Finding Creative Solutions When You Can't Shoot Live-Action

If you can't change the rules, change the game

The Mill's fully CGI "Pinball" spot for Sony Bravia

In these unprecedented times, making content that is emotionally resonant is more important than ever. Nobody wants to appear opportunistic or callous, and marketers have the unenviable task of trying to find the right tone of voice without all the usual tools of production.

Given the constraints we're facing, traditional live-action production is pretty much impossible. But that doesn't mean the work has to stop. Like us, creative teams across the globe have been considering alternate ways to deliver on new and existing briefs without live-action.

As the industry gets its head around this and hunkers down into remote working, we've seen a huge influx in clients exploring visual-art based solutions in lieu of live-action: design, illustration, animation, stock-footage, visual effects and creative technology.

While the inability to capture live-action is frustrating, the opportunity exists to lean into these storytelling mediums and get more out of them than ever. Inherently adaptable, they offer a wide variety of directions that are limited only by our imaginations. As the artist Kiki Smith said, "Art is a reflection of everything that impacts your life." Given that we can't change the rules, let's change the game and get creative.

Animation, for example, has been used to tell unfilmable stories for over a century. Projects created using CGI or traditional cell animation techniques provide enormous creative freedom and flexibility. Although it's one of the more time-consuming art forms, thoughtful design decisions alongside the ever-evolving technological advances (real-time rendering, for instance) can lead to beautiful results faster than ever.

Stock footage is another good example. A once-maligned resource only to be used in case of emergency, it's seen a major step-change in recent years, with a myriad of highly curated resources now readily available. In conjunction with the right VO and perhaps a little design or VFX magic, this principally editorial approach can produce compelling films quickly without ever leaving the house.  

Whether using VR, AR or other screen-based interfaces, digital experiences can augment the world around you or transport you to new ones. In this time of isolation, creating activations that bring beauty, play, utility and, most important, community to our lives has never been more important.

Another approach is to refresh and recycle old work with a new twist. With the right adjustments and additions in post, pre-existing campaigns can be refreshed, repurposed and relaunched. Updating previously aired spots with the latest products and features is something often done in the automotive sector. Why not elsewhere?

Finally, there is a vast and growing stockpile of user-generated content out there. Everyone has access to at least one high-definition camera—their phone—and many of us spend (too many) hours a day gazing at others via video conferencing apps. In the age of the influencers, preditors (producer-director-editors) and TikTok, how can we use UGC to artfully reflect the messaging we need?

All the above approaches are rooted in design. Design is about setting boundaries within which creativity can elegantly service clearly defined goals. In these extraordinary times, our goals should be focused on making work that inspires, uplifts and brings people together, however we choose to make it.

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Ben Smith
Ben Smith is executive creative director at The Mill.

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