- Friday, Nov. 12, 2004
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Troublesome whistling that turns into sweet harmony, sound design that evokes theme park thrills, and a graceful, subtly uplifting score describe the top three picks for SHOOT's Fall Music and Sound Design Top 10 chart: Holiday Inn's "The Noses," Nike/Nikegrid iron.com's "The Michael Vick Experience" and Sharp Aquos' "More to See."
SHOOT spoke to the composers, sound designers, creatives and audio mixers who worked on these striking spots' soundtracks to find out more about the creative process behind them.
Elegant, pop-inflected chamber music underscores the images—and central idea—in Sharp Aquos' "More to See," directed by Philippe Andre of bicoastal Villains, out of Wieden+ Kennedy (W+K), New York. The spot starts off with a man opening a garage door to reveal the outside world. A reverse close-up reveals that he inexplicably has his eyes closed. A series of shots follow, which show regular people engaged in everyday activities—a woman applying lipstick, people walking along a busy city sidewalk, a person jogging, a man cooking pasta, students in a classroom, etc. The catch—each person goes about his or her respective activity with eyes closed. At the end of the ad, we see a young woman sitting quietly in front of a painting who opens her eyes. Cut to a shot of a flat screen TV and a voiceover declaring, "The Sharp Aquos liquid crystal television. Suddenly there's more to see." The spot's stately score features piano, mellotron and cello.
"There's this whimsical nature to the spot," says Andy Carrigan, the W+K copywriter on the ad. "There's a sort of child-like innocence to the idea of a world with new possibilities. We wanted to keep [the music] light and not too heavy-handed."
W+K turned to bicoastal Elias Arts, a music house that has worked on several noted campaigns for W+K, in particular for Nike out of the Portland, Ore. office of the shop. According to Carrigan, the music house presented a few different tracks, but one by owner/creative director/composer Jonathan Elias stood out. "It was far and away more right than the others," Carrigan says.
"They wanted something that would be an artistic statement because the commercial is simple and artistic," explains Elias, who came aboard the project at the last minute.
Elias notes that W+K's musical directions were general, but that the agency was familiar with his work, including his latest album, American River. "They wanted something in that world of music," he says.
"I thought the score was very interesting because it built a little bit toward the end of the spot, but the music didn't take away from the idea that it's up to the viewer to open their eyes and see," says Philip Loeb of Sound Lounge, New York, who mixed the ad. Others might have opted to come up with music that had a grand climax, but "instead they relied on a really good cut to carry it—the music definitely was the backbone of the cut," he adds.
"When you hear amazing music, you realize it's most of the spot sometimes," remarks Carrigan. "The music definitely helped close [the spot] and take it to another level."
Effective sound design turns up the excitement in Nike/Nikegridiron.com's "The Michael Vick Experience," helmed by Ulf Johansson of Smith and Jones Films, Los Angeles, through W+K, Portland. The spot features an amusement park attraction that bears the name of the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, where teenagers wait in line to play the role of virtual QB. The camera follows one kid who has reached the front of the line. The attendants outfit him with a football helmet and Nike Michael Vick sneakers as he climbs onto a seat that's connected to an overhead track.
The seat carries the fired-up kid into a dark tunnel. His enthusiasm wanes as inside the tunnel a series of Michael Vick holograms offer ominous-sounding advice. Suddenly, the accidental quarterback emerges from the darkness to find himself on a football field, experiencing a play as Vick. As the crowd roars, he receives the hike and is pulled to and fro on his seat as huge players pursue him. Terrified—but screaming with excitement—he moves toward the end zone. After being hit by one player, he back flips into the end zone for a touchdown. The Vick hologram reappears and in deadpan fashion says to the kid, "That's not in the playbook, but it should be." The spot's frantic sound design makes the viewer feel totally in the shoes of the kid on the ride, and evokes the adrenaline rush that one gets on a roller coaster.
W+K copywriter Derek Barnes says he wanted the ride to "feel like a combination of the most exciting play you've ever seen and the most exciting roller coaster you could imagine being on." He points out that the ad's audio track includes crowd noise, an announcer calling the game, hits on the field and other sounds. "Our talent did such a great job of conveying sheer terror through his screaming that that too had a prominent place in the spot," adds Barnes, who notes that a proper balance between the kid's screams and all the sounds around him was crucial, and "it became a juggling job between those two elements."
Ren Klyce and Malcolm Fife of Mit Out Sound/M.O.S., Sausalito, Calif., who created the sound design, brought the ad's hero into the studio to lay down some parts. Klyce shares how he got just the right scream out of the kid: "I ended up going into the control room. We were [scoring] to picture and as he screamed, I grabbed him and threw him up into the air to get his voice to squelch like he's actually being impacted," he reports, laughing.
Klyce says it was challenging to get the various audio elements to work together. "It's easy to have each one of these elements on its own, but when you combine them—because of the limited space television creates—it's very easy to have a canceling effect where you don't hear any one thing clearly," he explains. "You just hear noise. That was one of the hardest things to achieve."
Jeff Payne of Eleven, Santa Monica, did the audio mix on "The Michael Vick Experience." "The challenge was to make you feel like you're on the ride," Payne says. "There really was no music, so you wanted the spot to be driven by the sound."
Barnes, who has high praise for Klyce and Payne, comments, "More than anything, [the sound design] really humanized the spot. You walked away remembering the kid and what an emotional roller coaster he went through. We didn't lose the kid in all of it."
The humorous, fairy tale-like vibe of Holiday Inn's "The Noses," directed by Noam Murro of Biscuit Filmworks, Los Angeles, via Fallon, Minneapolis, is brought to life by the ad's nicely balanced blend of sound design and well-deployed instruments. The ad features a family with absurdly large noses, and to top off that indignity, their schnozes make uncontrollable whistling sounds at inconvenient moments. The quirky ad depicts each family member in a situation where their honkers cause them difficulties. For instance, great-grandfather Jasper is shown in a foxhole during World War I. The whistling from his nose causes his fellow troops to dive for cover, thinking an air raid is in progress. In another scene, a young woman thinks one member of the nose clan is whistling at her, when in fact he is simply breathing. But the ad becomes upbeat when the family gathers for a reunion at a Holiday Inn. It turns out that when they breathe in unison, their noses harmonize to make beautiful music together.
"I think—and Noam Murro said the same thing—the music almost is the spot," says Todd Riddle, creative group head/art director at Fallon. "It's a story about a family being alone, and when they're alone, their sounds are useless and not helpful in their life, but when they're together, they're part of a bigger thing. [The music] had to feel warm, uplifting."
According to Riddle, the visuals aren't the main storyteller in "The Noses." "We didn't turn any corner that way," he says. "Music is doing all the lifting in the spot."
Six composers at Human, New York—Andy Bloch, Gareth Williams, Morgan Visconti, Lindsay Jehan, Sloan Alexander and Gordon Minette—as well as sound designer Kim Christensen of Noises Digital, Berkeley, Calif., collaborated to create the spot's soundtrack. Riddle says that there was a great deal of back-and-forth between Human, Christensen and Fallon. "It [took] a lot of trial and error and tremendous stamina and good naturedness from Human and Kim," he relates. "We pushed them to the brink and then back again a few times."
Rohan Young of Lime Studios, Santa Monica, mixed the commercial. "I thought the sound design was just right," he says. "There were a couple of details we worked on through the mix, like how to get the harmonies at the end to merge with the end music, and placing the whistles in the proper environments."
Christensen says the agency didn't want the sounds coming out of the noses to be musical. "They wanted it to sound like it actually could come from the noses," he recounts. Christensen ended up employing musical instruments—but in unconventional ways—to create the basic sounds of the noses.
Bloch, Human's lead composer on the project, says that composer Visconti did the bulk of the work on the project. "There were actually two parts to the job," notes Visconti. "There's the main music bed—the spot had an old European vibe to it, so we tried to go for something very organic and a little bit off the wall. We used accordion, piano and a dulcimer toward the end, and also a couple of flutes playing the melody. And then the back half of the spot is where all the noses come together. At the end, we had to come up with a piece of music that they all play when they come together."
At this point, Human brought in ace session player David Weiss. "He has every flute known to man," says Bloch. "We ended up doing an ocarina quintet so it transitions seamlessly from nose whistle to nose [music]. Weiss played one ocarina with his nose—but played it very musically."b