Exclusive: Can cutting-edge VFX reinject the passion back into sport?

When COVID-19 thrust everyone into a state of flux, staring into the unknown and navigating uncharted waters, it was hard to believe that it could have had any positive effect on the work we do. Suddenly, no-one had access to crew nor was anyone able to travel for shoots. Brands/ agencies and production companies were all looking to visual effects studios like ours to help overcome these creative challenges quickly and effectively. VFX has always been the gateway to creating spectacular new worlds and visualising the impossible. With this in mind, It was natural for it to be at the forefront of finding ways to produce premium campaigns remotely and creatively, overcoming the logistical restrictions of lockdown. What used to be a question of ‘what is possible?’ became a combined mindset that ‘anything is possible’ as we worked to ensure creativity still thrived.

T​he relationship between sport and advertising has always been a powerful and emotive one. Sporting brands and events have been responsible for creating some of the most iconic and thought provoking work, not only promoting the passion of sport, but also have helped to tackle very powerful social issues and change people’s perception. For example, Colin Kaepernick in Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign directed by Lance Accord, Channel 4’s Paralympics ‘We’re the Superhumans’ directed by Dougal Wilson. All pushed the boundaries successfully between production and VFX techniques in order to promote the cause.

It wasn’t surprising that sport urgently needed help after being impacted so hugely. With live games cancelled indefinitely, brands and teams across the world were scratching their heads and looking for ways to keep fans captivated. There’s not much to rival the passion and energy of being in a packed stadium watching your team or a live version of your sport.

Therefore, when we were approached to work on the new ​FIFA21 ​‘Win as One’ advertising campaign by adam&eveDDB and directed by Terence Neale at Park Pictures, whilst in full lockdown, we needed to find a way of producing something that looked and felt ‘global’ with the atmosphere and energy expected from the world’s favourite football game. We needed to reproduce that tribal spirit of fans uniting across the globe – unifying them in this turbulent time using the highest quality imagery.

We worked closely with director Terence Neale and director of photography Kaname Onoyama to develop a sophisticated remote workflow which enabled the talent to self capture imagery. The workflow had to provide Terence & Kaname with fully interactive directorial and camera control over the shoot whilst remote.

In order to achieve this we needed to embrace a readily available camera technology which talent would be able to operate. The solution was to supply key talent in each shooting location with a brand-new iPhone11 Pro which was configured and shipped to them by production. This meant that the real life gaming crews in London, Paris, Berlin, LA, New York and South Korea were all able to self capture footage under strict Covid restrictions. Owing to the size and weight of an iPhone, Terence and Kaname were able to play with dynamic camera movement and really push shooting techniques to the limit.

With hours and hours of footage captured on each phone, from teams and players from all over the world and street footballers to world-class professional talent, the result was an extraordinary piece of work which also echoed how football fans want to experience the game.

Instead of us trying to replicate a traditional full international shoot deploying the usual go to kit and equipment, we created a whole new type of film that overcame the logistical challenges of lockdown by embracing technology, creativity and collaboration in order to make a film without limits.

The project led to a creative feat none of us perhaps thought was possible under such strict lockdown conditions. Like footballers, we were able to work as a team which created moments of magic and produced something that recaptured the spirit and atmosphere we’ve been really missing this year.

Similarly, the ​BT Sport ‘Unlimited subs’ campaign​ we worked on allowed for the freedom of self-capture using smartphones with some of the biggest names in the world of football, across multiple global locations. The result was a captivating film that brought fans right amongst the action, incredible access to footballing heroes in the game and all produced remotely.

As experts in VFX we’ve always been able to reproduce a crowd or transport a viewer to a faraway land but this became more important than ever for sport this year. As an industry we’ve been able to collaborate in ways we never knew possible and, for sports brands, this ability to replicate the spirit and passion has been crucial. Who knows what the next few months will bring – but the new agile ways of working that have developed and creative heights that have been reached across the industry means sports brands have no excuse for not bringing that passion to fans when they need it most.

Author: Adam Crocker, head of VFX at independent creative studio Black Kite

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