Walmart: The Gift - The Breakdown

The Story

ZERO collaborated with Antoine Fuqua and Saatchi & Saatchi NY to bring big-screen VFX to the Oscars. This new commercial for Walmart – also containing efforts by directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg/ Marc Forster – represented a unique opportunity to create feature-film level storytelling within a 60-second time slot.

The Concept

Antoine chose to craft a story involving an industrious boy with the smarts and the desire to communicate with an all-powerful entity, via a ‘Gift’ composed entirely of items from Walmart.

ZERO’s involvement wasn’t so simple: design and execute a spaceship with something of a personality disorder.

The ship needed to feel ominous and threatening one moment, happy and joyous the next. How do you achieve this while, at the same time, not being derivative of the hundreds of famous sci-fi ships that came before ours?

The Approach

The ZERO team started with extensive research, bringing together perspectives from many sides of the equation. We asked questions such as “How would the ship most likely communicate?” (A: They’d communicate with bioluminescence, like in a jellyfish or angler fish) and “How might an alien species construct a ship this huge?” (A: They wouldn’t build it, they’d likely grow it).

With original thinking, we were able to re-imagine how a ship could look and function in record time.

The Schedule

The timeline posed another challenge. Design was scheduled for less than two weeks to allow all departments (and the clients) to conceive the concepts, and define scale and lighting needs prior to the shoot.

Without a strong visual aid and focal point to drive the ‘real-world’ physics of a spaceship this large, much of the VFX schedule would have been spent fixing unintended issues rather than iterating to make the ship, and other key set pieces, as cool as they turned out to be.

There were slightly less than five weeks between the wrap of the shoot and delivery, with picture lock merely one week prior to final delivery. Key angles were established soon after the shoot so that complete lookdev could be executed, while Antoine and the client worked to lock the cut.

The Pipeline

ZERO’s unified bi-coastal pipeline was tapped to deliver the short, leveraging artistic strengths on both coasts.

Production and supervisors choreographed a succinct five-week dance between the editorial team, modeling, integration, layout, lighting, FX, and compositing, with color timing provided by Stefan Sonnenfeld at Co3 and finishing completed back at ZERO Venice offices.

The result was an Oscars-featured short praised for its emotional nuance – featuring high-end FX to a highly unconventional brief.

The Visual Effects Before/ After Reel