production
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If seeing is believing, then you'll have to watch this Gatorade spot from TBWAChiatDay a few times to fully comprehend how it works. And even then, it might be a struggle.

To promote the brand’s new zero calorie, electrolyte-water, G Active, UNIT9 Films’ director Cole Paviour manipulates the liquid to transform it into a running woman. But what's most impressive about the campaign is the fact that it was all created without any CGI.

We caught up with creative director Doug Menezes and Paviour to discuss how they made the impossible possible, how the product inspired the campaign and how tightly they had to work against the clock.

 

Doug Menezes: 

What did Gatorade approach you with; and what inspired the way you interpreted their brief?

To launch Gatorade's new electrolyte water to the global market in a way that would be impactful and differentiate it from the competition. They developed this product because when we exercise and sweat, we lose more than just water. Therefore we need more to replace what's lost in sweat; we need an active water. So the inspiration was the product. We brought water to life and made it literally and visually active. We let the product do the talking by creating a water character that can move, run, jump and kick right in front of our eyes. 

 

Tell us about the pre-production process; surely that took longer than production itself?

The whole process for this campaign was unlike any other. We had to develop a completely new technology capable of generating a visual and literal representation of active water. An installation that combines art, photography and science to synchronize thousands of droplets of G Active. Of course, pre-production was crucial, and by far the most important part of the process. It took several months of planning, problem solving and signing approvals to get five days of shooting. 

 

 

 

Were there any unexpected challenges on shoot that you had to overcome; how did you resolve them?

When you're dealing with an intricate water rig built from scratch, using mostly custom parts it's non-stop problem solving. Thinking back, I'm convinced the biggest challenge, both from agency and client side, was trusting the process, believing that we would be able to pull this off, and waiting patiently to see the results. 

 

Was there much discussion around doing everything in camera versus in post?

No discussion at all. When it comes to fitness, Gatorade believes there are no shortcuts, so we decided we should take the same approach in the production of this campaign. From the very initial stages of the concept we always knew we wanted this to be done in-camera. For real, no tricks. 

 

 

 

How much do you enjoy working on technical projects like this one and what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from this process?

Coming from a design background I’ve always appreciated the craft and aesthetics behind the work. G Active is more than water so this project had to be more than average advertising. We knew we would face unpredictable obstacles, but we believed in the idea and we were ready to take the risk and go down the hardest route. Once we were all 100% committed, it became a matter of “how” we would make it happen, not “whether or not” we could.

 

Cole Paviour:

What are the challenges of directing something that relies so heavily on technology?

Once I heard the brief, even though the idea was nuts, I intuitively knew it could be done. Not only would we need to fuse various filmmaking techniques and push them to their limits but we'd also rely on a water delivery technology that was yet to be invented. 

We wanted to build a machine to produce a 2D human form using a single row of water nozzles, but I had a vision of a living, breathing, fully 3D woman, made entirely of water that could move and physically interact with her surroundings. This put pressure on our tight schedule, so we were racing against the clock every day. For me, the greatest challenge was holding onto that image throughout.   

 

 

A lot of it came down to trust.  I noticed that some of our key R&D discoveries - like whether we could achieve a clear and non-deformed 3D figure - would emerge dangerously close to the shoot. And every time we upgraded or dismantled the rig, our understanding of the pressures and quantities would reset so there was a danger of not knowing what we were turning on. The process taught me to step back and give my team the space they needed to problem-solve; they smashed it out the park!

 

How did you logistically manage to direct everything in camera and how many takes did you need?

I wanted to give audiences something they've never seen before, something that pushed the physicality of filmmaking to the limit.  I grew up watching movies that used practical in-camera effects and basic compositing, like puppeteering or stop motion so I believe that really translates. Practical effects require the filmmaker to lean on the audience's imagination to overlook some of the imperfections and fill in some of the blanks. There's a real beauty and magic to that. 

Given that audiences have only ever seen this type of effect in CG, they would naturally compare the two so we really needed to make a virtue of our imperfections, which is why I fought to keep as much aliasing around our character as was true to the technique.   

From the get-go I was adamant that we needed physical interactions between our water woman and her environment. By adding props - like the punchbag - we were able to composit various live-action plates for the kickboxing and recreate carefully-timed, real-time passes of the bag being struck to give the impression of the water woman's stop-motion kick. This, combined with some bespoke high-speed splash elements, created a sense of tangibility and allowed for our 'wow' ending.

 

 

One of the most incredible moments came on day three of our five day shoot, when we played back our first kickboxing take — it was perfect!  The team had totally mastered the delivery, the motion capture performance translated perfectly to the water woman, camera motion was spot on, the rig had performed flawlessly... the result was utterly spellbinding.  I remember looking around to see everyone’s jaw drop to the floor.

We didn’t know how much content we’d be able to shoot until we were on-set.  We had 10 shots to capture — over 1,000 frames of animation — which we needed to repeat three times to ensure we had two action plates and one clean plate.

Our initial approach was traditional stop-motion. But this only gave us a two-minute window to bank each frame, allowing no margin for error, so it had to be scrapped.

The guys pushed the tech further during pre-light, but we found ourselves we were still fine-tuning it even on day one of the shoot. We managed to speed up the delivery of the water released by the rig, but the shape wasn't quite right.  Eventually the team cracked it before we ran out of time and we were able to achieve undistorted and accurate shape repetitions every three seconds, which allowed for a speedier shoot approach and to keep the camera continuously rolling and constantly moving. In the end, a full take averaged eight minutes and meant we had time for the necessary re-runs and to deal with the odd technical snag.

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