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Luma Promotes Nike Basketball in First CG Spots

In its first-ever ad project, Luma Pictures teamed with Wieden & Kennedy and Notorious 24:7 director/vfx artist Brent Bonacorso to create a new series of spots for Nike that compare NBA players to some of the most fearsome forces of nature. Luma, best known for its movie vfx for UNDERWORLD and SKY CAPTAIN, created a series of surreal CG environments, seamlessly melding images of the Serengeti, the Brazilian rain forest and other natural environments with a pro basketball court.

The six spots (LION, FROG, FIRE, TORNADO, EAGLE and PIRANHA) will air throughout the NBA playoffs and will promote Nike Basketball and nikebasketball.com by drawing dramatic comparisons between the skills of basketballs biggest stars and deadly natural phenomena. LION compares a lion stalking prey with the aggressive play of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James. FIRE relates a forest fire to Rasheed Wallace of the Detroit Pistons, saying: The worst thing you can do is give him room to breathe.

In each spot, elements of the natural world and the basketball court coexist in the same environment. As a result, after coursing around a tree, the flames in FIRE suddenly run along a wooden floor and head toward a basket. As the fire rises to the hoop, it transforms into Wallace, who completes a vicious slam-dunk.

The stunning intermingling of basketball and natural worlds was not part of the spots original concept, according to Notorious 24:7 exec producer Jay Boccia. They were initially intended to be produced wholly out of stock footage with Brent Bonacorso applying unique treatments to the imagery in the compositing phase, Boccia recalled. But as we moved through production, the idea evolved. The final execution mixes Brents unique application of post techniques with Lumas exceptionally strong CG skills. The blend enhanced the concept threefold.

In the end, very little stock material of the animals were used. Bonacorso shot original elements of a frog and an eagle on HD; other elements, including a tornado, were produced wholly as 3D. Similarly, the environments were largely CG creations. Luma built the basketball court as a 3D environment, texturing it with elements drawn from still photographs of a practical location taken by photographer Derek Gardner.

As it became apparent that appropriate stock material was lacking, we realized that we would have to produce more and more CG elements, explained Luma Pictures visual effects supervisor Payam Shohadai. Ultimately, three of the six spots became entirely CG, except for the footage of the NBA players. Primary 3D elements created and animated by Luma for the spots included tornados, fire, piranhas, plants and vegetation, as well as supporting elements such as minutia, water bubbles and debris.

Luma had just two weeks to turnaround the first two spots, FROG and LION. It then had to complete two more spots in each of the following two weeks. That would have been a daunting task for the average boutique vendor serving the commercial market, but Luma, with a staff of 40 and a production pipeline geared for film work, was able to allocate sufficient resources to complete the task.

It was an extremely short schedule, even for the commercial world, for what were very visual effects intensive spots, said Shohadai. To create a realistic tornado effect in just two weeks was a monumental task. With six spots to complete, we were forced to deviate from our usual, structured pipeline, and revert to a more malleable renegade crew approach. Boccia concurred, saying a project of this scope would normally require six months to complete.

Even so, the Luma team found the project a welcome contrast to the task of creating 3D creatures and sets for mainstream movies. Commercials present a creative challenge different from films; the work is typically more design intensive. That, and the short time frame, makes commercial work exciting, said Shohadai.

Luma credits include:* VFX supervisor Payam Shohadai* Lead Vfx artists Justin Johnson, H. Haden Hammond and Christopher Sage

Santa Monica, California-based Luma Pictures (www.luma-pictures.com) recently completed vfx for CRASH and THE CAVE and is working on UNDERWORLD II.

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