A new Nike ad is always a big deal, and the latest spot released in conjunction with Euro 2016 is no exception. “The Switch” is a sweeping global epic, a stylish and ambitious new ad touted as the longest brand film ever created by Nike. The film pairs global football icon Cristiano Ronaldo with 16 other professional players, plus a 16-year-old newcomer named Gerson Correia Adua.
“The Switch” sees Adua playing Lee, a ball boy who inadvertently switches bodies with Ronaldo after the superstar accidentally collides with him during a football match. Hilarity ensues in an amusing “Freaky Friday” manner, as both cope with life inside a different person’s body.
The talent behind the camera is equally impressive, with director Ringan Ledwidge helming alongside acclaimed cinematographer Matthew Libatique, ASC (Straight Outta Compton, Iron Man, Black Swan, Noah). Editor Richard Orrick stepped in to cut the film, bringing back the same team responsible for creating Nike’s highly praised 2014 commercial, “Winner Stays On.”
Ledwidge is widely recognized in advertising circles for his hugely popular award-winning commercials for global brands such as Lynx, Adidas, Puma, Axe and The Guardian. He immediately jumped at the chance to work with Libatique on “The Switch.”
“Matty has a great eye for capturing striking imagery,” he explains. “He brings technical savvy and solid experience to the set, and is armed with so much production knowledge that I knew we could come away with something visually spectacular.
“Matty got the concept immediately, especially the humor of seeing Ronaldo wake up inside the boy’s body in England while the ball boy finds himself inside Ronaldo’s beautiful mansion,” he adds. “Matty understood the coverage required for the football scenes along with the requirement to capture the pure excitement of the game.”
Libatique was equally enthralled to be working with Ledwidge, and also warmed to the lengthy commercial’s potential. “It was a very uplifting and inspirational concept playing with the idea that anyone can become Cristiano Ronaldo,” he expresses, “a very heroic sentiment that extols the benefits of hard work. It’s advertising that fits a long line of Nike commercials starring top athletes personifying lifestyle messages. It was also an opportunity for Cristiano to show off his acting skills instead of just performing skills on the football pitch.”
Libatique had previously collaborated with Ledwidge on Nike commercials featuring basketball icon Dwyane Wade and actor Kiefer Sutherland. “Ringan has extensive experience with these kinds of projects that combine both conceptual and performance aspects,” he notes.
Asked of challenges during the shoot, Libatique notes how the film’s narrative needed to stylistically match the soccer play at hand. “There are so many images of soccer seen in commercials and movies today that we needed to figure out a new visual language,” Libatique explains. “That became our main conversation from the start.”
Libatique cites Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait—the acclaimed 2006 documentary about French soccer superstar Zinedine Zidane lensed by Darius Khondji—as an important reference point for the film.
“I believe Darius put up 13 or 14 cameras on Zidane playing football, so there’s a nice feel to the documentary, as it isolates him in a special way,” he reveals. “It’s a perspective unlike anything you’ve seen during TV coverage of a game. That film was definitely an inspiration for us, and something we were attracted to in terms of visual aesthetics.”
Ledwidge and Libatique were also tasked with keeping a balance between the action on the football pitch and the film’s amusing narrative. “We had to figure out exactly what the camera moves were to make sure it wasn’t convoluted,” Libatique continues. “We needed to garner a strong point of view.”
It also became imperative not to repeat previous Nike work done in terms of visual splendor. “That’s obviously important for any brand, but especially so for Nike,” Libatique says. “One of the reasons they hire different directors on each campaign is to secure new ideas and fresh perspectives. However, Ringan brings his own unique directing style to the table and had already directed a huge Nike spot last year. Technically, he learned from that experience, and stylistically he approached ‘The Switch’ in a very different way, as he never wants to repeat himself.”
Equipment-wise, Libatique shot football footage and collected the film’s narrative featuring Ronaldo and other top soccer players on ALEXA XT Plus 4:3 high-speed cameras, ramping up to 120 fps when required.
“Ringan loves the camera’s look,” Libatique reports. “Part of the reason I went with ALEXA was because of its efficiency at capturing fast motion. I didn’t want to deal with rolling shutter problems when panning a camera too quickly. I needed to minimize that ‘jello effect.’ That becomes problematic when you’re panning 180 degrees, as the image completely distorts. I had to avoid that, especially on the fast action scenes.”
Libatique avoided slow motion for the most part, only employing it on a couple of shots during the film. “We were going to run it all at 24 fps with players performing on the pitch in real time,” he explains. “The ability to shoot RAW was another reason for choosing the XTs because there were so many visual effects in post that included complicated crowd duplication.”
All visual effects were created by The Mill, including one football pitch that served as three different locations. “We shot three different scenes on the same pitch so all those technical factors contributed to our decision to shoot on ALEXA,” says Libatique on equipment choices. “It wasn’t anything aesthetic so much as practical and technical.”
“Some of the soccer scenes were shot on a stage in Madrid using a lot of composites,” adds Ledwidge. “The rest we shot on a football pitch in Sheffield, England.”
Libatique employed up to four ALEXA cameras during most of the shoot, adding a couple more when required. “We didn’t necessarily use all the cameras at the same time,” he explains. “It was more about maximizing coverage during the limited time we had available with each athlete. Ronaldo would come for three hours, so we had multiple cameras set up and ready to go. We needed to be as efficient as possible and score as many shots as we could for each scene.”
To that end, the production team rehearsed with a stunt coordinator to anticipate every possible athletic scenario that could unfold during the shoot.
“In addition to Ronaldo, there were other famous players coming in, and sometimes it was a big surprise who showed up—even for us,” Libatique admits. “We didn’t always know who would show until the day before shooting. As a result, we were fully mapped out well in advance. We also spent a lot of time preparing gear on the days in between the actual shoots.”
Libatique handled many different lenses for coverage on location in Madrid, glass that included a set of Leica Summilux-C primes, Angénieux zooms (15-40mm T2.6, 28-76mm T2.6, 24-290mm T2.8) and a Fujinon Alura 45-250mm, as well as a Hawk 15-450mm T2.8 zoom.
Meanwhile, shooting in Sheffield, Libatique favored a set of Canon K35s (18mm, 24mm, 35mm, 55mm, 85mm), a Canon K35 25-120mm zoom and a Cooke Varotal 25-250mm zoom, in addition to a Leica Super-Telephoto 560-800mm. Other gear used on the campaign included a 45-foot MovieBird, as well as the Freefly MoVI rig that Libatique used extensively on the set of Straight Outta Compton.
Libatique favored the use of two DIT stations during filming, along with a 35-inch OLED grading master monitor, a set of hard drives for downloads and a Leader Waveform 5330 monitor.
“The shoot was technically challenging, but also very exciting to shoot,” wraps Libatique. “This is one of the world’s greatest brands, and the campaign was an amazing experience for everyone involved.”