Bringing water to life
ARRI Rental adapts an ALEXA 65 to allow the first-ever human figure made entirely from liquid droplets to be captured in-camera for a Gatorade G Active commercial.
To launch Gatorade’s new electrolyte water, G Active, a true-to-life water athlete was animated in mid-air and captured with the ALEXA 65 camera and Prime 65 lenses. Produced by UNIT9 Films for TBWA\Chiat\Day, the technically daring spot picked up a Gold Lion in the Digital Craft category and a Silver Lion in the Design category at the 2017 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Director Cole Paviour had a vision of a 3D figure, made of water droplets, that could move and interact with its surroundings. To achieve this, more than 20,000 individual parts and components were used to build a bespoke “rain rig” that dripped water in a complex sequence to recreate the form of a real person. James Medcraft was the cinematographer tasked with devising a way of capturing this figure in-camera. “We were determined to create a piece of work that broke new ground,” recalls Medcraft, who approached ARRI Rental about the ALEXA 65. “The commercial is a mixture of stop-motion and real-time assets, and it was essential that we had one camera that could do both jobs.”
Motion-capture data of a real person running, jumping and kickboxing was used to inform a series of 2,048 switches in the water rig when to turn the water pressure on and off, releasing the droplets at exactly the right moment, while flash-lighting was used to illuminate and “suspend” the water droplets in mid-air. To achieve perfect synchronization between everything – to the millisecond – the accessory port on the front of the ALEXA 65 was specially adapted to output a TTL signal. “The TTL pulse from the ALEXA 65 was an essential feature on the shoot,” says Medcraft. “It triggered the whole process, allowing us to drop the water and capture it with high-speed flash at the exact moment the shutter activated, without any rolling shutter artifacts commonly seen with strobe scenes.”
With only one frame exposed every six seconds, it was necessary to strip out just the stop-motion flash frames from the footage. “ARRI Rental worked with us to create a unique workflow for our needs,” states Medcraft. “Once each take was complete the custom software looked for data spikes in the file, which indicated an image, and exported these as RAW stills files. Without this feature someone would have spent weeks doing the same job,” he continues. “From the moment ARRI Rental entered the project, the level of dedication and one-on-one contact gave the team real confidence.”
Reflecting on the five-day shoot, Medcraft believes that the biggest challenge was not knowing whether all the theory behind the project would actually work. “Theory isn’t practice, so even up until the pre-light we really didn’t know that everything would work as smoothly as it did.”
The end result: a life-sized animated figure, created entirely from liquid and light, that moves and interacts with physical space like a real human. Another example of how the ALEXA 65 system is being increasingly adopted for high-impact commercials, not just high-end feature films.