Working on the VACATION VS. STAYCATION Commercial: The Parallax Process
The process of making this commercial began back in June. I had a concept and knew I wanted to work with still photos for it. So, I began scouring photo stock sites to see how I would tell the story. I had come across the Parallax technique before and always loved it but I hadn’t seen it used in this type of continuous narrative way before.
*Note: my project only uses still photos. No video footage was used as the budget just couldn’t cover expensive stock video and also it’s kinda cheating. I’m not complaining that sites like Fixel are out there doing some cool things in very simple steps but I was po’ and couldn’t afford the footage and plus I was after something that didn’t look like everything else out there right now.
Anyway, I’m glad I stuck to it because the effect is subtle and looks beautiful when executed properly.
In a nutshell, here’s what it is: Parallax Wiki page
The problem was I couldn’t just script and storyboard this commercial the old fashion way, I needed photos that already existed, and they needed to be able work in the optimum way for the parallax process to work. That meant the illusion of depth of field and interesting elements within every photo had to be there. My hunt for the right photographs took about a month to curate.
After I assembled shots that I liked, I put together a rough storyboard/ script which changed a bit as I went. I have always written my scripts before anything else that I do in a project but in this case the story I had in mind was entirely dependent on what images I found on stock sites and what kind of licensing they had attached. So once I found some cool ones I thought could be the centerpieces, I was able to settle on a narrative and select more photos from there.
So, I had done this before in my final semester at school, just last year and knew how long this would take. which is why I didn’t want to do any photos I couldn’t actually use later but I still had to scrap two of them in the end.
Oh the bloody sadness of the cutting room floor. 🙁
Once my plan was established I began the preparation process. The first step was separating subjects from their photos – so I could piece them all back together in the After Effects stage later. Let’s just say this took some time and since it was “brainless” work, I watched two entire TV series as I did this project (Gilmore Girls- again, and Breaking Bad).
I also did this after a full work day on most nights, so I deserved a little entertainment too. This photoshop stage took about a month (roughly 35 hours: I had 22 photos to do!) I’ll use one of the more intense pics as my main example here. I call this one “Zen Mom”.
I took this bad boy into Photoshop and began painting away the subjects and filling the background in behind them.
Once I had completed this process for all of the photos, I then moved on to the next step of “cutting out my subjects” ( I did test it out on a few first, don’t be crazy). I chose to do this in After Effects as well as I thought the roto brush would be my best bet. The roto brush is great at picking up soft edges and wisps of hair, making your matte look natural and less ‘cut out’. It seems like it would be faster than using the pen tool but it kind of works out to be the same amount of time.
There can be quite a bit of correction to the roto process. One big hurdle was to be surmounted though… I didn’t have the laptop power to run this processor-intensive tool on simultaneous layers for each file. So after much troubleshooting I settled on exporting every ‘cutout’ into .PNGs and brought them in as if they were jigsaw puzzle pieces. This was much easier on my weeny laptop and I could continue watching Breaking Bad using my laptop too – WHEEEE!
So, once all the preliminary work was complete I could do the fun part – animate! The series watching had to stop as working with After Effects cameras and the X,Y & Z’s of space requires “THE MATH” and for me that requires a little more concentration. All in all, this stage went smoothly. I had some hiccups of course. Animating every candle flame in the Spa scene was a timely mother but it worked out OK….
I got these little buggers to dance!
Once all of my animation was complete, I brought in every moving photo into Premiere Pro and finished her off with some nice text additions and borrowed music (a temporary Danny Elfman track).
And there you have it.
Here’s the final product. Hope you like it….
Web promo spot – Vacation vs Staycation
*Note: Take this puppy into FULL SCREEN mode