Technically Speaking: Don Dixon's Human Car

May 2, 2010
As told to Jack Neubart

Tech Speak Don Dixon
Photo Credit: © Don Dixon
The shots had to emulate a TV commercial that was being shot with 20K lights at the same time. But for the print campaign, the photographer had to add some creative lighting touches to capture the needed detail.
Assignment. VP/associate creative directors Bruce McKay and Joe Hash, with Y&R Toronto, came to me with this assignment for the Ford Canada "Human Car" advertising campaign. To coincide with the TV spots, they needed print ads and outdoor billboards. The idea was to show how the car fits into a person's lifestyle, or as they put it, how the vehicle "empowers people." And to do that, they'd hired a troupe of performers that specializes in contorting themselves en masse to form unusual shapes. Here they would mimic the shape of various new-model Ford vehicles: Edge, Concept, and Fusion. We're showing the Ford Concept shot here.

Challenge. The talent could only hold this pose for 15 to 20 seconds, so we had to work extremely fast. What's more, we had to emulate the lighting used in the TV commercial while optimizing the shot for print ads.

Gear. Hasselblad with Phase One H25 back and 150mm lens; Nikon D3 with 105mm Micro-Nikkor; Profoto D4; Avenger stands; Gitzo tripods with ballheads; Mac G5 with 30-inch monitor.

Soundstage. Harbourside Studios, Toronto.

Talent. Pilobolus dance troupe.

Crew. Luna Simic and Heather Price on retouching/compositing, with digital assistant Shereen Mroeuh and digital tech Scott McKay; Chris Ressor served as producer and post production supervisor.

Exposure. F/11 (to hold depth—and it was the sweet spot for the primary lens used in the shoot).

Solution. There was no car on set—only the performers and car parts. We were working practically in tandem with the director of photography Ian Foster and his crew as they were shooting the TV spots. We were of course secondary on the set, but I'd shoot stills of their lighting to gain a better sense of what we needed. They'd view the captures on my monitors and use that information to tweak their lights—I had two complete computer setups working simultaneously. The TV crew was using 20K lights, whereas our lighting consisted of Profotos.

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