How Nike Made A Human Printing Press

Director James Frost walks us through how people power was channeled to create a series limited edition posters, aimed to inspire the people of Turkey to get active.

When it comes to sport, there’s no real tangible byproduct. A game is played, a race is run, and then it’s over. It lives in the moment. People drawn to athletics and team sports revel in the feeling and experience of their chosen activity, but for those who just aren’t that into being active, it’s easy to just sit on the sidelines. This is the particular challenge Nike faced in Turkey, where participation in sport is among the lowest in all of Europe.

To inspire activity, Nike Turkey launched the “Made by Movement” campaign, which aims to get people of Istanbul moving through a series of challenges. Throughout the campaign, Nike will issue online challenges at Nike.com/hareketet and high performers will be rewarded of a limited edition print that was literally made by athletes in action.

This print is the center point of the campaign in that it serves as incentive for participants and it is the physical manifestation of sport. Rather than simply designing a fly poster and printing it with, y’know, printers, Nike Turkey devised a human printing press wherein athletes in various sports contribute a single element to the poster. Cyclists use pedal power to fuel a conveyor belt; runners trigger an explosion of powdered ink; a boxer uses brute force to engage a patterned stamp; a footballer kicks off for an action shot; a skateboarder roles over the print to add a layer of type; cross trainers add an embossed swoosh; and a slamdunk generates a Just Do it Stamp. The commercial showing the process includes well-known Turkish athletes and footballer Didier Drogba.

The campaign was created by Wieden+Kennedy, Amsterdam, and director James Frost says when the idea was presented to him the only stipulation was that it all had to be totally real, which, he says was “really exciting, but also mega scary.” Here, Frost tells Co.Create how kinetic energy, teamwork, and a great deal of planning resulted in a human printing press.

Reverse engineering the techniques

Didier Drogba

The first step of the process was to devise a list of techniques, some of these were digital and some were more conventional printing techniques. Once we decided collectively which ones we felt would be the most effective we started the process of pairing them to sports and exploring ways in which that sport or athlete could trigger something, or could actually create the image. It got pretty complicated, so complicated in fact that a few weeks into the process I put the brakes on it all and realized we had to reverse engineer the process. Effectively we had to look at each layer and how we would build a poster and then apply the sport. As much as the film was a really key component, the poster was the reason we were making the film so the poster had to be held above all else really in how we applied each technique. This of course affected the order in which the sports would be featured. There was a lot of organizing and moving around of things.

Little margin for error

The first overall challenge once we had finalized all the plans was to actually build them from afar. We shot the job in Turkey, so the construction had to get underway about two weeks prior to us arriving. We found out pretty quickly that wood is not a material widely used in Turkey and everything that was being built was being built from steel and welded together. It was quite something. It gave very little room for error, and to change something was suddenly a huge ordeal. But the crew there did an incredible job of really taking these CAD drawings and building them all.

Powered by cyclists

The idea here is that these guys power the machine. It was a simple set up we had six cyclists who were connected to a gear device that rotated the paper in a vertical position down the length of half a football field. In order for it to work they had to work together as a team and that was part of the brief, athletes working together.

An explosion of ink

We then had a mini loop where as the paper went down the room a group of runners would run up on a ramp and cross a series of laser beams. As soon as the beams were broken it would trigger a series of compressed canons in the back to fire powdered ink at the paper as it was going past. That’s why some are more metallic than others as if the paper was not directly in front it got less of a blast. It just meant each poster truly was individual. This was the background layer.

Bashing out a pattern

Next we had the boxer. The set up was about him applying a secondary layer to the background. He punched a punching bag which was rigged with ink blotters on the back, so depending on where he hit, would dictate where the paper was blotted. The funny thing about this machine was, Eric Archer, my production designer was so paranoid about him punching it off its frame he rigged a support beams to the actual walls of the warehouse. Sure enough, about 30 minutes into shooting, the paper kept getting jammed and snarling the whole thing up. He had hit the bag with such force he still managed to bust it.

Stroboscopic photography

At this point the paper went through a device that dropped it down a shoot into a horizontal position on to a conveyer belt. Which I might add they built from scratch in Turkey. This then enters the only digital section of the whole process. I really wanted to capture an image that would be powerful and balance the poster from more abstract movement to a raw capture of movement. We set up a stroboscopic type scenario where the footballer would activate the flash sequence and then that image got processed in a computer into a two-tone image that then got printed onto the paper.

Half-pipe typography

We then follow the conveyer down in-between a skate half pipe. This is where the skateboarder literally skated across the conveyer, which turned out to be not as simple as we thought. In fact it was potentially dangerous as any differential in height could be a real problem, not to mention movement. When skating across the posters he had a sentence on the inside of the wheels that was dipped in UV ink prior to departing (you can see them at the top of the ramps, these white patches which were like large ink pads) and would only be visible on the poster in a black light environment. The sentence read “Move It” in Turkish.

Belly-up embossing

Then we moved on to NTC, which is Nike Training Class. Here we had the girls doing a routine called a “belly up.” The idea being when they drop to the floor one lands on a large stamping device, which is actually how it was designed and this presses a plate into the paper below and embosses the Nike swoosh on to the poster. As a little note, the great thing about this project was the client was totally cool with us not overly branding the piece, so these little touches that gave it more or a personalized, limited edition feel and that was great.

Slam-dunk letterpress

Finally the conveyer took us to Basketball. Here it was as simple as turning the hoop into a giant letterpress that stamped the posters with “Just Do It.” I say simple, but the reality was they had to construct as massive spring mechanism that could hold the weight of the player and produce a smooth press action and deliver pressure at the same time. The thing looked like some kind of dinosaur skeleton. It was amazing. All made from steel, of course.

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3 Comments

  • FluxAppeal

    I meant to say leave it to Nike to "represent"...of course, Wieden & Kennedy actually composed this phenomenal piece. Kudos!

  • FluxAppeal

    Leave it to Nike to compose the perfect marriage: Design + Ideas in Action> Totally inspired!