By Randi Altman
Valiant Pictures, a New York-based production house, recently produced a commercial spot featuring The Bachelor/Bachelorette host Chris Harrison promoting Seagram’s Escapes and its line of alcohol-based fruit drinks. A new addition to the product line is Tropical Rosé, which was co-developed by Harrison and contains natural passion fruit, dragon fruit and rosé flavors.
Valiant’s Vincent Lin directed the piece, which features Harrison in a tropical-looking room — brightened with sunny pinks and yellows thanks to NYC’s Nice Shoes — describing the rosé and signing off with the Seagram’s Escapes brand slogan, “Keep it colorful!”
Here, director Lin — and his DP Alexander Chinnici — talks about the project’s conception, shoot and post.
How early did you get involved? Did Valiant act as the creative agency on this spot?
Valiant has a long-standing history with the Seagram’s Escapes brand team, and we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to brainstorm a few ideas with them early on for their launch of Seagram’s Escapes Tropical Rosé with Chris Harrison. The creative concept was developed by Valiant’s in-house creative agency, headed by creative directors Nicole Zizila and Steven Zizila, and me. Seagram’s was very instrumental in the creative for the project, and we collaborated to make sure it felt fresh and new — like an elevated evolution of their “Keep It Colorful” campaign rather than a replacement.
Clearly, it’s meant to have a tropical vibe. Was it shot greenscreen?
We had considered doing this greenscreen, which would open up some interesting options, but also it would pose some challenges. What was important for this campaign creatively was to seamlessly take Chris Harrison to the magical world of Seagram’s Escapes Tropical Rosé. A practical approach was chosen so it didn’t feel too “out of this world,” and the live action still felt real and relatable. We had considered putting Chris in a tropical location — either in greenscreen or on location — but we really wanted to play to Chris’ personality and strengths and have him lead us to this world, rather than throw him into it. Plus, they didn’t sign off on letting us film in the Maldives. I tried (smiles).
What was the spot shot on?
Working with the very talented DP Alex Chinnici, he recommended shooting on the ARRI Alexa for many reasons. I’ll let Alex answer this one.
Alex Chinnici: Some DPs would likely answer with something sexier like, “I love the look!” But that is ignoring a lot of the technical realities available to us these days. A lot of these cameras are wonderful. I can manipulate the look, so I choose a camera based on other reasons. Without an on-set live, color-capable DIT, I had to rely on the default LUT seen on set and through post. The Alexa’s default LUT is my preference among the digital cameras. For lighting and everyone on the set, we start in a wonderful place right off the bat. Post houses also know it so well, along with colorists and VFX. Knowing our limitations and expecting not to be entirely involved, I prefer giving these departments the best image/file possible.
Inherently, the color, highlight retention and skin tone are wonderful right off the bat without having to bend over backward for anyone. With the Alexa, you end up being much closer to the end rather than having to jump through hoops to get there like you would with some other cameras. Lastly, the reliability is key. With the little time that we had, and a celebrity talent, I would never put a production through the risk of some new tech. Being in a studio, we had full control but still, I’d rather start in a place of success and only make it better from there.
What about the lenses?
Chinnici: I chose the Zeiss Master Primes for similar reasons. While sharp, they are not overbearing. With some mild filtration and very soft and controlled lighting, I can adjust that in other ways. Plus, I know that post will beautify anything that needs it; giving them a clean, sharp image (especially considering the seltzer can) is key.
I shot at a deeper stop to ensure that the lenses are even cleaner and sharper, although the Master Primes do hold up very well wide open. I also wanted the Seagram’s can to be in focus as much as possible and for us to be able to see the set behind Chris Harrison, as opposed to a very shallow depth of field. I also wanted to ensure little to no flares, solid contrast, sharpness across the field and no surprises.
Thanks Alex. Back to you Vincent. How did you work with Alex to get the right look?
There was a lot of back and forth between Alex and me, and we pulled references to discuss. Ultimately, we knew the two most important things were to highlight Chris Harrison and the product. We also knew we wanted the spot to feel like a progression from the brand’s previous work. We decided the best way to do this was to introduce some dimensionality by giving the set depth with lighting, while keeping a clean, polished and sophisticated aesthetic. We also introduced a bit of camera movement to further pull the audience in and to compose the shots it in a way that all the focus would be on Chris Harrison to bring us into that vibrant CG world.
How did you work with Nice Shoes colorist Chris Ryan to make sure the look stayed on point?
Nice Shoes is always one of our preferred partners, and Chris Ryan was perfect for the job. Our creatives, Nicole and Steven, had worked with him a number of times. As with all jobs, there are certain challenges and limitations, and we knew we had to work fast. Chris is not only detail oriented, creative and a wizard with color correction, but also able to work efficiently.
He worked on a FilmLight Baselight system off the Alexa raw files. The color grading really brought out the saturation to further reinforce the brand’s slogan, “Keep It Colorful,” but also to manage the highlights and whites so it felt inviting and bright throughout, but not at all sterile.
What about the VFX? Can you talk about how that was accomplished?
Much like the camera work, we wanted to continue giving dimensionality to the spot by having depth in each of our CG shots. Not only depth in space but also in movement and choreography. We wanted the CG world to feel full of life and vibrant in order to highlight key elements of the beverage — the flavors, dragonfruit and passionfruit — and give it a sense of motion that draws you in while making you believe there’s a world outside of it. We wanted the hero to shine in the center and the animation to play out as if a kaleidoscope or tornado was pulling you in closer and closer.
We sought the help of creative production studio Taylor James tto build the CG elements. We chose to work with a core of 3ds Max artists who could do a range of tasks using Autodesk 3ds Max and Chaos Group’s V-Ray (we also use Maya and Arnold). We used Foundry Nuke to composite all of the shots and integrate the CGI into the footage. The 3D asset creation, animation and lighting were constructed and rendered in Autodesk Maya, with compositing done in Adobe After Effects.
One of the biggest challenges was making sure the live action felt connected to the CG world, but with each still having its own personality. There is a modern and clean feel to these spots that we wanted to uphold while still making it feel fun and playful with colors and movement. There were definitely a few earlier versions that we went a bit crazy with and had to scale down a bit.
Does a lot of your work feature live action and visual effects combined?
I think of VFX like any film technique: It’s simply a tool for directors and creatives to use. The most essential thing is to understand the brand, if it’s a commercial, and to understand the story you are trying to tell. I’ve been fortunate to do a number of spots that involve live-action and VFX now, but truth be told, VFX almost always sneaks its way in these days.
Even if I do a practical effect, there are limitless possibilities in post production and VFX. Anything from simple cleanup to enhancing, compositing, set building and extending — it’s all possible. It’d be foolish not to consider it as a viable tool. Now, that’s not to say you should rely solely on VFX to fix problems, but if there’s a way it can improve your work, definitely use it. For this particular project, obviously, the CG was crucial to let us really be immersed in a magical world at the level of realism and proximity we desired.
Anything challenging about this spot that you’d like to share?
Chris Harrison was terrible to work with and refused to wear a shirt for some reason … I’m just kidding! Chris was one of the most professional, humblest and kindest celebrity talents that I’ve had the pleasure to work with. This wasn’t a simple endorsement for him; he actually did work closely with Seagram’s Escapes over several months to create and flavor-test the Tropical Rosé beverage.
Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years.