A CLEARER PICTURE
It recently became the chief preoccupation for DP Alessandra Scherillo, who was charged by London creative advertising agency Poke, a member of the Publicis Worldwide network, to lens a brace of commercials for French cosmetics company Garnier from a particular perspective.
Entitled “Date” and “Interview”, the TV and Internet ads for Garnier’s Skin Active 3-in-1 revolve around a busy young woman who is asked out on a hot rendez-vous and has a job interview the following day. All would be wonderful, except she has zits.
The tale of the dilemma is displayed from the young woman’s POV as she goes about her day – whilst also researching various remedies and texting friends for advice – until she eventually decides to play safe and stay at home. If only she had known about Garnier Skin Active 3-in-1 for clearer looking skin!
“It was a really sweet and simple idea with a very fashionable treatment to shoot through the character’s eyes,” says Scherillo, an alumna of the UK’s prestigious National Film & TV School, who has a built a reputation in shooting commercials for international fashion and beauty brands such as Top Shop, Armani, McQueen Temperley, Dove, Collastin and Wella. She now also directs under the moniker of Twinset.
“However, GoPro-style, first-person photography was the agency’s main visual reference point for the production,” she remarks. “Whilst the premise of the ads was simple, I knew that framing it would not be as straightforward as simply pointing an off-the-shelf sports camera. That sort of videography is fine for recording personal mementos of splashing around in the sea and adrenaline sports. But on a professional production, for a renowned beauty brand, you must start with the look you want and accept nothing less than the best image quality.
“Essentially the client wanted to concentrate on seeing the world solely through the young woman’s eyes, whilst she’s also texting and interacting with her mobile phone. To do that would require the right lenses, and for a hand artist, rather than a traditional model, to frame the action whilst also performing. Furthermore, the legibility of the various text messages that she reads and types was fundamental to the idea. It was critical for the image quality to be of high-enough resolution to support invisible screen overlays in post production. So I had quite a tall order to fulfil.”
Dismissing the consumer camera-style approach, Scherillo called on the talents and technical knowledge of Adam Coles, George Rumsey and Camille Brayer at Panavision in London to find a suitable camera solution. Working with hand model Adina Chis, as the main performer-cum-camera operator, the group investigated a number of options for the desired POV style, including Steadicam and the possibility of using a Sony F55 attached to a helmet. However, these proved either too unwieldy for the petite performer or framed the image from the wrong perspective.
The only camera that fitted the bill in terms of POV, versatility with lenses, image quality and physical size, was the Codex Action Cam,” Scherillo says.
Codex Action Cam is a tiny remote camera head that uses a 2/3” single-chip sensor with a global shutter to capture 1920x1080 HD images at up to 60fps, with wide dynamic range. Using a single co-ax cable to the Codex Camera Control Recorder it enables on-set playback and a reliable workflow into post production.
Much to Scherillo’s delight, Panavision rapidly devised a helmet camera incorporating small sand bags to counterbalance the Action Camera head and lens, with snug padding around the inside to eliminate any unwanted wobbling of the image during camera movements. Velcro fasteners were used to neatly run the co-ax cable around the helmet and away from the performer’s body to the Codex Camera Control Recorder, which was carried during production by one of the camera assistants.
Scherillo says she really appreciated the Codex Action Cam’s compatibility with professional grade cine lenses, and elected to shoot with Kowa 5mm and 8.5mm lenses, as these focal lengths enabled Chis, our hand artist, to frame each scene whilst also keeping the mobile phone screen and texting fingers in focus. Kate Eccarius was the 1st AC/Focus puller during the shoot.
“Panavision innately understood the challenges I faced and spent many hours patiently perfecting the helmet camera, getting it absolutely right for the shoot,” remarks Scherillo. “On-set it was not easy initially for Adina to frame the scene whilst also performing, but during the course of each set-up she was able to memorise her movements and perform repeated takes, a bit like a human motion control rig. As we could play-back footage directly from the Codex recorder, and view the rushes on-set via a monitor, we could quickly review and circle the takes as we went along, which meant that we could move quickly to the next set-up.”
The interiors for the two commercials were shot at Dalston Heights Studios in Hackney, east London, with exteriors shot at nearby locations and timed for best light in the early morning and late afternoon. Scherillo used a combination of OctoDome, ARRI M-series HMIs and SkyPanels to develop the look of the lighting on-set.
“THE ONLY CAMERA THAT FITTED THE BILL IN TERMS OF POV, VERSATILITY WITH LENSES, IMAGE QUALITY AND PHYSICAL SIZE, WAS THE CODEX ACTION CAM”
“Garnier wanted a young, fresh and feminine feel to the images,” she says. “Call me old-fashioned, but I like to shape the light and create the look as much as possible on-set though the camera and art direction, rather than doing lots of work in the final grading session. Because of the dynamic range of Codex Action Cam pictures I knew I could capture the necessary look, colours and tones, right there and then on-set, but still have plenty of latitude to adjust the highlights, shadows and contrast later in the final grade if I needed to.”
She also notes, “We shot the mobile phone with tracking markers to enable the invisible overlay of animated text and mobile phone screens in post. The 12-bit RAW pictures coming from the Codex Action Cam were perfect for that sort of replacement work.
Scherillo concludes: “Action Cam proved a surprise small and versatile package, with terrific image quality. It all worked out beautifully and the client was absolutely delighted with the results.”
Images courtesy Poke