Hoka ONE ONE just released one of the most creative commercials this year:
The breathtaking composition was created using a combination of cinematic techniques rarely encountered on the big screen. Director Paul Trillo brought the lofty concept to life by pairing his experimental approach to green screen effects and his experience with aerial cinematography.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how the commercial was created.
A Nebulous Concept
Hoka ONE ONE had just released a new running shoe line, the Fly Collection. The shoes were designed to be lightweight and well-cushioned. They’re great for exercise, but versatile enough to wear anywhere. The Hoka ONE ONE team hired Joe Kaiser, from Kaiser Creative Agency to come up with a creative way to showcase these qualities.
Kaiser decided to go a non-conventional route for this project. He didn’t want a commercial that looked like every other sneaker ad. He wanted to communicate the feeling of wearing the shoes.
Kaiser stumbled upon Paul Trillo, an experimental director whose work often features cerebral, abstract representations of people. His short film, Salience, portrays enigmatic, invisible figures emerging from a forest.
[Still from Paul Trillo’s short film, Salience.]
Trillo has long been experimenting with various green screen techniques that diminished forms to minimalist representations. When he heard about the project, he was immediately interested. “I thought it had a nice tonal feeling, and my interests fit nicely with where Michael wanted to take the project.”
Kaiser and Trillo came up with the idea to create giant, semi-luminous cloud beings, running through the sky. The composition would give the audience a representation of that runner’s high: the feeling of transcendence as a runner loses himself in a long run.
To pull this off, the production team needed to film two layers. One layer would serve as the background plates. These would include shots of massive, stunning landscapes. Another would be filmed in a studio. Actors would have to run in front of a chroma green backdrop. The post-production team would then turn the actors into larger-than-life cloud people and layer them on top of the gorgeous backdrops.
A Setting of Magnitude
The production team started by filming the background plates. For their locations, they were looking for disparate terrains that were spatially close enough to pull off the shoot in just a few days. “It was important to us to give a sense of scale,” says Paul Trillo. “We needed to find a number of diverse locations that could accommodate these massive cloud people.”
After some research, they went with the most bio-diverse state in the country— and the one most accommodating to film sets. Mountains, deserts, beaches, and evergreen forests are all within two hours driving distance from downtown Los Angeles.
[Paul Trillo and Aerobo’s Drone Los Angeles Services Team on set in St. Gabriel Mountains]
Paul put together storyboards depicting the nebulous runners racing through the Dumont Dunes, through downtown LA, through the Sycamore Cove and through the San Gabriel Mountains. His storyboard featured the runners from various angles, moving through the skies of these scenic urban and rural places.
Paul knew that at least a portion of the commercial needed to be executed via drone, so his original storyboard called for a mix of stable, wide-angle shots and aerial footage. He had previously collaborated with the drone team at Aerobo and saw the capabilities of the Inspire 2 drone in the hands of experienced aerial cinematographers. Equipped with the X5s, the drone could capture cinema-grade footage while flying over 50 miles per hour.
[Looking up at Aerobo’s Inspire 2 Capturing Aerial Footage in Los Angeles]
Once Paul started filming, however, the storyboards went out the window. The rest of the creative team began to understand what the drones were capable of, and they started to make adjustments on the fly (😉). “As it clicked, the piece became much more dynamic,” says Paul. Flying cameras were tracking, chasing, and overtaking these massive cloud figures.
The aerial footage was so striking, they decided to film the entire commercial with drones.
A Lighter-Than-Air Subject
The second layer that the team had to shoot would determine the success of the project. Actors had to run in front of a green screen at a speed appropriate to what was captured by the drones. There had to be flawless continuity for the effect of the cloud people to be convincing.
First, the shoes and the feet of each actor couldn’t reveal any traces of impact. The actor had to be suspended from the ceiling as she ran in place in front of a green screen.
Next, to ensure that they got the speed just right, the team used a live composite of the two layers. This enabled them to see the actor running in real-time over the pre-filmed background plate.
Once they had their take, the team still wasn’t sure whether it was going to work. It took weeks of post-production work before they finally were confident that they pulled off a commercial about globe-trekking cloud people.
The Freedom to Run With It
While commercials don’t have the budget of a feature-length film, a dollar can go a long way in the short, 1-2 minute format. And creatives have much more room for experimentation in the ad space, where everyone is looking for any way to capture the audience of an increasingly disinterested crowd.
Leveraging the creative flexibility of the Hoka ONE ONE team, Paul Trillo was able to pull off a one-of-a-kind commercial showcasing his own talents and an excellent running shoe.