Behind the Scenes: Rating Lab
The last few weeks I’ve had the pleasure to direct a new commercial for the Dutch rating system for movies, television and games, called Kijkwijzer. It’s basically a system that gives parents the usual age recommendation (AL for all ages, 6, 12 and 16), accompanied with a selection of nifty pictograms for Violence, Fear, Sex, Discrimination, Drugs Abuse and Strong Language.
In the past, our production company has made four other commercials for Kijkwijzer. Most of these were 2D animated by yours truly, using original designs by illustrator Shamrock as a starting point.
Here’s how one of those looked:
One of the commercials was shot live action on 16mm film to communicate the slogan “Sometimes watching can be harmful.” Ironically enough, a few TV channels boycotted the final product for being too “anti-television” and it was never aired. It’s probably the first time a rating system was censored, and it will probably be the last…
A couple of months ago, Nicam (the institute behind Kijkwijzer) and Paul Verstraeten Communicatie contacted us again. This time, they wanted to introduce a new age classification to fill the gap between 6 and 12. Following their briefing, I wrote a script featuring a cartoony laboratory where a team of Kijkwijzer scientists literally stumble upon the number 9. The script was originally intended to be done as animation, but we ended up producing it live action instead, with real lab people having a giant eyeball (Kijkwijzer’s brand symbol) for a head.
We took this as an ideal opportunity to shoot with the state-of-the-art RED camera, currently used for features as diverse as Jumper, Angels & Demons, Knowing and Soderbergh’s upcoming The Girlfriend Experience. Not an ideal opportunity in the sense that it would provide us with a razorsharp digital picture (on the contrary: I aimed for a grainy, Nordic look along the lines of Roy Andersson’s deadpan comedy You, The Living), but because this particular effects-heavy project could seriously benefit from the creative freedom that 4K of image resolution allows.
You see, our final product was always going to be broadcast in standard definition. The RED One, however, shoots four times HD. That’s four (4!!!) times the resolution of a Blu-ray disc, thank you very much. In short, that meant we’d be able to frame everything in static mastershots – the ideal condition for visual effects – and still have the possibility to zoom in and out, crop and fool around with each take in post-production, making it all look like it was shot “from the hip,” so to speak.
It took some time to scout the right location. We found that the majority of laboratories looked too cluttered, modern or impersonal for our purpose. I wanted something a little more simple, cosy and stereotypical: how a child would imagine a laboratory, yet still remaining an air of realism. In the end we discovered a showroom for lab products that was perfect for the job. We filled it with lots of props: test tubes filled with colored fluids, microscopes, medicine bottles, an X-ray lightbox, brown plastic coffee cups, an old-school beige computer, etc.
To cut costs, we used colleagues as extras, myself included. (Note to inexperienced filmmakers: never direct your own boss!) All of us wore ridiculous-looking bathing caps with crosses drawn on them for optimal motion-tracking. Below you can see my oldest son as a guinea pig of one of the scientists. I’m the scientist entering through the door and falling through a hole in the floor. (In reality, I fell to my knees on the gaffer’s sand bag; I still have the bruises to prove it.) Needless to say, we had quite a laugh that day.
Post-production lasted about 9 days. Most of this time was spent in-house in Amsterdam, with After Effects as compositing software. We added the eyeballs digitally, as well as hand-held camera movement, tilts, crash zooms and a generous amount of grain. We even put floating bubbles in the test tubes and keyed in steam above a moving coffee cup. Sound design was done at REC Sound and involved another excellent voice performance by Bram van der Vlugt, an eminence grisein the Dutch theatre world.
Well… enough words. Have a look and see the end result for yourself: