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Martin Waugh On Shooting The New Smirnoff Ad Campaign
When we found out our good friend Martin Waugh was creating some of his magnificent liquid sculptures for a Smirnoff ad campaign we immediately asked him to tell us the inside story. He graciously accepted and wrote up the following article, which details how he ending up shooting 1400 photos to get the final 3. And he did use Photoshop, so this is totally on topic! (Click on the ads to see larger versions - 1024x703)
Smirnoff Chooses Liquid Sculpture Images For New Ad Campaign
by Martin Waugh
“Hello. I am calling from J. Walter Thompson. We are the ad agency that represents Smirnoff, and we’re wondering if Martin would be interested in creating a few images for Smirnoff ads.” The woman’s voice had a lively British accent.
“Absolutely!” (No pun intended.)
Thus began my engagement with the London office of J. Walter Thompson, the fourth largest ad agency in the world, and Smirnoff, one of the most recognizable brands.
Smirnoff had been promoting the purity of their product, using ads highlighting their product as thrice distilled and filtered ten times. It was time for a new ad campaign in the same vein. The London office of JWT struggled for a couple of months trying to come up with a new tack. Late in the process, a pair of young art directors, Phillip Meyler and Darren Keff, came up with the tag line, “Extraordinary purity in every drop”, which was quickly accepted. Then, an art buyer was tasked with finding the right visual to convey the message. Searching the web for photos of drops, she came upon my website Liquid Sculpture.
For several years, I have specialized in (if not obsessed on) high-speed photographs of drops and splashes. I use a variety of techniques for creating the splashes and a collection of custom electronics for controlling the drops, flashes, and camera. PhotoshopSupport.com graciously ran a column on my work a couple of years ago.
One of my better-liked images looks a lot like a wine glass. The art directors wanted to extend that visual metaphor: they asked if I could create a splash in the shape of a martini glass, one in the shape of a highball glass, and a whiskey glass. Yes, I believed I could do that.
While my agent negotiated the financial and licensing arrangements, I pondered just how I would accomplish the requested images. I had taken many shots that resembled wine and martini glasses. I create these with drop collisions. First, I let one drop splash, forming the very familiar column with a knob on top. Then, a second drop lands on top of the column, splaying it outward. Through carefully manipulating the size, speed, and timing I can control whether the resulting shape is an umbrella, a table, or a chalice. I felt comfortable that I could get a recognizable martini glass from this process.
The whiskey glass, also, seemed within reach, as it resembles a classic coronet created from a drop landing in a small puddle of liquid. I already had one shot that would do, though JWT wanted all original work.
My biggest concern was sculpting the liquid into a highball glass. The walls needed to be quite tall in comparison to the width of the glass. In my experience, that doesn’t happen. But, I had an untested idea, and based on that, I took a leap of faith and agreed to the whole project.
As so often is the case, my predictions about the relative ease of the shots were completely wrong. The highball and whiskey glasses were the easiest, and the martini glass took the most effort.
All recent Smirnoff ads have a simple, almost stark look. Essentially black and white imagery with one splash of color: the red Smirnoff label. So, very little color would be used in the photography. We did incorporate a bit of blue and tan in the background to give the images more depth, but not so much as to stand out. I used only clear liquids, partly to give the impression of vodka and, of course, to communicate purity.
After a few conference calls with the art directors, and one with the client, JWT flew Phillip and Darren from London to Portland for the shoot. They spent four days in and around my studio while I worked on the shots. They were great to work with: never hovering but always available, they gave frequent and direct feedback.
It was a new experience for all of us. Until then, I had always worked alone and communicated images electronically with my client, sending shots and comments back and forth. In this case, I hired an assistant and had the client in my small studio. The art directors were used to photography sessions that were more deterministic the subject sits still or the model follows directions while being photographed. With fast moving liquids, the subject tends to have a mind of its own and it takes many shots and creative encouragement to get the desired effect. Darren and Phillip witnessed (quite patiently) as I tried various techniques, with many failures they got to “watch the sausage being made.” In all, I took 1400 shots to get three that were used.
I generally don’t use Photoshop for my images, aside from color correction, spot removal, and a bit of other clean up. In this case, we did use Photoshop to combine the components of the final images.
I shot the accoutrements that were to be combined with the splashes an olive on a stick for the martini, a stir stick in the highball, and lime slice. We shot them in the same place with the same lights for consistency. The other task for Photoshop at JWT was to add ripples to the base of the highball and whiskey glasses. The original shots were taken on a flat, dry surface and have no ripples at the base. I shot a set of ripples in a pool of water and those ripples were added to the base of the glasses to give the glasses a visual grounding, and to maintain a look consistent with the martini glass.
The original license agreement was just for the United Kingdom, but was later extended to worldwide. The license covers all forms of advertising, from billboards and bus wraps to full- and two-page spreads in magazines. And, of course, JWT has exclusive rights.
After the ads rolled out in the U.K., JWT engaged a market research firm to do a survey of how well the ads were playing. The results were most satisfying: "The executions significantly outperformed all recent Smirnoff executions in terms of engagement and also in the communication of purity and quality."
Copyright © 2007, Martin Waugh.
Here are links to larger versions of the Smirnoff ads:
The Martini Glass
The Highball Glass
The Whiskey Glass
Also make sure to visit Martin's blog, where he discusses many of his techniques.
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