DC Skateboarding x Agency, Already Been Chewed, talk the making of the Evan Smith commercial; It really has “a sole of its own”
Once in a while, a commercial comes along that actually makes you pay attention. Maybe it has a catchy soundtrack (sometimes too catchy). Other times, it’s the clever dialogue that pulls you away from your phone for more than two seconds to pay attention to the outside world. Dallas, Texas, Motion design studio Already Been Chewed (ABC) collaborated with DC and Evan Smith in creating the new commercial, titled "DC SHOES: The Evan Smith Signature Shoe with IMPACT-I Technology,” and so far it seems to be having that effect with those who’ve seen it. The spot highlights Smith’s signature shoe, which features a low profile silhouette with Super Suede, rubber toe cap, vulcanized sole, and technology that fuses “board feel” with impact protection.
ABC is known for their creative design and graphics that take things to the next level. That's part of the reason DC asked the agency to come on board and produce their commercial. Originally birthed by Smith, and brought into fruition by DC's creative team in partnership with ABC, the commercial tells the story of DC's Evan Smith Signature shoe, taking down its competitors with "a sole of its own."
Transworld Business chatted with ABC Founder and Head of Creative Barton Damer, Global Creative Director at DC Shoes Deven Stephens, and lead videographer at DC Shoes Chris Ray, to discuss all aspects of the collaboration: conceptualization, struggles and success within the project, and of course, the finished product.
First of all, I love the commercial. The concept is so creative and out of the box, and you can tell the guys had a great time filming. I think you were right when you said people will ask, "How did you do this?" because I'm wondering myself. Can you tell me a little bit about the process that went into making this commercial?
Chris Ray: Evan Smith came to DC with the idea of wanting to do this. He was really passionate and excited to make this commercial happen. I know Evan’s goal was to bring some comedy to DC like they had with Rob and Big Black in the DC video. I know we all looked at him like he was a little crazy, but we all wanted it to happen because his passion was running so high. Deven [Stephens] sat down with Evan and started to storyboard the whole idea. DC has the best internal films department so we knew we could pull it off.
I had just done a project with Flying Strangers featuring ABC, so I recommended them for the motion graphics part. I was stoked because this was my first project that was almost a “Mini Movie.”
How did ABC and DC come up with the initial concept that led up to this commercial?
Barton Damer: The concept was originally birthed from Evan Smith's imagination and then DC's creative team developed it further for production. When we were first approached with the concept, there were a lot of unknown's as far as the shoe monster production was concerned. We originally approached the spot as a full 3D concept for the shoe that would be motion-tracked, composited, and animated into video footage from the shoot.
But after working with DC's Creative Director Deven Stephens to brainstorm the creative in further detail, we pitched the idea of doing it more like an Alfred Hitchcock style film, and even used Little Shop of Horrors as inspiration. We looked at concepts using long shadows, black and white footage, and lots of mystery to let the imagination create the intensity of the violent Evan Smith shoe – turned monster.
Deven Stephens: The concept of a shoe coming to life and eating a bunch of other shoes was an idea Evan came up with. It’s my understanding he was with some friends, including at one point DC’s team manager Jimmy Astleford. I can only imagine how heavy the creative juices were flowing. The idea was later brought to me to see if DC wanted to do it. Evan was super excited about the concept and we at DC value our athletes, their ideas, and opinions, so even if the idea couldn’t work I was going to at very least give it a chance. At first, I was apprehensive because my biggest concerns were:
1. How the actual animation style would be rendered. The premise for this concept would either be amazing or terrible, contingent on the execution of the animation itself. We would need a great partner.
2. How we would integrate the IMPACT-I sole technology (DC’s newest impact protection sole technology) without it feeling forced into the story.
3. What was the full story behind the shoe coming to life going to be? We had a funny concept to start off with, but how do we fill in the blanks to make everything work together and tell a complete and engaging story?
4. We had a budget that we needed to stay within and the production for this concept could potentially be very costly.
Enter ABC. ABC has a great track record for excellent animation skills and motion graphics work. They have also done a lot of work in, and outside, the industry and we felt like they could be a great asset to this project. As expected they brought some good ideas to the table that were influential to the overall creative process for us at DC. It was clear to me though that we needed to come up with a clever way to bring the shoe to life through less literal means then a realistic live looking animal shoe. Using shadows was the perfect solution. Under this direction the shoe coming to life would be much more abstract and implied leaving something to the imagination and allowing the viewer to fill in some blanks. I put together a storyboard that included all of these ideas and presented it to Evan. From there Evan and I polished the boards and included the dialogue he wanted each of the characters to say.
You said that you modeled the shoe in 3D and then animated it into a monster silhouette to be projected on the wall. Can you give me details on the process that went into creating the animation?
BD: Our first step was to create a 3D model of the Evan Smith shoe that we could use as the basis for the monster. We also used this 3d model to create some of the visual effects outlining the shoe as it flickered on and off the shelf highlighting the technology in the sole. We then took the 3d model of the shoe and began modifying it into a fully animated shoe that could open it's mouth and extend fangs from the cones within the sole of the shoe.
The final animated shoe attacking everything was rendered out to look like a shadow was being cast on the wall from the flashlight of your favorite skaters favorite security guard (Wes Kramer). The animated shadow of the beast was then projected onto the wall with a laptop and portable projector so that everything would be in-camera during the shoot.
DS: This is really where ABC became the perfect partner for us. They did an excellent job breathing life into the project through both CG means, when I wanted to highlight the technology, and also through interpreting the animation of the shoe through the cast shadow concept. They made this process easy and executed our plan wonderfully.
Where are you pushing the commercial? You mentioned it's being featured on the front page of The Berrics, Thrasher, The Skateboard Mag, The Ride Channel, Hellaclips, and Transworld Skateboarding, but do you have more plans for it?
DeFY New York
No additional plans as of right now.
Why was it important to incorporate the athletes in this commercial?
DS: It was important to Evan to have some cameos from his friends and to get back to some of that fun DC video type of skit vibe that we have been known for before. I too felt it was a good opportunity to highlight a portion of our incredible skate team in a way that felt natural and without pressure. These guys skate and hang out all the time together, and there’s already a level of comfort there, so this was all second nature to them. I think kids appreciate that authenticity. Because we all know that skateboarders aren't always actors, instead of fighting against that, we embraced it fully which gave the commercial a relatable, not so serious, charm. Sprinkle that in with a location as iconic and authentic to skateboarding (as well as DC roots) as Pacific Drive in San Diego and you have yourself some healthy ingredients.
I think kids appreciate that authenticity. Because we all know that skateboarders aren't always actors, instead of fighting against that, we embraced it fully which gave the commercial a relatable, not so serious, charm.
CR: Evan is really close with Wes, Cyril and T-Funk. He really wanted those guys to be a part of it. It worked out perfect because those are the guys you could see playing those roles. Wes really blew us all away with how into he was playing the Security Guard. I wish he could win some award for his role.
What were some of the challenges in bringing the idea to life?
BD: One of the concerns in creating a spot like this was over-producing it. So while the fully 3D version of the shoe monster is super cool, it wasn't really the right vibe for Evan or this campaign. We decided to focus on shooting everything in-camera with DC's film crew (Chris Ray, Martin Forbes, Sam Sosnowski, and EJ Binns). Another question going into the shoot was whether or not the intensity of the scene would come to life through the projections on the wall or not? There's definitely an art to creating a (violent scene) like this without over-producing every aspect of the visual effects. So it was a challenge to restrain ourselves – from a 3d motion graphics perspective – but DC's team did an amazing job with the final edit and sound effects to create the energy it required.
CR: I’d say acting and making sure the whole thing made sense at the end. It’s scary anytime you get skaters to act. We all know this. It was crazy, because I think we pulled it off. The ending title sequence with the skaters names was never planned in the storyboard, but when we added that it really showed these guys were just having fun. Another huge concern was making sure Evan was happy. He’s super passionate and likes to be very involved. We didn’t want to let him down.
Do you think that restraint resonates with skaters better than if you had gone with a fully 3D animated monster?
BD: To a certain degree. Yes. Typically you have to be real careful with big productions in skateboarding. Decades ago, Powell Peralta was doing big productions for their videos (which were amazing) but then H-Street releases Hokus Pokus as all handy-cam footage and revolutionizes skateboard videos. So this approach to the Evan Smith video blends a bit of both worlds. Creating and animating the monster is a pretty intense workflow but by projecting it on the wall and shooting it all in-camera, you get a sense of authenticity to the spot without making it feel like too "3D". I do think skateboarding is starting to open up to a lot more 3d work. In the past, I think everyone assumed 3d meant Sports Center graphics but in the last few years, we've had the opportunity to do some really cool projects with various skate brands who are beginning to invest more into marketing and advertising for digital mediums.
CR: I think it’s awesome to skaters because it’s not something you see often in skate videos. A question we get a lot is “How did you do that?” I think it also made this project look like a bigger budget, but at the end of the day we’re still a bunch of skaters.
DS: You can make anything awesome with proper ideas, planning or money but yes I believe this idea was always going to be best received through restraint.
Already Been Chewed (ABC) is a design and motion graphics studio that has had great success connecting large brands to core markets. Having designed for brands including: Nike, Nixon, Facebook, DC Shoes, LRG Clothing, Street League Skateboarding, Malibu Boats and Supra Footwear; ABC has proven to be a fresh source of creativity in partnering with clients, agencies, and other post production studios to provide relevant solutions that connect with popular culture. Star Wars, Lil Wayne, Rob Dyrdek, Owl City, Rhianna, Desean Jackson, Wolfmother, Lecrae and Toby Mac are some of the pop icons that ABC has created media for over the years. ABC has in-depth experience designing for broadcast television, creating show openers and spots ranging from concept to completion, which have aired on ESPN, FOX Sports, CBS Sports, The History Channel, MTV, NBC, and CBS. ABC has partnered with many non-profit organizations to create compelling content for meaningful causes around the globe including: Malaria No More, Sevenly.org, Lifeway, Catalyst, Pray For Hope, Story Conference, King Kulture and Igniter Media.