It's not every day that someone comes asking you to shoot moose urine, taxidermy fish, and a life-size coyote decoy. Frankly, I didn't even know moose urine was a product you could buy in stores, but that's beside the point. So when Kathryn Brown over at TAXI called me up to shoot this project, I jumped at the chance. The campaign was promoting Canadian Tire's new hunting and fishing section, and consisted of eight ads. Our task was to shoot rustic lodges, and show the new CT products alongside some classic cabin knickknacks and decor. The idea was to tell the whole story showing only what you would see on the wall of each lodge. With the talented Michael Seigers art directing, it was hard to go wrong.
Having a typically short and frantic timeline, we had to design our production quickly. The first major decision was to shoot in studio, as the prospect of finding eight suitable locations was not within our budget. Next, we made the choice to shoot the entire production from the top down. This meant laying out everything on the floor and building the walls in a horizontal world. We did this in order to allow maximum flexibility and speed when fixing our props on the wall, especially some of the bigger taxidermy items.
It wasn't all rainbows and unicorns however, as there were other challenges involved in shooting top down. Getting a realistic arrangement of items sitting on a shelf with gravity working against you is no small task, as our prop stylist will attest to. Beyond that, with the camera rigged directly above our set, we were locked into our framing and could not look through the camera once we started laying props on the set. Thanks to a trusty iPad app, we were able to wirelessly see each frame, allowing minor tweaks and adjustments without having to move back and forth to the computer monitor repeatedly.
A project like this really lives and dies with the props, and it was important that we didn't come up short in this department. Enter Christina Yan, prop stylist extraordinaire. As always, she went far over and above, and sourced an endless variety of supporting props to build and dress the sets. After some creepy trips to taxidermists' basements, many drawn out conversations with chatty antique dealers, and endless runs to suppliers all over the city, we managed to get all our props sourced and our backgrounds ready.
What made this shoot particularly challenging, was the fact that the clients needed the ability to reposition and/or resize all of the products and props in post. When considering our options for how to accomplish this, it was clear we wanted to avoid shooting all the products separately and assembling the entire shot in post, as this will often look digital and fake. So, in order to create the most realistic looking final image, we decided to shoot all the products and props in place on the hero wooden backgrounds. We then carefully slid chroma-key blue paper in behind each item, giving us a second frame to use when building the masks in post.
When we wrapped our first of three shoot days, we clocked in at 17 hours. Without the tireless efforts of our great crew, Nick Wong, Aaron Hoskins, and Abe Roberto, we'd probably still be stuck in the studio. All in all, a complex production to put together, but we still managed to have a little fun while doing it! After many hours assembling the final images in post, the campaign came out looking great, with a lot of positive feedback from the good folks at Canadian Tire.