Digital Hurricane for Sawyer Riley Compton

We've completed a national TV spot for ESAB, the world’s largest producer of welding and cutting equipment and consumables.  The concept, developed by ESAB’s ad agency Sawyer Riley Compton, called for an offshore oil rig threatened by a typhoon but coming through the storm unscathed thanks to superior quality welds.  Sawyer Riley Compton asked us to provide all major production, animation and post production services for the spot. 

The only live-action filming we did for the project was the studio product shots that close the spot.  The tight deadline and budgetary considerations ruled out our camping out for a month in the North Sea and waiting for a suitably impressive storm, so the agency wanted to use stock storm footage, if possible.   But stock footage of a rig in a hurricane wasn’t to be found, though we conducted a worldwide search. We did the stock search as a matter of due diligence, but from the beginning we all realized that the storm would have to be created using CGI, since no one in their right mind would be out there shooting in the kind of weather we needed to portray (except us, of course – and the rightness of our minds is often questioned).

Eric supervised the creation of the visuals for the digital storm, combining stock ocean shots, still photographs of offshore rigs, and computer-generated wind, waves and rain.  The key for making a spot of this kind work is bringing these different elements together seamlessly, even though they come from dramatically different sources and situations.  Imagery has to be adjusted for color balance, photographic and lighting conditions, time of day and so forth. We had to do surgery on the oil rigs — some of the shots we used had rigs with different numbers of cranes and derricks.  And all our CGI elements had to work together with these elements to create the illusion of a realistic whole.  We had to tell a single story with existing materials that were all over the map.

Todd Watson edited and mixed the 24-track storm in our digital audio studio. Working together with sound design studio Primal Scream in Los Angeles, the sound design and mixing created a solid foundation for the believability of the spot.  Todd told me, "This spot was particularly exciting because the visual and sound elements were built in tandem.  For instance, as the storm’s intensity builds, the sound of pounding rain increases dramatically.  That gave Eric the idea to add a CGI effect that looked like raindrops were spattering on the lens in the last shot.  He told me there was no way you could keep the lens clear in a storm that sounded like that.”

The final result was a spot that delighted both the agency and the client.  We’re particularly pleased with the client’s response, since this was their first foray into spots that relied so heavily upon computer-generated images.  And the public response has been great, too.  When people see the spot on our new demo reel, they ask us how we managed to shoot under such terrible conditions.  When I tell them how it was really done, they’re just amazed.