The Task At Hand
What do you do if you’re Intel and on the brink of making huge breakthroughs in neuromorhphic and quantum computing? You create video content explaining and promoting these leaps in computing science, thats what. This was the task at hand when McGarryBowen, Intel’s social agency, hired ASL to produce their “Behind the Brains” campaign.
But how do you make topics such as neuromorphic and quantum computing digestible for a mass audience? That was the challenge when ASL took on this shoot. None of us understood what either of these computing topics really meant. They were just buzz words we had read about in tech articles. So we went straight to the sources.
Pre-interviews are a tremendous resource for building the story arch of a video. In this case, the interviews with our two main subjects, scientists Jim Clarke and Mike Davies, helped shape our story. It was in the pre-interview that Jim mentioned spinning coins were a good representation of quantum computing. Jim once had his team come together to see how many coins they could spin simultaneously. The coins, all moving, with the same motion independently of each other, represented how a quantum computer worked. Each quantum computer chip performs the same task independently of each other. Jim asked them to imagine 7 million coins, all spinning at once. That is how Jim described his visual representation of quantum computing and that’s what we set out to capture on film.
When we spoke with Mike he explained that neuromorphic computing can be explained by synchronous and asynchronous movements. While “normal” computing is similar to synchronous movements, all parts in motion at the same time, the next movement based on the previous one. Asynchronous computing, which relates directly to neuromorphic computing, is more like the human mind. Functions of the brain can operate independently of each other while still operating synchronously in a different part of the mind.
The creative team realize that synchronous and asynchronous computing could be explained by synchronized swimming. Our swimmers looked equally as graceful when performing in formation and individual movements.
With our metaphors in place, we returned to a more familiar topic, the video production of our shoot.
Forming Our Plan
We first traveled to Portland, OR to scout locations for our interviews and for our visual metaphors, synchronized swimming and dozens of coins conjunctively spinning.
We visited the Intel campus in Hillsboro, OR to scout a location that could work to interview Jim and Mike on the breakthroughs in neuromorphic and quantum computing.
Our scout led us to the realization that we need a location to shoot these interviews away from the typical conference room look. A basic computer lab would not work for our main interview location. Our interview needed to look as interesting as the topics we were covering. Luckily, we were familiar with the World Trade Center in Portland which would provide a dynamic look behind our subjects.
During the scout we also realized that computer labs might not be as “sexy” as we thought. Therefore, we’d have to add a set design element to our shoot to make sure the labs provided an interesting background for us to film our subjects and their teams. A row of computers can’t convey the magic that takes place during quantum and neuromorphic computing.
Now that we understood how we needed to proceed with the subject interviews, it was time to move on to the synchronized swimming team.
Researching synchronized swimming teams presented its own challenges. We met with teams in Portland and Los Angeles and came to the conclusion that the best team for this shoot was in LA. Now the search to find a pool. We scoured the LA area for a pool that was available to rent on our date and had a look that would satisfy our creative team. We spoke with dozens of pools and scouted several until we found the one. Our director met with the coach of the synchro team to discuss their capabilities and make sure they could deliver on his vision. After meeting with the team and watching their example videos, our director was confident they could meet his vision and we hired them.
Moving a leg of the shoot to LA would be tricky, logistically, but we wanted to make sure our client got the best possible content. With the locations, synchronized swimming team locked in, we got started on booking travel and crew for Portland and LA.
In Portland we ended up having a crew of 12 people including producers. Los Angeles was a bit of a different story with a crew of 30+ people including our swimmers. We had to double down on our planning due diligence to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks.
Time to Execute
Our shoot was approaching. We had our crew and locations locked and our schedule tight. Now we just needed to execute.
Our first day was in Portland and we filmed inserts and b-roll of one of our interview subjects. We spent time at the Intel’s campus at various aesthetically pleasing locations, as well as the nueromorphic computer lab. We utilized LED ASTRA muti-color lights to give the lab a unique look and feel. To create a futuristic whiteboard look, we used plexi-glass so Mike and his associate could write equations on it as we filmed through the other side. The plexi-glass in combination with LED ASTRA lights created a futuristic aesthetic to enhance our techy tone.
We were able to capture unique footage of Mike and his team in their work environment, as well as, macro shots of Intel’s neuromorphic computer chip, the Loihi.
Our second day was spent at the World Trade Center, in Portland, where we filmed interviews with both of our subjects in a one-of-a-kind environment. The Portland WTC provided a unique, industrial look for our interviews. This created a visual and metaphoric depth to our video. After our interviews were filmed, it was time to wrap Portland and head to LA.
A Company Move to LA
While we needed two days and two locations for our shoot in Portland, our LA shoot was simpler than that in the respect that we only had to film at one location. Though we had a full day of pick ups and prep, everything was building to the epic day of filming at Echo Park Pool in Long Beach.
Our shoot day was divided in to three parts, the first part was spinning coins with a macro lens for our quantum computing metaphor. The second part was filming the synchronized swimmers and the third was filming a neuron prop that we had custom built for our shoot. The day was only scheduled for 10 hours so we needed to be efficient and agile to get all of the coverage on our shot list.
The spinning coin portion of our shoot was quick as the camera set up didn’t take long and we had multiple hands assisting us spin the coins as our DP got the shots he needed. Next was the biggest portion of our day, the synchronized swimmers. Our first set up with them was an overhead shot on a gimbal connected to a giant jib. We captured what we needed as the team preformed their routine and moved on to the next shot.
This set up was particularly time consuming and important as we used an under water camera rig from Hydroflex with our ARRI Alexa Mini camera. The mini was sealed tight as the rig went into the water to capture our synchro team. Another aspect of our shoot that was time consuming was inserting a black tarp in the pool. We used this tarp on the bottom and side of our pool to help highlight the motion of our swimmers. Slow motion was a major aspect of our shoot and the black tarp helped the swimmers’ movement stand out. The tarp also created a dark background that helped the blue of the pool pop and create a contrasting backdrop for our synchro team.
The footage looked unbelievable as we took the Mini in and out of slow motion while our swimmers contorted their bodies in and out of unison during their routines and freestyle portions of our shoot.
The final set up for our production day was to film the neuron prop that had blinking lights along with octopus-like arms flowing from the body of the prop. While pushing frame in and out, our director and DP got all of the shots they needed to satisfy our shot list and just like that, our shoot was wrapped.
The joy and relief when a successful production, of this size, wraps is hard to describe. All that planning and the time it took to make sure every piece was in order takes its toll. Booking the travel, the crew, scouting locations, obtaining permits. Phone calls and pre-pro decks. Weeks and weeks of effort all lead up to three days. Three successful days in which our producers, director, and most importantly, client were unbelievably satisfied with our efforts and the footage we captured.
The best part of being part of a production company is that we get to do it all over again for the next shoot. Stay tuned for our recap of that production!