The art of exploding denim

Jordi Bares explains how Realise Studio detonated G-Star Raw's products to create a commercial that stayed true to Rankin's artistic vision.

G-Star and Rankin had a clear vision in place from the start and they provided a very detailed brief including a storyboard. Rankin is an outstanding photographer and we were very respectful of that. He knew what he wanted - our job was to translate his vision into something real. While some projects require lots of creative input, others are more focused on the technical side. Here, our job was to find technical solutions.

We examined the brief in detail and did a full analysis of how to tackle it. We approached concept work and had a couple of meetings with Rankin - I believe there was an instant connection and he could see we'd done our homework. Our aim was to do as much as possible in-camera. From that point onwards, our work would lie in enhancing the photography.

Work in progress

One key technical issue that presented itself early on was the question of how to destroy the models: ballerina Keenan Kampa of the Mariinsky Ballet Company and Sergio Pizzorno from the band Kasabian, who also wrote the music. We didn't want to suggest their skin being torn off as, while this would be visually spectacular, it could potentially be off-putting.

Inspired by previous work Rankin had done with porcelain, we decided to show their skin breaking rather than tearing. So, while the clothes in the advert - all of which are G-Star - rip apart, the people shatter like porcelain. We did consider making actual porcelain moulds, but that would have been too time-consuming.

The exploding guitar shot at the end was one of the most challenging to create due to changes in volume and texture

We spent two days carrying out pre-shoot research and experimented with trying to detonate, explode and rip jeans. I certainly learned a lot about denim while working on this piece. We then had two days to shoot with the models - one for the graphic studio campaign and one shooting them on a big stage.

Each detonation appears only very briefly, but they each took a good hour to set up. They are painstakingly crafted - the concept of the advert is 'Destroy to Construct' so we wanted to destroy the jeans and reinvent them, as well as moving gracefully through the dog, girl, man and dog in an accelerating loop.

The process of destruction was carefully choreographed - we made sure the face was never the first thing to go as we wanted the cloth to lead the story. We had to pay extremely close attention to detail.

Ballet dancer Keenan Kampa stars in the campaign alongside Kasabian guitarist and songwriter Sergio Pizzorno

Creating the zoetrope effect was straightforward enough, although we had to be careful to minimise flicker to make sure we adhered to TV broadcasting rules. The last shot, which moves from the guitar to the dog, was by far the most challenging because the volume changes from the size of an apple to something much bigger, and light reacts very diff erently on wood and on bone. We used a complex layers system to link the explosions together and employed various tricks throughout - if you were to look behind the guitar, for example, you'd see pieces of cloth attached to the wood.

Overall, there was a great deal of planning, testing and finessing involved. We had to be very careful because, if we changed anything in the edit, we'd potentially have to go back and change the previous shot, so there was a lot of back and forth.

Explosions were meticulously choreographed

Conclusion

When someone has a clear vision, the best thing is always to go with that vision and embrace all the challenges and limitations that come with it. Watching the film, you can really see that this is Rankin's style - we were always mindful of maintaining that.

He posted a tweet praising us and I think in general the ad has been very well received. The great thing about Rankin is that he has nothing to prove to the world, so he's very open to creative input and will consider even the most radical of ideas.

CG body doubles were created and mixed seamlessly with in-camera footage

The finished commercial looks more like an installation or a photograph in motion. It's really technically beautiful. I always look at it and remember the story behind it, so I need to take a few moments to detox and consider it with fresh eyes.

Words: Jordi Bares

With a reputation for pushing creative boundaries, Jordi has worked on brand campaigns for the likes of Sony, Guinness and Nike. A qualified architect, he’s also worked in software engineering and 2D animation.

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 220.

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