The not-so-simple concept of simplicity

For lots of people, when they watch something on TV, computer, or mobile, they are left with a common sense of simplicity,  of “that all works pretty well,” which is our brain’s way of saying that nothing major stood out of place.

Our brains are wired to process massive amounts of information and, in doing so, to spot imperfections.  It probably goes back to our hunter-gatherer days when we were traipsing around in the bush and it was the people who managed to spot the imperfections (i.e. the cheetahs in the grass) who were the ones that survived.

We recently did some work with Ocean Design Group for Studylink which, when viewed, looks simple but is actually a fair old swag of work to get right.

What we thought we’d do is write about some of the technical considerations and elements that went into the shoot to achieve the simplicity.

The initial brief required us to shoot both stills and a video timelapse from a bird’s-eye perspective.  Other considerations included needing three talent to create a shape from objects that students would use in their studies, and that the background needed to be a seamless mono-colour matching Studylink’s brand.

As part of the team, we worked with Steven Boniface who is not just an exemplary commercial photographer/DOP, but an incredibly detail-oriented operator.

Our first decision was choosing a location that we knew could fulfil our space requirements, as we would need to have around 8 x 8 metres of floor to shoot and also a very high stud (around 7 metres).




Avalon Studios proved to be our best bet for this. We have worked with them many times and not only do they have excellent space, they have fantastic technical support.

Our next challenge, and probably one of the biggest, was getting the floor colour and texture right.

Anybody who has worked with creating mono-colour backgrounds will know how tricky they can be. We knew colouramas would not work, as the space required was a) too big and b) they can react poorly to video lighting on certain angles, not to mention wear and tear on them.  We thought the best way forward would be to paint the floor, however we also knew that just slapping paint over an imperfect concrete floor would result in a textured (not smooth) floor, which would not provide us with a good end result.

We laid down a test patch two weeks out from the shoot, which required a latex floor filler and then 7 coats of paint!  The result was one where we felt confident that the idea could work, however we were still not sure the colours would come out exactly right (colours don’t always translate exactly as you’d imagined once placed under video or still lighting setups), so we decided the best way forward would be to run a full test day where we could rehearse everything prior to the actual shoot day.

Avalon duly painted the 8×8 floor and we scheduled a Monday rehearsal with a Friday shoot day so any colour issues could be resolved.

It took us around 2-3 hours to light the floor so that it looked good with a bunch of 10k lights, some 20×20 diff sheets laced together.

As that was happening, we worked with Sven Wiig in the Art Department to create the “16” shape out of objects. Again, a lot of time placing, replacing and adjusting was required to come up with a shape that we thought would provide simplicity for us.



What looks good from 6-feet doesn’t always look good from 25-feet, so the afternoon was spent refining the shape from an aerial perspective to ensure the layout would work well.

Monday’s rehearsal also reinforced the fact that we would need not just one, but TWO cherry pickers on the day – one to mount the video camera on and the second to operate from – as any minor movements on a fully-extended cherry picker would ultimately result in a wobbly video shot.

There are a bunch of other little things that were problem-solved on the day like wireless monitoring solutions, side-by-side stills and video light rigs, talent memorising object placement, timing the objects placings and so on.

As a result of all this, Friday’s shoot went super smoothly.  Everybody knew what they needed to do to make it happen. Happy client, happy agency, happy us.