How Apple Filmed a 5-Hour Ad on an iPhone 11 Pro in a Single Take Without Recharging

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Some might call it the stuff of a child’s fantasy: Creeping through a cavernous museum while it’s closed to the public, getting up close and personal with timeless masterpieces, and stumbling across mysterious moments that border on the supernatural.

Others might call it a product demonstration.

To illustrate the battery life of the iPhone 11 Pro, Apple and agency TBWAMedia Arts Lab London today unveiled an unprecedented epic of an ad, clocking in at 5 hours, 19 minutes and 28 seconds—all filmed on the smartphone in one take without ever recharging the battery.

And at the end of the shoot, it still had 19% of its battery life remaining.

You can get a flavor of the project with this trailer, which compacts the longer film’s tour of the sprawling Hermitage museum in Russia into a more manageable 90 seconds:

The massively ambitious and logistically Byzantine project was the result of a 9-month collaboration between Apple Russia and TBWAMedia Arts Lab’s London office. But despite all the lengthy preparations behind the spot, the shoot itself required an incredibly tight timeline that left almost no margin for error.

Setup for the filming began as the Hermitage was closing at the end of a Sunday, then continued throughout the night. As the sun rose on Monday, when the landmark is closed for upkeep, the highly complex and delicate shooting began. The crew was given only a 6-hour window to film in, meaning the one-take shot would have to be nailed on the first attempt or else be crumbled into disaster by any technical disruption, fumbled fingers or errant jostle.

And it worked. It actually worked.

Creating the spot in one seamless take with no cuts or postproduction trickery was, from the moment of inception, a mandatory part of the concept. Anything less wouldn’t have the authenticity of a true demonstration of the iPhone 11 Pro’s battery life.

But pulling it off required months of planning, a tight shooting window and flawless choreography. In the early stages, this meant simply taking steps like testing how long the iPhone could record a video without stopping and still have a comfortable buffer of remaining life. The length was determined to be about 5 hours, setting the parameters for the shoot.

The video, aimed at pushing the iPhone 11 Pro to its limits, is the first specific creative assignment to come out of Apple Russia, and even before the Hermitage was selected as the location, the project was aimed at being uniquely Russian in its scope and ambition. An early concept, for example, considered filming the extreme Russian wilderness.

In the end, the Hermitage—the world’s second largest museum, initiated by Catherine the Great in 1764—was chosen as the ideal venue for a 5-hour shoot. Stretching across 2.5 million square feet, the palace complex in St. Petersburg boasts more than 3 million artworks and antiquities, though only a relatively small percentage are on display.

A cadet matches the pose of Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov in the War Gallery of 1812.

Equally important as the backdrop, though, was the director. Chosen for the sweeping project was Moscow director Axinya Gog. At 29 years old, she has already created a large number of film projects within the art world and is considered one of Russia’s rising-star filmmakers.

She’s also no stranger to museums, having largely grown up in one. Her mother was an art historian and curator at Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery.

Thanks to a combination of artistic vision and intimate experience, Gog proposed a shoot that was more soaring in its storytelling flow than some potential treatments that had been floated. Instead of a simple walk-through anchored to ground level in hopes of imitating a museum visitor’s point of view, Gog envisioned the camera moving with ghostly patience through the museum’s galleries, occasionally soaring into the air and even drifting into the center of performances.

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