Nike Web Campaign Proof That Broadband Post Is Heating Up

By Carl Lindemann

Producing for the Web used to be simple. Just make sure the talking head didn’t move much to become smeared and unrecognizable in the two-inch streaming video window. But the Nike “Quick is Deadly” web campaign, launched this month, shows the possibilities as bandwidth increases and compression technologies advance bridging the gap between web-based and broadcast production.

For the campaign, Director/Creative Director Thor Raxlen for New York-based Guerilla FX shot what he describes as “motion studies” of 10 world-class athletes combining footage from many different cameras from Super 16 film to a wide array of digital formats to create hundreds of :24 to :60 “studies”. The idea behind this approach was to create a palette of textures that catch the eye.

“We overshot wildly with everything from a hand-cranked Bolex to a Phantom HD shooting at 1,000 frames per second to a tiny Canon consumer 1080i camcorder. We wanted to capture motion, so having all these cameras running at different angles gave us what we needed to see in detail what sets these athletes apart,” says Raxlen.

The portraits include Olympic Gold Medallist Sanya Richards; British sprinter Jason Gardner; Jamaican sprinter, Asafa Powell; Brazilian footballer Robinho (Robson de Souza); San Diego Chargers All-Pro running back Ladainian Tomlinson; Phoenix Suns NBA point guard Steve Nash; Majorcan tennis sensation Raphael Nadal; Chicago Bulls NBA small forward Luol Deng; Middle distance runner Lauren Fleshman; and
Middle distance runner, Adam Goucher.

To capture these up close, Raxlen setup the camera array and simultaneously shot his subject’s from a wide variety of angles. “We quickly found out that what we were looking to capture was the particular athlete’s signature move. We only had these people for a very limited time, so we wanted to document them as much as possible. Working with stand-in athletes after to fill in the gaps, we could see why these stars are so exceptional,” says Raxlen.

High frame rates from the Phantom HD as well as an Arias Super 16 shooting at 160 frames per second allowed for slow-motion examination. “The real thing here is to breakdown ‘quickness’ and the way to do that is to show it slow,” he adds.

Other cameras Raxlen’s arsenal includes an Arias 435 35mm, a Sony CineAlta 950, and a Panasonic HVX200. Final Cut Pro brings the different elements together with Adobe After Effects to add “tweaks.”

Another aim of the project was to capture an introspective perspective. The viewer can’t tell if the moves are in the mind of the athlete or actually what’s happening on the field. “We wanted to make this moody and thoughtful. It is darker than you might normally see,” said Raxlen.

An essential, often overlooked part of the production process is compressing clips for online distribution. In the past, Raxlen would pass along the task to Web developers but now they have taken on this last step.

“We found that our test compression versions were better than what the Web developers created. What we do differently is compress the different elements shot-to-shot and to the eye and know the technology to bring the file size down. Web developers typically just compress the whole clip at once aiming for the muddy middle and the results reflect that,” he says.

The Nike campaign marks the maturation of online production as a specialty and not a sideline. “Four years ago, we would do a Web piece as a favor for a client for $5,000. Now, it’s grown to be 50% of our work generating fees in line with regular production,” Raxlen adds