AUSTIN, Texas and LOS ANGELES – (June 10, 2020) – On May 6, in Arlington, Virginia, the leaders of the U.S. Space Force unveiled a :30 ad titled “Purpose,” citing it as the centerpiece of the exciting new military branch’s continued evolution. Conceived by Austin-based advertising agency GSD&M, the far-reaching integrated marketing campaign added a second :30 spot on May 28 – this one titled “Make History.” Both spots were produced in their entirety by bicoastal creative production company Scholar.
Cinematically illustrating individuals’ passions for dreaming big and pursuing their highest purpose – and for making giant, courageous leaps protecting the space frontier – the campaign’s ambitious storytelling presented Scholar’s executives with an epic challenge. From the company’s LA studio, co-directors Will Johnson and Chris Finn along with their colleagues leapt at the chance to produce the most high-profile live-action production in Scholar’s illustrious decade of existence.
“We have worked with the amazing GSD&M team often in the past, and we saw this as a spectacular opportunity to combine our design sensibilities with cinematic flair,” Johnson began. “And in the context of space, where we can explore the outer reaches of storytelling through the lens of the future, there is a lot to love.”
For both directors, the campaign dives deeply into our collective human sense of adventure, while aiming to inspire and excite a new generation about the future of space. Alongside GSD&M executives including Group Creative Director/SVP Jeff Maki, Creative Directors Christopher Colton and Clay Hudson, and Senior Producer Andy Rosenthal, Johnson, Finn and company called in the best of the best in all departments for their production. Notable talents include legendary director of photography Claudio Miranda, ASC, acclaimed production designer Michael Broaddus, and A-list line producer Richard Kaylor, to name but a few.
To formulate their storytelling approach and concepts, the directors and designers met extensively with Space Force representatives. “Our ultimate goal was to shoot everything on location, using as much practical set dressing and in-camera art direction as possible,” Johnson said. “Knowing we could always add layers of design and aesthetics, we mainly saw these stories through the eyes of narrative and filmmaking.”
“We sought to create a tone and look that felt relatable to space as it’s historically been represented, staying firmly grounded in reality,” Finn added. “The cinematic approach we chose gave us the flexibility to balance massive rocket launch locations or the vastness of space with tight intimacy of the Space Force professionals on the ground… with shallow depth of field pulling the focus to performances, while wrapping our heroes in the glow of technology and UI design.”
During the final days of February, after completing painstaking location scouts at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Scholar’s producers began meticulously managing their 3-day production schedule. Luckily, the stars aligned; this became one of the last productions to wrap before productions shut-down nationwide in response to COVID-19.
Based on their scouts, the production team focused intensely on previsualization and pre-production. Among many critical results of those efforts was the decision to use lighting and backdrops strategically. According to Finn, “On location, we used digital projectors and LED screens to capture backdrops and reflections in-camera, eliminating post-production steps and allowing us to push camera lensing and depth of field to their limits. These stylized, textural design elements interact with our talent and create throughlines between scenes.”
On the technical side, Miranda and the directors chose Sony’s VENICE Digital Cinema Camera for photography, using vintage lens packages and streak filters to offer the creative look of anamorphic style lenses without limiting aspect ratios. And in post-production, CG and VFX were artfully used to embellish live-action scenes with futuristic technology, while providing important context to Space Force’s goals. As mentioned, the strengths of Scholar’s design and concept art team were essential in visualizing those elements during pre-production, to ensure they fused elegantly into the live-action world. Using a combination of Foundry’s Nuke and Autodesk Flame, CG assets were then assembled into 3D packages and used with camera tracked live-action plates, matched for lighting and composited seamlessly.
While the 40+ active service members appearing in the two spots are the stars of the show, all those assigned to Vandenberg – and even the base itself – are the campaign’s unsung heroes. By all accounts, completing the production’s complex logistical mission would have been impossible without Vandenberg’s phenomenal settings, operations and personnel.
Asked about the most memorable aspect of the project, both directors admitted the mind-blowing technology they witnessed first-hand – to include Boeing’s vaunted X-37B reusable space plane – exceeded expectations. However, all paled in comparison to the men and women in uniform. “Those service members are genuinely excited about the future of their roles as they relate to space,” Finn concluded.
Putting the finishing touches on a pinnacle studio project, Johnson shared this hope: “We want people to walk away with a sense of wonder and return to the feelings they had as kids, when they looked up at the stars and were overcome with a sense of adventure.”
Campaign music is courtesy of Mophonics, with audio recording and final mix via Digital Domain of Austin. Complete project credits are available upon request. To learn more about this campaign and the U.S. Space Force, please visit https://www.airforce.com/spaceforce.
Scholar is a creative production company drawn together by a love for design, endless curiosity and passion for engaging viewers on an emotional level. The company blends top-tier artistry with production expertise to forge braver, smarter content that is highly original. A full-service studio with offices in Los Angeles and New York, fueled by a diverse array of award-winning creators, Scholar produces work that is driven by substance and elevated by style. Experience Scholar at http://www.helloscholar.com.