ManvsMachine are renowned for their visual effects, working on commercials for Squarespace, Honda, and Film 4. The studio’s latest venture was to design and create an advert for Nike’s Born Mercurial campaign.
We sat down with ManvsMachine’s Creative Director, Adam Rowe, and Head of 3D, Fred Huergo, to talk about the campaign and what went into creating its breathtaking visuals.
Escape Technology: How did this project come about?
ManvsMachine: We’ve worked closely with Nike Global Football over the years, but even we were impressed by the scale of this behemoth campaign. They brought us in at the very early stages of the project with just a simple mood reel as the jumping off point for our creative development.
It was then down to us, in collaboration with Nike, to conceptualise, design, direct, and produce this mammoth campaign.
What were your main inspirations for the project?
One of the main points of inspiration for us was obviously the cheetah. Early on Nike wanted to draw a parallel between the athletes and the mercurial spirit animal. This gave us lots to go on: claws, fangs, fur, spots, eyes, paw prints etc. and our task was how could we fuse these with football and speed, which was a fun challenge to take on.
We also had a big pool of inspiration in football, not just on the pitch but also on the streets. It gave us a great fashion-esque palette of environments, textures, and clothing to play with.
The last main point of inspiration for us was anything surrounding the notion of being conceived, as we had to portray the term ‘born mercurial’. The start of the film sees much of this content, which ranges from Flyknit DNA strands right through to a petri dish filled with mercurial cells.
What was it like working with not only the biggest names in football, but also a live cheetah?
We’ve done a reasonable amount of talent direction in the past so we were well equipped for the big stars. The main difference being we had limited timeframes with the athletes, even as little as 20 minutes per star. This meant working in a slightly different way, which included an extreme amount of preparation and rehearsal time with body doubles, so once the talent stepped onto the set it was simply checking off a list of shots.
Working with the cheetah was a slightly more surreal moment, which saw us all locked in a marquee on the outskirts of Madrid. It was certainly an experience that will stay with us.
How does Born Mercurial compare to other commercials you’ve done?
For us this was a project that brought all of our skills together on an epic scale. It’s the first time with Nike we’ve done such a huge campaign, involving megastars, where we were essentially the agency, the design studio, the director, the production company, and the VFX house. It’s great now that direct clients trust us enough to handle all of these elements without an agency being involved or any other director. This is what makes for a cohesive campaign, having everything crafted through one studio.
Could you tell us about the experimental 3D animation and typographical systems you used?
For the animation we experimented with cellular automata to replicate mitosis, which we then applied to typographic elements as well as the Mercurial logotype. We also used our custom knit system, which allowed us to not only animate the knitting of the boots but also form bespoke shapes such as DNA helices, venation systems, and abstract shapes. And from a more traditional approach we also modelled and sculpted elements such as the cheetah’s iris, which morphs into a swoosh in the blink of an eye.
What software and hardware did you use?
A mix of Cinema4D and Houdini, both for the experimental as well as the product-driven shots all of which were rendered using Redshift.
The hardware consisted mostly of HP machines with some Mac Pros, all furnished with Nvidia GPU technology.
What projects do you have lined up next?
We can’t go into too much detail about what projects we currently have on, but we’ve got three pretty major campaigns we’re currently working through. All very different products, all very different styles and all showcase the diversity of our two studios. More to follow soon.