It’s not often that you can write about an Early Netherlandish painter’s work influencing the execution of television commercials, but that’s the case in a series of Mountain Dew spots created by BBDO New York and the Mountain Dew marketing team, and collectively dubbed "Portraits."
Part of the "This Is How We Dew" campaign that launched last year, the "Portraits" celebrate the careers and lives of three of the brand’s key celebrity endorsers: NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., skateboarder Paul Rodriguez, and snowboarder Danny Davis. "This is really about showing the how in ‘The is how we Dew’ and finding a cool way to do it," Mountain Dew senior brand manager Jamal Henderson says, adding, "Mountain Dew is all about celebrating individuality."
The commercials will premiere on MountainDew.com/Portraits August 1 before making their television debuts later in the week. Earnhardt’s spot opens on a shot of the NASCAR driver sitting on a throne made of car parts, drinking Mountain Dew as if he were king of the world. As the camera slowly pulls back, viewers see a collage of imagery that includes guys from Earnhardt’s pit crew, flag girls, fans, Brantley Gilbert playing guitar, and Earnhardt operating a remote-control car (the spots have a similar moving painting feel as the 2010 Kanye West "Power" video, directed by Marco Brambilla, known for his video collages).
The spot is packed with imagery and subtle detail, requiring multiple viewings to pick up on everything, and various elements in each of the "Portraits" commercials not only move, they move at different speeds, and the actions repeat in an infinite loop like GIFs.
Marco Spier, cofounder and creative director of Psyop, which put together the effects-laden spots, describes the intricate commercials as living paintings. "We had the idea of creating the ultimate Bosch painting," Spier says, referring to the above referenced Hieronymus Bosch. "He made great pictures 500 years ago—very, very, dense and a lot of action, and we were really intrigued by his living pictures. But we wanted to bring something more contemporary," Spier explains, "and so we thought, ‘What if this picture is actually an infinite loop, and it would always move forever?’ "
Psyop made a previsualization demonstrating the concept and showed it to each of the athletes when they met up with them to shoot the live-action portions of the commercials, giving the stars a sense of what the final result would look like. "They were all really excited. They wanted to make it as cool as possible," Spier says. "I think they saw the potential."
It helped the Psyop team to spend some time with Earnhardt and the other athletes. "Once you meet Dale in person, you get a whole different vibe from him," Psyop creative director Borja Peña says. "It’s nice to see what his persona is like, and meeting the talent just expanded the idea all the way around. Up until the last day that we stopped working on this, we kept adding and adding and adding to the spot to make it more and more perfect for the athlete, perfect for the whole scene and perfect for the whole vibe we wanted to convey."
Earnhardt’s "Portraits" commercial is a composite of matte paintings, 3-D layers, live footage, and 2-D animation. "There is pretty much everything we could possibly do in every single spot as far as technique goes," Peña says.
And the idea was to make these disparate elements appear as though they existed in the same world. Careful attention to lighting was a key factor in creating that illusion, Peña says, noting the live-action performances were lit in the same way the matte paintings in the background were lit.
Having so many elements to deal with made for a weeklong edit in the case of Earnhardt’s spot. Once the edit was approved, the artisans at Psyop went into Nuke, laying out the elements in a three-dimensional space and creating the camera move. All the looping made putting everything together particularly complex. "It was not only challenging that the characters are looping," Peña points out. "It was challenging that the entire scene has to loop."
Extending the campaign beyond television, individual looping sequences from Earnhardt’s spot as well as the others will be made available for fans to share via social media as GIFs.