When you’re attempting to visualise the spirit of the trailblazing electric car company helmed by the real life Tony Stark, picturesque shots of high speed driving through mountain roads aren’t quite gonna cut it. Director Krzysztof Komander and Cinematographer Piotr Dudak tell DN how they went beyond the typical and instead deployed an abstract conceptualisation of the ethos of Tesla in their visually impressive, CGI-free spec commercial.
This feels pretty removed from the typical car ad, what were the underlying concepts you wanted to convey in this abstract spot?
Krzysztof Komander: The whole idea for this Tesla project is based on a dynamic creation of two separate electric worlds that have opposite shapes and colors, so that later they could be combined and in consequence create a third world that is represented by the advertised car with an electric engine. In order to separate these two initial realms, right from the beginning the geometry constructed from the light installation was one of the crucial elements for me. These differences in geometry were creating opposition between the two worlds.
I wanted the worlds to give the impression of being natural despite their abstract character.
My next aim was to avoid computer generated solutions like CGI. I wanted the worlds to give the impression of being natural despite their abstract character. To achieve this goal, a complex set was built in the former TV studio in Cracow. Each fragment of the set was assigned a different role. All sharp and straight angles belonged to one world, while all the round ones belonged to the other. Then I used the actors to become symbolic guides, an embodiment of these two presented spheres. It was their meeting that clashed those orders with one another.
When it comes to the narrative, from the beginning I decided to build a mystery, then to present both orders just to confront them after a moment in a dramatic form. This allowed me to build a climax when everything slows down and right in front of us – with the use of electric rays – a new order is shaped, which is embodied by Tesla.
How did those intentions shape the film’s preparation?
KK: During the pre-production the biggest issue came with the conversations concerning abstraction. It’s very difficult to communicate things that are hidden deep in mind and it’s difficult to check if the rest of the crew truly understands the concept in the same way, while arranging the visual side of the film. We worked on a non-existent matter and no pictures or storyboards could give 100% certainty that everything would work out or would look exactly the way I wanted it to. Fortunately, the time we used for documentation, discussions and arrangements wasn’t wasted and everything was prepared just as we imagined it as a team.
On first watch I presumed this was a CGI heavy piece but as you’ve mentioned that wasn’t the case. How did you guys capture those shots on set?
Piotr Dudak: The film was shot using the Red Weapon camera, with Cooke Anamorphic /i Prime lenses. We recorded compressed RAW along with ProRes proxy. The 6K sensor delivers an enormous resolution and it made the post-production very flexible. Most of the shots were captured at 100 frames per second, and some of them (i.e. the one including the grinder, to catch some flying sparks) required 200 fps.
The light setups I used in order to achieve the unique look I desired, were not very complicated. The base of all the scenes was practical lights. I would then add some area lights from the same angle to increase the effect. Since the background was usually black, I needed to somehow separate the actors from the darkness behind them. So, I would always give them a nice counter light. I never used fill light, because I felt like it would be very unnatural, considering the fact that the location in the film is an unspecified black area. Therefore the light naturally has nothing to bounce of.
It’s very difficult to communicate things that are hidden deep in mind.
KK: Shooting was more of an execution of the previously planned shots. There was little space for improvisation because the carefully designed set limited additional motions. However, it was the precision, that together with Piotr, we wanted to achieve from the very beginning.
How difficult was it to then tie that altogether in post?
PD: The most demanding stage of making the commercial was post-production. It took a couple months before me and Krzysztof were fully content with the outcome. We decided not to use any CGI whatsoever. There are only two shots to the entire film that were made on the blue screen, just because we couldn’t afford any other way to achieve the effect. Apart from that, all the other funky symmetric compositions were made by shooting different light installations on set, and layering them on top of each other in post.
KK: Post-production was indeed the most difficult part of the whole project. In this particular case, we decided to work by ourselves without using an additional editor or a person who would be responsible for special effects. This decision was dictated by our very strong conviction of what we wanted to do and we needed full control over this process. The abstract, red shapes, anticipating the energy associated with the Tesla were achieved by capturing the light installations built on set. Then, the shots were scaled, rotated, and moved around the frame. Some of them were also sped up. There were up to 16 layers of them blended all together. Finally, in a couple moments we chose the effects which were based on the material that we had shot. What’s most interesting and satisfying, we managed to achieve exactly the result we imagined.