Like the outstretched arms of the goal posts, digital technologies extended the Feb. 6 broadcast of Super Bowl XXXIX into multiple levels of communications accessible to many more people than the 133.7 million who actually watched the game. Increasingly, it's the video elements only tangentially relevant to passing the pigskin that are becoming the hits of the show.
Did you enjoy the one-minute digital open that kicked off the spectacle? Created by Digital Dimension in Burbank, Calif., the sequence combined fictional live-action character Donny Tucker smashing through computer-generated football heroes of the past, including Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Mike Singletary and Ronnie Lott. At the end, he blasts his way through a 100-foot image of the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy before all the images shatter to the ground and the game begins.
This Super Bowl curtain raiser was crafted using Discreet 3ds max animation software by the Digital Dimension creative team led by Jason Crosby, CG supervisor; Justin Mitchell, lead animator; Leandro Visconti, lead compositor; and Senior Technical Director James Coulter. They found that the normal mapping feature of 3ds max technology allowed them to create the illusion of extra geometry in real time while the Cebas Thinking Particles plug-in effectively produced the fireworks and shattering glass effects.
THE REAL ATTRACTION
But as usual, it was the ads that caught this editor's eye. In fact, a recent poll conducted by the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association found that among the coveted American 18- to 24-year-old demographic, 24.5 percent tune into the Super Bowl primarily to watch spots. Costing a record $2.4 million to fill a 30-second slot (that's $80,000 per second!), we have come to expect these Super Bowl spots to be the epitome of commercial post production.
Way too much has been said about Ms. Jackson's unintentional costume goof from last year, but Budweiser cleverly managed to capitalize on it this time around by releasing an ad supposedly too controversial for Fox called "Wardrobe Malfunction," which you can still see all over the Web. My favorite site for it and the other ads mentioned here is iFILM ( www.ifilm.com/superbowl ) and the site's executive producer, Roger Jackson, assures me these video gems will be available for viewing for the foreseeable future.
Just before the team introductions, DirecTV ran a spot called "Forward" that depicted a boy growing into old age in what appears to be one continuous shot while he morphs from one stage in life into another. As a youngster, he begins watching Lucille Ball's famous "Vitametavegimin" bit on an old Philco set with his grandfather. Then he steps through a doorway into a diner hearing "...a fiery horse with the speed of light" blaring from a countertop RCA screen. He moves on seamlessly through six other slices of his life accompanied by classic TV programs until he ends up in a living room as an old man watching a plasma set with his own grandson as the voice-over intones, "It's time to rethink TV."
The live-action images in "Forward" were shot by Biscuit Filmworks of Los Angeles, but the visual effect of morphing the character into old age as he steps through each successive portal was accomplished at Method Studios in Santa Monica, Calif., by lead 2D visual effects supervisor, Alex Frisch, along with 3D VFX artists Gil Baron and Hatem Benabdallah. They used Alias Maya 3D modeling software for previsualization and accomplished what they called the "creative wipes" in each doorway, using the boujou automated camera calibration and tracking system made by 2d3 Limited.
Then the game was interspersed by a popular beer ad in which a skydiver throws a full six-pack out of a plane; an odd "Fargo" knock-off introducing a new Mustang convertible with its driver freezing to death in a snow-swept wasteland; and a woman somehow getting tanned from McIlhenny Tabasco sauce. Does anyone remember why Burt Reynolds was dancing with a bear, who Brad Pitt was calling for a pick-up, or what GoDaddy.com was actually advertising?
But then with the Patriots up 14-to-7 over the Eagles with 10:59 left in the third quarter, there came a magnificent Super Bowl memory edited by Dick Gordon on an Avid Media Composer at Spot Welders in Venice, Calif. It was subtle, and caught many people off-guard on several levels.
We see a woman dialing a cell phone in an airport lobby, a man reading a newspaper and a couple talking quietly. Then filing past the ticket counters is a group of soldiers in fatigues. People notice, put down their laptops and magazines, stand up, and slowly begin applauding. No words, no symbols, just pure, honest, understated emotion.
Throughout a total of just over two dozen cuts edited with a brilliant juxtaposition of reinforcing screen movement, the GIs in transit walk through the concourse carrying their duffle bags as the civilian clapping grows, accompanied by reverently synthesized tonalities on the soundtrack that only fade in around shot No. 5. After a woman reaches out to shake one of the soldier's hand in shot No. 19, close-ups of the soldiers' faces reveal a modest surprise. Finally, as the uniformed group leaves the hall in shot No. 27, one of them turns back to look over his shoulder in gratitude.
Entitled "Applause," the spot's sponsor, Anheuser-Busch, was only identified by a brief tail-slate that appeared after the black-and-white words "Thank You" dissolved on and off the screen. The moment was so effective, and the audience response where I watched it was so intense, the rest of the game was only a blur. The previously rowdy beach crowd at Sharkeez Baja Grill was clapping so loudly by the time the spot ended that it was only after reviewing the videotape I realized the applause on the soundtrack faded out by shot No. 21, leaving only the musical tone poem on the soundtrack.
Greg Popp, group executive producer at DDB, the Chicago agency responsible for the spot, tells us "Applause" was based on a real-life experience that Art Director Steve Bougdanous had witnessed at the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport.
Famed veteran commercial director Joe Pytka intentionally chose a documentary-style approach when he filmed the spot using an Aaton Super 16 camera with a long lens on the upper level of the Los Angeles International airport. One hundred extras and 25 principles were caught in unscripted poses and directed to react to the scene as it unfolded.
But the military personnel were real, on active duty from every branch of the service donating their free time to the project. It is Staff Sgt. Sekou Taylor who hefts his kit over his back in shot No. 21, Capt. Colleen Johnson is the soldier who looks around smiling at the crowd in shot No. 24, and Cpl. Anthony Logan is the one who looks back in wonder in shot No. 27.
It's a Super Bowl highlight well worth reviewing on the Web for photographic style, editing technique and heart. Oh, by the way, the Patriots won 24-21.
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