Guilala: American Commercial Spokesman
Making the New TV Commercial Starring THE X FROM OUTER SPACE
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Fallon Minneapolis, Method Studios, Shochiku Co., Ltd.
“Little Creatures” Commercial and Interview Videos Courtesy of Fallon Minneapolis
FX Outtake Videos Courtesy of Method Studios
Special Thanks to Nikki Meirath, Andy Boyd, Aki Harimoto, Floyd Raymer, and James Ballard
A SciFi JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
In late 2008, the Fallon Worldwide ad agency began work on their second campaign for TheLadders.com, a premium job search website created exclusively for qualified high level talent looking for $100K+ jobs. The creative concept of the new advertising campaign involves two television commercials produced by Fallon’s Minneapolis branch to demonstrate the uniqueness of TheLadders.com business model.
The “Chairs” (also known as “Big Chair Hunters”) spot focuses on the job side of TheLadders.com, visually demonstrating that the site only posts the “big jobs.” Fallon’s press material for “Chairs” states that “This epic commercial uses the vast African landscape and a thundering herd of office chairs to demonstrate the idea that, unlike most job search sites, The Ladders is only interested in the ‘big’ $100K+ jobs. As heroic music swells, a gritty team of hunters races, hell-bent, across the savannah in hot pursuit of one large executive chair in the midst of hundreds of smaller office chairs. The hunters finally capture the big chair as the announcer makes the point that ‘We only want the big jobs’.”
The second spot, “Little Creatures” (a.k.a. “Monsters”) focuses on the job seeker side of the model, reminding viewers that TheLadders.com is for the “big talent.” Fallon explained that “This commercial offers a modern take on the classic Japanese monster movie genre. As dramatic music swells, hordes of undersized creatures unsuccessfully attempt to wreak havoc on a city. Much to their dismay, their giant counterpart soon arrives and easily completes the job for them. The announcer completes the metaphor by saying, ‘We only work with the big talent’.”
Both “Little Creatures” and “Chairs” were directed by Dante Ariola of MJZ, a Gold Lion, Clio, AICP Award-winning commercial director who has helmed spots for Nike, Hewlett-Packard, ESPN, Budget, Volkswagen, and Adidas. The Ladders spots have done very well since launching last month, with “Little Creatures” in particular generating strong interest and discussion on message boards and video sites like YouTube. Rather than invent a new Japanese-inspired creation for that commercial, Fallon instead licensed a pre-existing Japanese movie monster… the 1960s character Guilala owned by Shochiku Co., Ltd.
Guilala first appeared on theater screens in 1967. At that time, Japan was in the midst of what is referred to as the first “kaiju boom”; a period when monster-themed television shows like ULTRAMAN (Urutoraman, 1966) and THE SPACE GIANTS (Magma Taishi, 1966) were racking up big ratings, and all of the major movie studios produced at least one film featuring giant monsters. Shochiku’s lone entry was THE X FROM OUTER SPACE (Uchu Daikaiju Girara), a rather bizarre production directed and co-written by Kazui Nihonmatsu (Shochiku’s GENOCIDE) about a massive alien creature menacing Japan.
While THE X FROM OUTER SPACE contained all the expected trappings of the genre from monster suits to miniature sets, it had a lighthearted tone and jazzy score that created an almost “lounge act” vibe very different from the pictures produced by other studios. Guilala also sported an outlandish design— which is truly saying something for a Japanese giant monster— the set him apart from his competitors. “Guilala had an inorganic and sophisticated figure which is reminiscent of H. R. Giger’s ‘Alien’, while the other monsters were based on animals,” Shochiku explained in a press release. “This makes Guilala a special monster loved by monster fans.”
In 1968 the movie was syndicated directly to television in the United States by American International Pictures TV. THE X FROM OUTER SPACE was shown regularly on American television throughout 1970s and was later released on VHS and laserdisc by Orion Home Video. Though still unavailable on Region 1 DVD, the film has resurfaced on cable TV in recent years, including airings of the English subtitled, Japanese language version on the Turner Classic Movies channel.
While Guilala never attained the fame of Japanese monsters like Godzilla and Gamera, he did develop a cult following in both Japan and America. Even so, it was a surprise when Shochiku announced in early 2008 that they would be bringing Guilala back to the big screen for the first time in 41 years with the new movie MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT! (Girara no Gyakushu / Samitto Kiki Ippatsu!).
Guilala’s comeback was written and directed by Minoru Kawasaki, an independent filmmaker described as “the Ed Wood of Japan”. Kawasaki had made a name for himself directing oddball comedies like THE CALAMARI WRESTLER (Ika Resuraa, 2004), EXECUTIVE KOALA (Koara Kachou, 2005), and THE WORLD SINKS EXCEPT JAPAN (Nihon Igai Zenbu Chinbotsu, 2006), and he treated MONSTER X STRIKES BACK as a comedy about the pathetic attempts by leaders of the G8 countries (America, France, England, Germany, Italy, Canada, Russia, and Japan) to stop Guilala’s latest rampage.
As unexpected as Guilala’s return to Japanese cinemas had been, for many it was surpassed by the shock of seeing the X from Outer Space as the star (or stars, since there are numerous Guilalas shown) of an American television commercial. Shion Komatsu of Shochiku recently stated that Fallon’s “Little Creatures” spot used the Guilala suit originally made for MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT!, and also presented a humorous explanation of how the monster came to be in an American production. “Last fall,” Komatsu said, “a representative from Fallon Worldwide contacted us and mentioned the interest of having Guilala appear in their client’s TV commercial. We received further information of the commercial and discussed it with the producer and Guilala himself. At first he was a bit hesitant to travel overseas and shoot a commercial, however the producer convinced him that it would be a great opportunity to become famous outside of Japan. So in Oct 2008, Guilala himself traveled all the way to South Africa to shoot the commercial.”
The ad’s visual effects were created by Los Angeles-based Method Studios. “We pulled out our entire bag of tricks for this one,” Method VFX supervisor and “Little Creatures” Flame artist Alex Frisch told the UK media website Digital Arts. “From miniatures and puppets to blue screen compositing and 3D animation, this spot used it all. [FX supervisor] Andy Boyd and I also attended the three day shoot in Cape Town, South Africa, and Dante got a fantastic performance from the actor in the rubber suit which helped a great deal. We did the entire job at 2K resolution, and went back and forth with Company 3 to achieve a truly pristine color correct and composite. In the end, we were able to create 3D monsters that are absolutely identical to the practical one.”
Frisch added, “The spot was very challenging, but also played to the strengths of our team, particularly when it comes to the seamless integration of CG characters and live action. It was also a lot of fun working with Guilala.”
After a few scattered local airings at the turn of the New Year, the complete 45 second-long cut of “Little Creatures” made its nationwide debut during the broadcast of the Fiesta Bowl on Monday, January 5. The campaign also features a 30 second edit for additional marquee live sporting events, including three NFL Divisional playoff games and a mix of cable sports and entertainment programming throughout the first quarter of 2009.
Supporting the television spot are the “Little Creature Interviews”, a series of online videos going “behind the scenes” with one of the Tiny Guilalas from the commercial. The Interviews premiered on January 9, 2009.
The six Little Creature Interviews are…
Make Up: A disgruntled, undersized, B-movie creature is annoyed because the giant creature is getting all the attention from the make-up artists— and they tell him to rub hemorrhoid cream on his eyes.
Agent: A frustrated B-movie creature calls his agent to complain about not landing the main role. The tiny creature is willing to go to any length to get rid of his competition.
Fireballs: A pint-sized B-movie creature is furious that all the “hot groupies” seem to prefer the giant creature. So he tries to impress us with tales about his own legendary “fire balls.”
Shetland: An agitated B-movie creature plots to secretly put a Shetland pony head in the bed of the director who’s been giving all the good roles to the giant creature.
Roar: A jealous B-movie creature bashes his bigger and better competition by pointing out the “stretch marks on his tail” and his “internet acting school” skills.
Method Actor: An undersized B-movie creature is furious that the giant creature gets all the glory. So he tries to impress us with stories of his “method acting” skills— including the time he gained 40 pounds…
Interview 1: Fallon Minneapolis
The following interview with Fallon executive creative director Al Kelly and director of production Vic Palumbo took place Monday, January 26, 2009 with the assistance of Nikki Meirath.
SciFi Japan: How did you pitch this idea to The Ladders?
Al Kelly: They have a pretty unique business model, which is only $100k+ jobs for job seekers. After a lot of research and trying different avenues, it became clear that the best way to really advertise The Ladders was to just explain what they do. We did a spot last year that showed a tennis player playing tennis, and while he’s playing everyone in the stands runs down and takes over and starts playing with him. And it was the idea that you can’t stand out of the crowd within a regular job.
So this year it was about finding a metaphor for how The Ladders works. And “Monsters” was one, and we did another spot called “Office Chairs”… different ways to explain what The Ladders does. We presented, I think, three commercials to them this past round and they went with two of them.
SFJ: Why did you decide to use Guilala for the commercial?
Vic Palumbo: We worked with the creative and started searching the internet looking for monsters… all of the monsters in the genre. And in doing that, we came across THE G8 SUMMIT. On YouTube there’s actually the press conference where you can see the guy in the suit sitting there, and we were like ‘look at this guy’.
We’re not so into the genre that we would have recognized him from a past movie or anything. It probably took about a week of research, looking at monsters, but I think the first time we saw Guilala was with the press conference.
Al Kelly: And when we came across Guilala, we were like, this is a cool monster. He’s different… he’s interesting looking… let’s use him. Have you seen that press conference?
SFJ: I have not seen the press conference. I did get to see the movie though, last year at the American Film Market.
Al Kelly: How was it?
SFJ: It’s fun. It’s very, very low budget… the director plays the entire film for laughs. And that works with Guilala; the design of the character is so insane.
Vic Palumbo: Yeah. The movie just looks insane with all the political leaders, and that guy in a towel running around…
SFJ: Oh yeah, the French Prime Minister. [laughs]
Vic Palumbo: It was funny that they would do something like that with the genre. The whole thing just seemed strange to me.
SFJ: It was interesting because the original film THE X FROM OUTER SPACE was bizarre but still had a fairly serious tone. One consistent thing with the new film is that the Guilala suit looks almost exactly the same as the one from the 1960s.
Vic Palumbo: For our production, Shochiku actually crated up that suit and shipped it to us. It was the actual suit made for the G8 movie.
SFJ: Did they ship the suit to Minneapolis?
Vic Palumbo: No, we shot in Cape Town, South Africa.
Shochiku was very helpful. They also sent along a 12 minute video of how to get in and out of the suit. How it should work, y’know, and how you should raise it up. And when we got the thing, it was packed inside the crate with the suit. So when we got there, we had step by step instructions of exactly how and where to get into the suit, how to turn on the lights for the eyes, just everything we would need to know.
There’s a lot of foam on the inside of the suit to fill it out, so it’s incredibly hot inside. Literally, the actor could only wear the suit for 10 minutes or so before we had to unzip it and get him some air. It’s really hard work, just incredibly draining.
And the suit weighed, off the top of my head, like 75 or 80 pounds. So it was like carrying around half of your body weight because the size of the person had to be fairly small. I think the max height that would fit in the suit was like 5’8” or 5’9”. So imagine someone like a gymnast inside this suit trying to pull around 75 or 80 pounds.
And then for the performance, it’s as if you’re almost over-performing because the suit is so thick with foam and material that you have to go all-out for any acting to come through.
SFJ: I would think heat would be even more of an issue in South Africa. Was there much exterior shooting, or was everything done on sound stages?
Vic Palumbo: All the Guilala shooting was done on a sound stage. The exterior scenes were done all around Cape Town, all around downtown Cape Town.
SFJ: It has an ‘anytown America’ look. You can’t tell exactly where it is.
Vic Palumbo: Yeah, that’s what we were shooting for. With Cape Town, depending on the angle and where you’re shooting, you can get a lot of different looks. It’s a perfect location.
SFJ: It’s a great commercial. Beyond my being a fan of Japanese monsters, I just thought it was a very clever and funny spot.
Al Kelly: Sign up on Ladders.com so they’ll want to do more. [laughs]
SFJ: Did the Fallon offices in Japan make the deal with Shochiku to use Guilala?
Vic Palumbo: No, we handled all the negotiations from here. There is one person in our office who is from Japan, and another who speaks fluent Japanese. So they were able to work with us whenever we had discussions with Shochiku. And Shochiku was great to work with. We’re thrilled with the experience and them letting us use the suit. And they were really happy with the idea after seeing the script on paper.
And then, when we decided to do the interview scripts as well, the whole viral idea, they thought it was great. It was very interesting to them because, in the interviews, we were kind of giving a voice to Guilala, which they had never even imagined.
Al Kelly: So we approached the idea that it wasn’t truly Guilala but one of the Tiny Guilalas. And that gave us flexibility to create its personality. Shochiku thought that was great.
SFJ: Who did the voice for the Tiny Guilala?
Vic Palumbo: Mark Benninghoff. He’s an actor we’ve used many, many times. He’s not really British. We tried a variety of voices for Guilala, but we kept coming back to the British accent.
SFJ: If you’re doing a clichéd pretentious actor, he almost has to have a British accent. Getting back to the main commercial, how long did it take to put it all together?
Vic Palumbo: Actually, it was a quicker turnaround than usual. We wish we’d had more time. We shot in Cape Town in November, and it was out of here in December.
There’s a company is Los Angeles called Method that did all the FX. They had Alex Frisch and Andy Boyd, their visual effects supervisors, make the trip to Cape Town with us. Andy’s actually from South Africa. They were there for the entire shoot. Literally, except for Christmas and New Year’s the FX crew had two shifts going, twenty hours a day. It was a very ambitious project.
SFJ: It’s amazing that so many of the Tiny Guilalas were computer generated. They really captured the look and the movement of the suit.
Vic Palumbo: Yeah. Some of them are CG and some of them are the suit. We shot the suit in front a blue screen so they had a lot of great reference. They did a phenomenal job.
The other part was that Shochiku provided digital photos. So even before we even had the suit, Method was already creating wire frames and models of Guilala.
SFJ: How did the viral campaign with the “behind the scenes” interviews come about?
Al Kelly: Normally we would do a much bigger campaign using different media but we didn’t have a lot of time here. So we had a handful of ideas, that one was the idea that showing a different aspect of Guilala could be entertaining. And it was one that we could do in the time that we had. And they’re kinda’ cool… like extras, you know?
So the guy that came up with the campaign just wrote the funniest dialogue that he could think of coming out of Guilala’s mouth. And we shot the plate in South Africa and then shot the guy in the suit reacting like he was being interviewed. So it was pretty much d.i.y. [do it yourself]
Vic Palumbo: And the other thing was the beak doesn’t really move much… there’s just not a lot going on there so it had to play through body language. So during a lunch break on blue screen day, we sat the suit actor down for 10 minutes and had him run thru interviews. We were reading these scripts out loud and he was kind of mimicking what Guilala’s responses would be.
We also had second camera footage from the blue screen shoot. While the suit actor was receiving direction for the actual commercial we were covering it from different angles with an HD camera; got some tight shots and some longer shots. We tried to get the maximum benefit out of our blue screen day, and doing that gave us something extra to work with.
When we got back here, we cut the spots together. We have an editorial suite and cameras so the editors could kind of massage the footage back and forth… like if we needed Guilala’s arm to come into a shot. We’d cut a piece to what is was and then realize ‘Oh, we have to have more inflection here’ because we needed to show he’s really pissed off. So either Mark would adapt to what the picture showed or we would edit, we would take another piece of the picture and cut around it to show him being more animated based on whatever his line was. With editing we were able to get everything pretty well synched up.
An FX company here called Splice Here did the composites. They did a great job on such a tight production.
SFJ: So this is the second round of commercials you’ve done for The Ladders?
Al Kelly: Yep, we did one spot for them last year, and a big direct mailing during the summer. So this is our second round.
SFJ: And back in 2007, Fallon also produced the Ultraman-style Garmin Man commercial…
Al Kelly: Yep. Maposaurus!
There’s just a natural appeal for Japanese monsters. I think in advertising in general, I think you’d be surprised at how many times campaigns go back to that genre.
But most of the time those spots don’t get approved by the clients. In any round they might get thirty scripts but we’re happy that they gravitated to these two. Actually, the CEO of The Ladders is a fan of Japan and travels there a lot so he really liked the idea for the Guilala spot.
SFJ: I’m not surprised to hear that; if you visit animation and FX studios you’ll find Japanese monster and superhero toys and posters in people’s cubicles or offices.
Al Kelly: Yeah, that’s right. We’re all children of that generation… we grew up watching these things on TV.
ULTRAMAN is actually my first memory of saying ‘no’ to my mom. [laughs] I swear to you, I was watching ULTRAMAN and she said ‘turn off the TV and come in the kitchen’ and I remember saying ‘no’. It was totally empowering; I had no idea I could actually say it. So Ultraman holds a very deep part of my psyche.
SFJ: But did Ultraman get you into a lot of trouble?
Al Kelly: Yeah, because later in life I used ‘no’ even more often than I should have. I have to blame Ultraman for that.
Vic Palumbo: When we did the Garmin Man spot, we shot that in London. And the great thing about that commercial, which was different from the current one— The Ladders loved the idea of using Guilala but they also wanted to make it contemporary and kind of modern. But when we did Garmin, they loved the fact that it was period. So we built just this monstrous set for these guys to do their shtick on…with the power plant, and the road, and the power lines. That set was probably 70 or 80 feet across and 40 or 50 feet deep. It was just fantastic. I really felt like I was back in the 60s at one of the stages in Japan.
We were just really happy with both Garmin Man and Guilala.
SFJ: I just heard from Shochiku that the new movie MONSTER X STRIKES BACK got picked up for a US DVD release.
Al Kelly: Awesome! That’s great news.
SFJ: It would be great to see the commercial and interviews included as an extras on the DVD.
Al Kelly: Yeah, it would be. We’ll have to talk to them about that. That’s something we were hoping for. And then comes the action figures! We could package Guilala with like ten little ones. [laughs]
SFJ: I guess that’s not out of the question; there’s been plenty of merchandising from commercials.
Al Kelly: Have you ever seen a Guilala action figure?
SFJ: There’s a few older toys, and they recently made some new ones to tie in with MONSTER X STRIKES BACK.
Was the commercial a one-time thing, or do you think you might use Guilala again in another ad?
Vic Palumbo: Probably not. We probably wouldn’t use him again, unless maybe for another campaign or a different product. We’ve got to keep our monster streak going.
Al Kelly: Maybe we could use him for Boston Market. He could flame broil his own chicken. [laughs]
Vic Palumbo: Write that down! That’s a great idea.
SFJ: I’ve got it on tape, it’s not going anywhere.
Al Kelly: Okay, good.
SFJ: Has there been much response to the ad?
Al Kelly: Yeah, people love it. The response has been great. People like it creatively, and it’s doing really well for The Ladders, too. They do a lot of real time metrics… they have giant screens at headquarters and they can see how many people log on and how many people actually buy memberships. And if you look at their bar graph, there was a giant spike the minute Guilala first aired.
SFJ: So he’s been very effective as a pitchman.
Al Kelly: Yeah. It was remarkable.
SFJ: Without getting into specifics, was it expensive to license the character?
Vic Palumbo: I would say it wasn’t out of the norm for what we would expect. Depending on different factors, licensing costs vary… it all depends on where it’s running and how long it’s running, and so on.
SFJ: I imagine Guilala being a fairly obscure character helped keep the fees lower than if you had used a more famous character.
Vic Palumbo: Yeah.
Al Kelly: But he won’t be obscure for much longer! The commercial will help get him some exposure as well.
SFJ: How long will the commercial run?
Al Kelly: It’s a pretty complicated media buy, with stops and starts, but I think these spots usually run for a quarter.
Vic Palumbo: We have the rights for a year. And then we have the option to renegotiate for Guilala for another year or two, if need be. And that’s the option for the character and the actors as well. And that’s a pretty typical situation… an option for one year with an option for more.
Al Kelly: The Ladders has a couple peak times to try and hit their target. Of course, any time is a peak time with the way the economy is now.
Interview 2: Method Studios
The 3D effects in “Little Creatures” were produced by the FX house Method Studios, with the main creative team consisting of Lead 3D VFX Artist/Visual Effects Supervisor Andy Boyd and 3D VFX Artists Floyd Raymer, Jonathan Vaughn, and Jack Zaloga.
The following interview took place Tuesday, January 27, 2009 at the Method Studios offices in Santa Monica, CA.
SciFi Japan: So how did the process of creating the CG Guilala begin?
Floyd Raymer: Well, we got the reference and pictures from Japan… even got a little toy, but we didn’t use that one. And I took it into the Maya modeling package, set it up and did a basic model then took it into ZBrush, where you can add a lot of detail and finesse. So I modeled it with all the little pores and holes, and added all that detail and painted it.
Initially, it’s like sculpting in clay. It’s a really great package for doing creatures like Guilala that have tons of little detail. I created different brushes for each kind of bump he had, and went in basically bump by bump on that creature.
SFJ: When you have something like the Guilala suit photos from Japan, do you work directly from those images or are you creating the model from nothing while using the photos as reference?
Floyd Raymer: You’re not starting from nothing. I definitely used the pictures in the package. I put them at certain angles then I set up cameras that would match that angle. That gives me the basic proportions in Maya, just block it out, and then I take it in ZBrush and add the extra details. You get it as close as you can.
SFJ: How long was that process?
Floyd Raymer: I think I had the model up before production started. Must have been about a week and a half, two weeks at most.
Andy Boyd: What was great about the way Floyd worked was ZBrush was able to paint an extreme amount of detail in. He then exports it to a high-rez version from ZBrush; it would be something like 2 million polygons…
Floyd Raymer: Actually, it was almost 7 million.
Andy Boyd: 7 million… that’s how much detail he actually modeled in there.
So what was great was that he could take a low-rez version and ZBrush can actually compute a displacement map. So I would have the low-rez version, as in a 4k/14 point displacement map that was written off of ZBrush, and I could render it in Houdini so it would look exactly like his high-rez, 7 million polygon version but it was low-rez. Sort of a like in those stills I showed you; a low-rez mesh but all the details came out in the displacement map.
And what worked really well was taking that into Houdini and rendering it with Mantra using the displacement maps. I was quite impressed with how that all worked.
Jonathan Vaughn: Even with the animation; Andy never had to work with the high-rez model, right?
Floyd Raymer: The whole time he animated he had in Houdini the low-rez, which would be…
Andy Boyd: About 2,000 polygons.
Floyd Raymer: But you see the high-rez version in the commercial because of Andy using a displacement map.
Andy Boyd: The surface gets recomputed at regular time. So we have the 2,000 polygon version that we animate with and work with because it very usable and very fast… everything’s real time. Then the renderer actually displaces the surface and computes all the information that Floyd modeled based on that displacement map. So it renders the 7 million polygon version but we personally never have to deal with it.
Floyd Raymer: ZBrush is a pretty great program for that kind of stuff. Plus, I did a lot of the painting and texturing in that package, too. So that was the whole ‘creature part’.
After that, we had a guy here from London named Josh Fortwell who helped rig the model… we went back and forth and added all those little controls on the fingers and toes to make Guilala look kinda’ wobbly and rubbery.
Andy Boyd: Once Floyd had it modeled… on the one side we had the displacement map so I was doing r&d on the rendering, making it look like the suit lighting-wise and texturing-wise and working all that out. And Floyd and Josh started rigging and animating.
SFJ: Fallon told me that the turnaround for this commercial was only about six weeks or so.
Andy Boyd: I think from final edit to delivery was about four weeks. And, because of that time crunch, we thought we’d try to prep as much animation as possible. So when I was on set in Cape Town I would take little video feed quicktimes and email them back here. In case something like the dress-pulling shot makes it into the commercial, we could start animating that immediately. So we were animating scenarios that hadn’t even made it to the final edit yet. We were just trying to get as much done beforehand as possible.
We were really well prepped so it went very smoothly. Everything went really well. The only thing that was a real time crunch and was really difficult was that there was so much roto[scoping] on the 2D side with all the people running and all that. That was a lot of man-hours just to crunch all that out.
SFJ: After working on the 3D Guilala for so long, what was it like getting to South Africa and seeing the real suit?
Andy Boyd: I knew deep down inside that we could just do the whole job in 3D. So when I saw the suit I was excited but also quite leery about it because it was actually going to make our job harder since we had to match whatever the suit looks like. And when I saw that it had kind of dry, moldy bits stuck to it… it almost looked liked it was the original suit that had been locked in a cupboard for 40 years. We went back and added some of the green tones and bits to the CG model.
The disappointing side of the suit was that it was so cumbersome to actually work with. It was really old school, so the guys that go inside it had to be of a certain height… they couldn’t be over 5’4” or something. They had to have a skinny, tiny little guy hold up a suit that weighed as much as his body weight. So that really made us nervous, because when it comes to the studio side of this we thought we’ll be lucky to get more than ten minutes performance before the guy tires out.
So as we were filming, I started taking notes of all the camera heights and angles… all the stuff so when we came to the studio I’d already pre-computed all the camera heights and angles we needed to match the film from the right perspectives for each shot. And also categorizing everything into set-ups so we weren’t just moving stuff around and then going ‘let’s go back to that first set-up’. We were like ‘from this set-up we can do these five shots… from this one we can do these four shots’, and also picking off the ones that would be hardest to do in 3D and try to get those done in camera.
And that worked really, really well. I was amazed; in one day in-studio we got pretty much everything we needed.
SFJ: So obviously pre-planning was the key.
Andy Boyd: I was amazed that… just having worked from photographs and never having seen the suit just how close Floyd modeled the textures.
SFJ: When I first saw the commercial I thought the 3D Guilalas were the suit. I was surprised when I realized how many of them were actually CG.
Andy Boyd: We secretly wanted to try and replace some of the real Guilala shots. There are some shots like the big guy coming around the building where even the agency wanted his performance to be a little more disappointed [mimics Guilala slumping his shoulders and shaking his head], and then he shoots a fireball. I did some renders and it was almost there, but I just needed like another two weeks to push it further to make it really hold up, and there wasn’t that two weeks.
If we’d had another two or three weeks we could have replaced them all.
SFJ: Guilala’s hands on his hips while he’s blowing up the gas station was a nice touch. Was that done by the suit actor?
Jonathan Vaughn: Yeah, that’s the suit actor. The head was replaced, though. It was CG so the beak could open up.
SFJ: Fallon said that the commercial has done very well. They don’t know if The Ladders would want to use Guilala again but they’d like to so you may get another shot with the character at some point.
Andy Boyd: Well, we have the built-in models so we could do a film… we could do another Guilala film. [laughs]
Floyd Raymer: We’d have to do some updates on that because the model was never meant to be the giant one. He was just going to be the little one. But at a certain point we were using him for certain shots as the giant monster.
SFJ: For close-up shots too, so it held up…
Floyd Raymer: Yeah.
SFJ: Jack, you created the 3D car that Guilala throws?
Jack Zaloga: Yeah, that car and then the one he blows up. I didn’t have much to do with the actual suit or anything [laughs] but I did get to track his hand in one of the shots.
SFJ: Even so, the destruction scenes are such a major part of the Japanese monster genre…
Jack Zaloga: Yeah, and the explosions they shot in Africa just looked great. They actually blew up a whole gas station.
Andy Boyd: Oh yeah… we actually blew up the gas station on camera.
We built a miniature gas station as well because the original plan was that we would have a small explosion in camera at the location, but the big stuff would be done with the miniature because in a city you can’t really make an explosion that big.
But Matt, the pyrotechnics guy, was just a bit of a nutter. And all of us were shocked; we had no idea it was going to be that big. And it was like three blocks from the Houses of Parliament. Imagine blowing up a gas station on a corner near the White House. And we were just blown away… when we saw the playback, from a Method point of view we were just like ‘F*ck, yeah! This is gonna save us so much work’.
Jonathan Vaughn: The other thing is, you could see people like a hundred yards away and the explosion would go off and a second later the shockwave would hit. You could see them freak out.
Andy Boyd: The explosion was shot 98 frames per seconds so it would play slower. So the explosion would go, and then like 12 frames later you see everybody shake and jump.
SFJ: I can’t imagine how many permits you would need to film something like that in a city.
Andy Boyd: Oh, there were loads of trouble because there was a church having a service and it was evacuated. And the head of the police commission came out and was crapping us out.
Jack Zaloga: Yeah, but it looks great just on its own.
SFJ: That has got to be a first. I can’t think of any Japanese monster movie where they actually blew up a real building.
Andy Boyd: One of the looks they were going for is that everything is cheesy but the damage it causes is real. So even on the shots where we weren’t replacing the suit with CG we would add things to create realism. We created a little CG rock that one Guilala throws against a window.
Floyd Raymer: And all the shadows had to be redone, too.
Andy Boyd: And the hubcaps on the car. There were physical ones he pulled and we replace them with CG ones. We didn’t know if we were going to have time to do that but we tracked them and did them and got them on the master tape one hour before it left the building.
Fallon never knew. We never said we were going to do the hubcaps but we wanted to just to make them look cooler. It was one of those wish list things, and it was the final thing on the list to go in.
Jonathan Vaughn: Did you guys replace the hand on the car, too? The suit actor couldn’t actually hold the car.
Floyd Raymer: No, they ended up cheating that one.
Jack Zaloga: They moved it up a little.
SFJ: The car dropping after the explosion… was that a 3D effect?
Andy Boyd: That was done practically on set. We actually lifted a car up and dropped it. Jack animated his car in the wide shot so it tilts over and cuts to the real shot.
SFJ: I’m very impressed by the FX, even more so considering the tight schedule and how little reference material you to work from.
Andy Boyd: And there was only the four of us on the job.
Jack Zaloga: But I think the nice thing was having all the footage that we did have. Even the car going up didn’t look that great, but when it comes down you can see all that detail… the tail was mashed and I could go ‘Oh, it must have looked that way going up.’
So it makes a huge difference having all those live action practical effects, especially when they match because if you have really great practical but sort of crappy CG then that difference becomes even more apparent. But if you can get them to tie-in you’ve got something.
Jonathan Vaughn: Like with the throwing of the car. The CG car transitions nicely to the real car.
SFJ: So in the shot when Guilala picks up the car and throws it, was the car 100% CG?
Jack Zaloga: The only shot where the car is CG is when he throws it down the street.
Andy Boyd: And the one that goes up during the explosion.
Jack Zaloga: And the one that goes up…right, right.
SFJ: I was wondering if the car he picked up may have been a miniature, and then you cut to the 3D car…
Andy Boyd: He couldn’t actually hold anything. The rubber fingers on the suit weren’t able to grip.
SFJ: Jack, how long did it take you to do those shots?
Jack Zaloga: With the modeling I think it was a couple days. We had the car that was used in South Africa, so it was modeled based on photographs of that. The nice thing about the car was it didn’t have to be super detailed. We just projected the textures of the actual car onto it, so a lot of the detail that’s in there is from the photographs that we took.
SFJ: Fallon said all the location shots were done in Cape Town, and it was filmed to look like any generic American city.
Andy Boyd: Yeah, like that hero street where the gas station was… you could film in either direction but you could see Table Mountain and some other landmarks which, if you knew the city, would give it away. So in 2D we actually did some matte painting work; filled in some buildings and made it more generic.
SFJ: Jonathan, what did you work on?
Jonathan Vaughn: Oh, I just watched these guys work. [laughs] That was pretty much what I did.
Well, thankfully, due to all the practical effects I had it pretty easy. If we would have had to do that full-on explosion— which originally, when we were planning it Andy was like ‘We’re going to shoot a little bit on set and then we’ll have to add the big things like smoke and debris’— but then we saw the plate and were like ‘This is perfect’.
So I got to focus more on the little fireballs that were shot out. And Shot 9 with the little smaller dude was a lot more fun than the bigger one because the big one’s just a straight trajectory right towards the gas station. It was kinda weird ‘cause it looks so awesome when you watch the old reference footage of Guilala because it’s such a cheesy effect… I’m not even sure what technique they were using…
SFJ: In the older movies it was usually cel animation.
Jonathan Vaughn: And I was going crazy because I wanted to capture that look. It looks pretty cool, and I added some 2D stuff on top of it to give it a little more detail.
Shot 9 with the little guy was really cool. Originally, they wanted the fireball to actually come up and kind of hit the newspaper and then fade off like he’s a wimp; he can’t really affect it. But there was a lot of stuff you would have to add. You would have to burn the paper a little bit, and you would have to be able to see through the paper. So we ended up just going with a puny fireball, which I liked better.
Jack Zaloga: The arc just came up, and just doesn’t even get there.
Jonathan Vaughn: And it just looked really cool. I was really pleased with it.
But my end of it was pretty much just moral support for these guys. [laughs]
SFJ: What would it take to do a shot like the one with the fireball?
Jonathan Vaughn: It doesn’t take that long to set it up, it just takes forever to do the iterations.
SFJ: The fine-tuning and improvements…
Jonathan Vaughn: Yeah, exactly.
Andy Boyd: The thing is, you always end up where you started. You know what you think would look nice, but you show it to someone else, and then I say what I think, Alex the 2D guy says what he thinks, and then somebody else says this… and by the time you finish you’re back where you started. But that’s just part of the process.
SFJ: Was Guilala CG in that shot?
Jonathan Vaughn: That one was actually a suit. We didn’t even do any maquette replacement so it had to match exactly. Which was cool, and it looks better with that character because his head never really pointed up enough to hit the paper.
SFJ: So the awkwardness of the suit actually worked to your benefit.
Jonathan Vaughn: Pretty much.
SFJ: And you got to do a really funny sight gag that made the cut in a 45 second commercial.
Jonathan Vaughn: True, true. It’s really cool to hear that people dig it.
SFJ: When you guys got the script for this spot, how tightly were the gags written? Did you have much freedom to come up with things?
Floyd Raymer: A lot of that stuff was storyboarded.
Jonathan Vaughn: There were quite a few that didn’t make it in. There was one where they were struggling up some stairs, just trying to climb up.
Floyd Raymer: And pulling a woman’s skirt. That’s the first one we actually started working on the shot and hoping it would be used.
Jonathan Vaughn: Yeah, yeah, where one of the guys was tugging on her skirt. It actually turned out pretty funny… we animated one of the little monsters doing that.
Andy Boyd: And the trashcan, as well.
Floyd Raymer: Yeah, there’s one where they’re pushing a trashcan over.
Jonathan Vaughn: All the ones we managed to do ahead of time weren’t actually used. I’d forgotten about the dress one; that would have been a good one to have. And the trashcan one is pretty funny too, because he’s teetering until he knocks it over.
Andy Boyd: It would be nice for people to see all the extra stuff we had to do that didn’t actually make it. We should give it to Fallon as well because they don’t even know we did it.
SFJ: We can surprise them with the article.
“Little Creatures” Credits
Dozens of pint-sized, B-movie creatures ineffectively try to wreak havoc on the city until their giant counterpart shows up and shows them how its done. 2009 Super Bowl Commercial.
Client: The Ladders
Launch: January 5, 2009
TV: :30 and :45
Executive Creative Director: Al Kelly
Copywriter: Dean Buckhorn
Art Director: Dean Hanson
Director of Production: Vic Palumbo
Producer: Amanda Revere
Assistant Producer: Matt Polski
Guilala Suit Performer: Rynier Keet
Production Company: MJZ
Director: Dante Ariola
Executive Producer: Jeff Scruton
Producer: Natalie Hill
Director of Photography: Phillipe Le Sourd
Effects House: Method Studios
VFX Supervisor and Flame Artist: Alex Frisch
VFX Supervisor and Lead CG: Andy Boyd
Flame: Katrina Salicrup, Noah Caddis, Andy Davis
CG: Matt Hackett, Floyd Raymer, Jonathan Vaughn, Jack Zaloga, Alex Lee, Todd Herman
Assist/Roto: Andy Mower, Ryan Raith, Craig Hilditch, Amanda Burton, Edgar Diaz, Jay Robinson, Pam Gonzales
EP/Director of Production: Helen Hughes
PM: Moylene Boyd
Edit House: Rock Paper Scissors
Editor: Kirk Baxter
Producer: Mike Goble
Transfer Facility: Company 3
Colorist: Stefan Sonnenfeld
Additional Fallon Credits
Director of Account Management: David Sigel
Account Director: Dave Chaffin
Account Manager: Shannon Curley
Group Media Director: Keith Faust
Business Manager: Brendan Lawrence
Project Manager: Lindsey Anderson
Chief Marketing Officer: Robert Turtledove
Brand Advertising Manager: Paige Pawlak
Behind the Scene Interviews
Executive Creative Director: Al Kelly
Copywriter: Dean Buckhorn
Art Director: Dean Hanson
Director of Broadcast: Vic Palumbo
Producer: Matt Polski
Tiny Guilala Suit Performer: Rynier Keet
Tiny Guilala Voice Actor: Mark Benninghoff
Production Company: Fallon Assembly Line
Producer: Pat Sidoti
Director of Photography: Matt Polski
Effects House: Splice Here/Method Studios
Edit House: Fallon Assembly Line
Editor: Erin Virgin
Additional Fallon Credits
Director of Account Management: David Sigel
Account Director: Dave Chaffin
Account Manager: Shannon Curley
Group Media Director: Keith Faust
Business Manager: Brendan Lawrence
Project Manager: Lindsey Anderson
Chief Marketing Officer: Robert Turtledove
Brand Advertising Manager: Paige Pawlak
About The Ladders
TheLadders.com is the world’s largest online service catering exclusively to the $100K+ job market. Our job is to make the search for senior talent and senior positions quick and effective. With access to the most $100K+ job leads in one place, senior level professionals can get to the next step in their careers faster. Top recruiters value the ability to quickly and easily connect with so much qualified talent in the sales, marketing, finance, HR, legal, tech and operations industries. Founded in 2003 by Marc Cenedella, TheLadders.com has grown into the largest specialty employment website with over 1,600,000 members and over 35,000 recruiters. In addition to traditional job search services, TheLadders.com also provides a host of specialized career development resources, including a proven, one-on-one resume service; advice from career experts; customized online profiles; and e-mail alerts. TheLadders.com is headquartered in New York with offices in London. For more information, please visit theladders.com or theladders.co.uk.
Fallon Worldwide, one of the world’s most critically acclaimed, creatively driven branding companies, manages the consumer voice of some of the world’s leading brands, including Sony, Nestlé Purina, TIME Magazine, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Asda, Travelers, and Orange. Fallon Worldwide is a global network of Publicis Groupe, based in Paris, and has more than 500 employees worldwide. The company has offices in Minneapolis, London, Singapore, and Tokyo. Additional information can be found at fallon.com
For more photos and information on Guilala and MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT! please see the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- WIDESCREEN JAPANESE SCI-FI AND HORROR CLASSICS ON TCM IN OCTOBER
- GUILALA’S COUNTERATTACK
- Shochiku details Guilala’s return in MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT!
- Guilala and Ultra Seven at World Characters Convention in Tokyo
- Review: MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT!
- Japanese Movies at American Film Market 2008
- Media Blasters Licenses MONSTER X STRIKES BACK/ ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT!