How do you capture the attention of the next generation of golfers? That was the question Nike Golf put to agencies pitching commercials for four of the company’s latest products—a driver, a ball and two different types of shoes. Portland, Oregon-based Curious Beast  got the job, pitching an approach that blended dramatic sets, CG and projection to tout the products’ attributes in theatrical, almost surreal, environments.

They spent nearly six months on the project, shooting in California in Monterey and Los Angeles, as well as Cape Town, South Africa, and using Cinema 4D and After Effects to create four spots that aired recently on the Golf Channel in North America, Canada, Western Europe, China and Korea. “Creating a sort of virtual, dynamic world gave us a lot of flexibility to tell stories about the modern golfer that showed the energy of the brand,” recalls Colin Brown, Curious Beast’s founder. 

Known primarily for their branding work for youth-oriented, innovative clients including Skullcandy and GoalZero, Curious Beast has worked on many Nike projects over the years in categories ranging from basketball and football to sportswear. Each time, Brown builds a custom creative team so the “team is molded to the work rather than the work being molded to the team,” he explains, adding that producer David Simpson helped assemble the group for this project. 

Emmy-nominated director Cory Shaw served as creative director, joining the project from the beginning to collaborate with writer Joshua Bletterman on the pitch. Shaw’s longtime friend, John Robson, a Los Angeles-based animator and filmmaker, was brought on to direct the four commercials and oversee post-production. 

Robson also worked with the team on storyboarding and pre-visualization, which was complicated due to the need to take into account the creation of art rigs that could accommodate multiple products, the elaborate sets that would need to be built and projection on set. “The over-arching art direction for any CG we did was to keep things looking practical and as if they were shot in camera,” Shaw recalls. “We used C4D and After Effects for make elements that would match seamlessly with the world we created on set.” 

Using a RED Epic camera and a drone-mounted GoPro Hero4, they shot the footage they needed to make projection plates in California’s Pebble Beach area. Next, Shaw and Robson created animatics with 3D previews using Cinema 4D, and the Curious Beast team traveled to Cape Town South Africa to shoot at Salt River Film Studios

Crews from the local art and film collective, Fly On the Wall, built the intricate sets that included things like real grass and sand pits, as well as a watering setup for rain. And Robson and Shaw collaborated with the team at Cape Town-based Lucan Studios, who created visuals for projection mapping.  

Robson directed the five-day shoot in South Africa with Brown and Shaw weighing in to be sure they got all of the shots they would need to work with once they got back to Los Angeles. The goal was to create spots that journeyed into the golfer’s minds by visualizing the sorts of perils that can pepper the course’s landscape. “We shot in what looked like old abandoned warehouses, like massive hangers,” Robson says, explaining how three high-powered projectors worked together to create one continuous panorama on a curved screen. 

Products In Play
Nike Golf’s RZN line of golf balls feature a waffle pattern and solid resin core that help ensure the ball transfers power from club strike to distance. That may be easy to explain, but telling a visual story about technology that’s obscured by the product’s surface, was tricky. To do that, Curious Beast combined practical footage with virtual effects to peel back the ball’s exterior to show what’s inside. 

Rather than using a still rig, the team used slow motion to show the compression of the ball as the club makes contact. Close-up shots reveal the ball’s separate layers, including the red core. “To get this look I mixed CG with live-action,” Robson says, explaining that the ball was filmed spinning on a spigot in order to get the rotation they needed to match in CG. 

To showcase the FlexFlight technology behind Nike’s new Vapor Flex driver, which allows golfers to better adjust the flight path of the ball, Curious Beast created a spot in which a golfer is about to take a shot when a storm kicks up out of nowhere. Though the sky is dark and the winds are blowing debris everywhere, the shot is possible thanks to FlexFlight.

To show this, the team chose an effect similar to bullet time. Used in The Matrix, the effect combines slow-motion action with dynamic camera moves. In this case, though, rather than using several cameras, they shot eight different Vapor Flex drivers in full swing, moving the camera in real time. The ball’s flight path was created in C4D. 

For the new footwear, Curious Beast showed how the new Nike Golf TW ’15 can power through all types of terrain and weather. Footage of the shoe in action was shown on mini sets that were all handcrafted on location. 

Nike Golf’s new Lunar Control 3 shoe is all about having a stable platform that enables a powerful swing, so Curious Beast created a spot showing a golfer being anchored to the terrain by roots beneath his feet. “Those shoes are worn by golfer Rory Mcllroy, who has a really powerful swing, so we needed to show how being anchored to the ground helps him use his muscle movement and swing energy to make the most of his shot,” Brown explains. 

While the art crew in South Africa made actual roots for the shoot, Robson and Shaw used Cinema 4D to make the roots appear to grow. “We wanted to show how the shoe provides stability, so they built a cross section of dirt and had the actor stand right on the edge,” Robson recalls. “Once we got into post, I animated some roots and gave the whole scene a stop-motion feel.” Thinking Particles was used to create the path of each root. 

Response to the new ad campaign has been overwhelmingly positive, Brown says, explaining that the sport is in a very interesting place right now. “There’s a reinvention of the identity of a golfer taking place that is drawing a younger, more confident and culturally tuned player to the game. It’s been very cool to create content that is designed for this new, modern golfer.”

Meleah Maynard is a freelance writer and editor in Minneapolis.