By now, HD is a fixture in many household television sets and has even infiltrated the radio waves. But in terms of mainstream web implementation, especially for advertising, it still has some way to go. Bicoastal production/design studio Firstborn is showing creatives how it can be done successfully with its ambitious online initiative for Microsoft and its new business-security software, Forefront. With the support of Microsoft agency McCann and director Dante Lombardi, the Firstborn team realized a bevy of amusing security-themed ideas (like fighting zombies, ninjas, and secret agents) with a meticulous video shoot that culminated in a highly interactive online experience. Firstborn producers Craig Elimeliah and Dan LaCavita discuss the highs and hurdles of creating original high-end video for the web.
Give us a little background on the shoot and the significance of filming specifically for the web.
Craig Elimeliah: There are no static assets on the site whatsoever. Everything is full video. The site itself needed to be localized in 90 different countries and had to talk to a really broad audience. So the design, the video and the language needed to be as broad as possible. We went to Hollywood to film it, and web really had to look at the production as if we were looking at it on the web. It wasn't a typical film where we were going to shoot just any type of assets and throw them up on the web. It was specifically indicated that we design for the web. We understood that the characters must be very elaborate in their motions; we needed to have their clothing just right and not clash with the color scheme of the actual website; and makeup, hair, everything, was really important to ensure that it was crisp and clean. If everything's going to be video, the video has to be perfect. People on the web are sitting an inch away from their monitors, and detail is everything.
The detail factor must explain the decision to shoot in hi-def.
Elimeliah: We were obsessing over the video quality, and we really pushed to shoot in HD. We eventually had the opportunity to shoot in progressive 1080p, which was very important in order to capture, pixel for pixel, every single frame in case we needed to edit specific frames or to do something specific technologically—maybe bring down file size by seaming frames together rather just than streaming out the video. There are a lot of little technical nuances you need to play with in order to achieve that goal. The detail was extremely important because, again, people are going to look at it an inch away. If you look at the places on the opening selection carousel, you see a quality of detail that you don't see that often on the web.
What was the technology used in bringing HD video to the web?
Elimeliah: We started off in typical web fashion, putting our designs together in Photoshop. We had some photography to work off of that McCann had done for a film shoot. But we really didn't expect to get the type of quality that we got. It was great to be able to have the high-definition assets to work with, and it just made the site come alive. From a design standpoint, everything was done in Photoshop. We work in Flash, and that's our sweet spot.
Dan LaCavita: In our intro, we created everything from scratch with 3ds Max. So we used 3ds Max, After Effects and then Flash for the final deployment of the technology.
How did the relatively brief time frame affect bringing the Forefront assets online?
Elimeliah: It's funny that way because there's so much more that has to go into the web. If you look at it on the front end, it seems pretty, as if maybe we cut and pasted. But the programming that was involved and the flexibility in order to localize this for every different country, the load times, the buffering . . . we not only had to do the programming of the site, we had to do a lot of testing in order to make sure the videos loaded up and played properly, that things worked. For those three and a half weeks, it was working every night until 11, just pounding away and figuring out the best possible way to do certain things.
What were other main hurdles in implementing the original video online?
Elimeliah: We're used to doing static intros and transferring those to do whatever we want with them. But now we're working with gigs and gigs of high-definition video, which takes a lot more with gigs and gigs of high-definition video, which takes a lot more time to work with, to render and to load up. You could be really creative with how you do it. When you have only a few seconds to work with, this is not a video that can be buffering and playing like a DVD. This is something living in an environment. What we capture is only going to be a few seconds, so you have to be really creative in what those few seconds are going to be and the impact they're going to make. The files are so heavy, it won't work if the quality isn't perfect.