The Gift of Life

The Manila-based advertising agency TBWA\Santiago Mangada Puno has teamed up with Revolver Studios in the city to create an extremely touching promo for the children's charity Manikako. The charity has projects which teach less fortunate Filipino children doll-making skills so that not only can they make their own toys, but it also unlocks their creativity. Sponsored by Energizer, the film depicts a robot who falls in love with a doll.

We won't spoil the story for you but Gift of Life will bring a tear to your eye, and it's the powerful emotion in the tale that inspired director A/F Benaza when he received the storyboards from TBWA\SMP. He decided to shoot it as a series of dioramas - still life settings that would tell the story with no words, and no animation. So there was no question of going down a Toy Story-style rendered route.

"Technology sometimes desensitises us to emotion. What I wanted to do was literally burn sentimetal images into the viewer's memory - static moments that are universal to everyone and anyone in the world regardless of age, race, or culture," says Benaza.

He and his team at the production studio built the sets and shot Gift of Life over five days using Canon 5D and 7D cameras. The lighting plays a big role, not just aesthetically but in terms of the narrative too. "It's one of the main devices I relied on to set the mood for each scene," says Benaza. "The time of day plays an important role in setting up the mood. Morning represented the moment the characters met. Nightime scenes helped to make the proposal scene and the birthday scene resonate with the viewer. And sunset is a universal symbol of the end of life."

As the set was indoors, the sunset is one of just two composite shots in the piece, using real sunlight photographed separately. The other comes earlier on when the robot leaps off his shelf, lands on the floor and makes all the toy soldiers bounce up into the air from the impact. At first Benaza wanted to capture the landing in camera, however after a few tests he decided to create a set of rigs with rods holding the soldiers in place.

"After shooting the main plate with the robot and the majority of the soldiers in the shot, we used adhesive to secure the soldiers on metal rods of varying lengths and distances from the camera," he explains. "We shot several layers of soliders in the foreground, middleground, and background. We didn't even have to set any chroma separations since the shot was static. Later in post, we very simply layered the soldiers into the orginal shot and erased the metal rods and blended the soldiers with a lens flare."

It was edited in Final Cut Pro, with effects added using After Effects and colouring with Nucoda. "In fact, I could have done the post on my laptop. Literally!" adds Benaza.

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