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Back to the Start with Nexus

One of the greatest time-savers on the shoot was the system set up by lighting team. We wanted the lights to do quite a lot of work in creating the mood of the film: the shadows getting longer in winter, dimming down and turning blue at night or warmer for the summer period. Usually this would involve lots of hand cranking and actually animating the lights, which tends to be a problem if, for instance, you need to do more than one take. And although to start with that's what we did, over the course of the four week shoot things developed and eventually everything ended up being connected to and controlled by the stop motion software Dragonframe on one computer. This meant that as we clicked to take the next frame, about five motors and 40 lights would automatically whirr, move or dim down to what was necessary for the next particular frame. The camera - a Canon 5D on a Gazelle motion control rig on a 24-foot track - was controlled by the same software.

What was the process on the digital side - what software and tools did you use?
Apart from taking out the odd mistake and some puppet rigging, we didn't need to do much post production work at all. Our director of photography, Matt Day, is a lighting guru and lovingly obsessive about producing something that is finished once you take the footage from the camera. He was continually adding and removing different coloured gels to the lighting setups in order to create the right look for each season.

One part of the film where we did have a digital helping hand, however, was the dream sequence: we photographed the paper clouds separately and added them in one by one After Effects. This also gave us a little more flexibility about what would go into these thought bubbles.

I don't think we hid the handmade-ness of the materials, but we didn't set out to make it look home-made either. Graham Staughton and the art department team who were making the set and buildings were especially adept at picking materials that would react to the lighting and camera. For example you might notice the twinkling frost during the night time sequence. It may look like an After Effects plug-in, but this was actually because the snow was glass dust which had been glued down to the table. As you move around it, it reflects the light really nicely. Before I give away all his secrets I should shut up.

It aired during the Grammy's and almost overshadowed the event, which had already been overshadowed by Whitney Houston's death. How did you feel about the finished animation and the attention it received?

I'm shocked and amazed by how well it has been received. Making web films, you never think that what you're working on will be shown on television at all, so to have it on during the Grammys was incredible. I really wanted to watch it during the live broadcast, but here in London I think it would have involved going to a bar in Soho at 4am so i didn't make it unfortunately. It must have been a very odd thing to see in the middle of a glamorous awards show.

The goal working in advertising tends to be to make a TV ad, but one of the nice things about online films is that people are more likely to take a risk. It's pretty likely that if Chipotle's marketing department had set out from the start to make something that would air on TV, it would have been quite a different film. However with the internet it's not as important that you're reaching a target demographic or whatever, and you can just sort of set out your stall knowing that it will find an audience, somewhere, that appreciates the message.

It was a tough thing to make but the greatest validation is that people seem to respond to it. It made a friend of my sister cry, which I think is a good thing? It's very rare to be given the time and budget to create such an elaborate project, so I still feel very lucky to have been able to work on it.

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