Pretend It Like Beckham


Nothing Is Impossible

The impossible often has a kind of integrity which the merely improbable lacks.

- Douglas Adams

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Adidas 'Impossible Field'
Agency 180 Amsterdam
Creative Director Dean Maryon
Executive Creative Director Andy Fackrell
Agency Producer Tony Stearns
Copywriter Benjamin Abramowitz
Production Company Kleinman Productions
Production Company Producer Johnnie Frankel
Director Daniel Kleinman
Production Manager James Hatcher
Production Designer John Ebden
Editor Steve Gandolfi
Post Production Framestore CFC

If you had to find a new way to represent the raw energy, the elemental skills, and the essence of the combat that takes place on a soccer field, how would you go about it?  How about removing the ground altogether, leaving only the lines that define the playing area?  Then recreate these lines as metallic rails suspended in a dark but spotlit space.  Then have a set of top players demonstrating their extreme talents whilst running and jumping along these rails.  If all this sounds a bit - well - impossible, then you'll also need a first class visual effects team to get it on screen.

Cue Framestore CFC.  Impossible Field is the new 60-second spot for Adidas, which started airing in the UK on 1st July 2005.

With the camera moving above and below it, the steel grid is revealed under spotlights.  Nets unfurl, and players jog onto the "impossible" field.  Six international stars – Beckham among them - line up against a horde of red-clad opponents.  This doesn't appear to be a fair fight - kick-off sees the silver football launched across the spaces between the lines and players charge along the perilously narrow rails.  The heroes duck, weave and leap past their opponents, leaving a wake of players plunging into darkness behind them.  Sparks fly from studs, as the stars perform a series of stunts that look more like they belong in a kung-fu film than on a football field.  With a final mid-air flourish, the ball is belted with such force that it drives the goalkeeper back into the net, which is sent flying back down into the darkness.  The tag, "Impossible is Nothing" appears followed by the Adidas logo.

VFX Supervisor William Bartlett oversaw the project for Framestore CFC. "We started work around Christmas 2004," he recalls.  "This was one job where getting the previs right was absolutely crucial.  With several different sets to shoot on, limited time available from the stars, and a series of very precise shots to capture, the shoot had to be set up as perfectly as possible."  Senior Inferno Artists Avtar Bains and Stephane Allender created the previs – essentially a series of stickmen figures performing the planned moves – that gave Bartlett and Kleinman the information they needed to plan their shoot.

The shoot itself took place over 7 days in a large studio in Madrid.  The entire space was painted blue to save manœuvring blue screens around different setups.  There were several sets.  "The beams on which the players ran were wooden – we replaced them in post," explained Bartlett.  "We had floor sets with a beam running along with the floor on one side and a drop on the other with crash mats.  Then we had a beam 2 metres in the air with a drop on both sides and another beam 4 metres in the air: the circular one with bits we could move in and out.  Finally, we had a high beam 7 metres in the air."

Each star was allocated 6 shots, planned down to the last move.  Says Bartlett, "These guys have schedules you wouldn't believe, so when they turned up we had to be ready to go.  We had set the camera's positions on the set, marks on the floor, and we knew exactly what camera shots we wanted.  With Beckham, for example, we finished in 2 hours - actually early.  Appearances notwithstanding, none of the star players was in the studio at the same time as any others."

Bartlett's post work in Inferno took 9 weeks.  "It was longer then you might expect for a 60-second spot," he said.  "But then Impossible Field contains nearly 100 shots – perhaps double what you'd normally see in this sort of commercial.  It's great, actually, because it repays multiple viewings – you keep noticing new things each time."

Although essentially a 2D job, Bartlett turned to the Framestore CFC 3D team for a few crucial components.  "The ball in some shots, the beams – which we crafted quite carefully to look like slightly scuffed steel, the net in the final shots, and the studs on many of the players feet; these were all 3D elements."

The agency mood boards had referenced Crouching Tiger and Kill Bill, and these are certainly present in the final spot.  But the set, the design, the shots, the edit and – casting modesty aside for a moment – the visual effects deserve equal billing with the action in Impossible Field, surely the most thrilling spot to appear this year.  Dean Maryon, 180’s Creative Director and Art Director for the project, was delighted with the results.  "It's a very unforgiving idea," he notes.  "Up to the last few days we weren’t sure if we could pull it off.  But Framestore CFC did an amazing job.  You totally believe the environment and the physics of what you’re seeing – which is the key to the whole experience."


A More Amusing Approach to Soccer...

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