Concept, direction, production: Lorenzo Fonda
Client: YouTube / Google
Agency: Special Guest
Music: Absence / by Slow Meadow
Label: Hammock Music
Thanks to: Alexis Trice, Mathery Studio, Ghost Robot, Stefano Villani
Over the course of 2016 YouTube launched the 6-seconds unskippable ad format before videos. To promote the format to brands, agencies and creatives they commissioned several filmmakers to create a 6 seconds short film that would be screened at the YouTube House at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. The creative brief was completely open.
I’m particularly fond of this little film as I took a big risk with it. It involved one of the most challenging techniques I’ve ever employed, as I had very little experience with melting something like this on camera. Before getting to the final set up I had to go through a ton of research and explore many options on how to make the character’s face melt and reveal the different colored layers and end up with the underneath face relatively clean. The production notes below are really a way to keep a record for myself of this journey, made of infuriating mishaps but also of rewarding results and all the mess that happens in between.
A page from the very brief treatment I sent the agency. I even included a selfie of myself that I took during a Haleakala volcano summit in Hawaii sunrise experience, which I’m sure was in part the inspiration for the piece.
An early sketch of the character, still not being sure if it was going to be the initial face or the final one.
The concept was that a face would melt, go through several other layers of “skin” and end up revealing a new face underneath. My original idea was to sculpt an initial face made of colored sculpting clay and melt that with a heating gun, keep heating to melt the subsequent underneath layers (still made of clay) and end up on a final face made of a material that wasn’t going to melt even if heated. I found a couple videos that showed you could do it and it melted the way I needed and it looked good, so I trusted the internet and started a first test by sculpting a final test face that after being baked would stay hard and not melt.
Then I covered the little face with a few layers of clay and sculpted a face that would be the starting face that would melt. The idea was also to design and create an outfit made of fabric and other materials, so I included in this test a piece of fabric to see if it would burn up when heated with a heat gun.
The test was a complete DISASTER. The brighter colored layer of clay didn’t really melt but started burning and fizzling and smelling horribly, and the fabric almost caught fire from the eccessive heating.
I scrambled and tried every option to have clay melt. Bought a more powerful heater (this time with butane and a flame), tried making clay thinner, using different brands, mixing it with clay softener.. nothing worked. It turned out some clay colors would simply just not melt, they would only start bubbling and burning. So the clay option was crossed out and I was clueless on what to do.
So I did the most rational and judicious thing one should do when clueless: I asked for help. The creatives at Special Guest, and my friends at Mathery Studio at the same time, suggested I should try use colored wax. Crayons, basically. Try make colored layers with crayons-tinted wax like they do with candles and try melt that. Crayons. To the rescue.
I diligently watched several how-to videos on how to make colored candles, and tried to apply the process to my little face. I went on and dipped a few layers of different colored wax around an oven-baked clay face.
This time the problem turned out to be that I mixed too little crayons with the wax, and the coating that would go on to solidify around the face would take forever to get thick and solid and retain colors. But worst of all, the surface (that was going to eventually be the “skin” of the character’s face) looked like shit.
So I did a new test and this time I used way more crayons so that the final mix would be way more dense and thick.
And it worked! Now surface was super smooth and thick enough and would dry perfectly so that a new layer with a new color could be applied on it, again and again.
Since I felt quite good about about all of this and since I was running out of time anyway, I sculpted a quick mockup body (that was done with oven-baked clay and therefore wouldn’t melt when heated) and set up the test character as close as the final shooting conditions as possible, and ran the melting test.
And it worked. Jesus Christ it worked. Whew. Damn that felt good. That was it, I was ready to shoot and melt the character that would be in the final film.
As with the other tests, I started by sculpting what was going to be the “landing” face in the final clip, which was made with a clay that is baked in the oven so that it gets rock hard.
After the face was baked and solid I proceeded with dipping it into the different colored waxes, each heated up and melted to a liquid state.
I paid a visit to Goodwill and bought cheap ceramic mugs, because I was melting the wax and crayons in the microwave and when I tried heating the wax in normal paper cups the boiling hot wax would end up burning the cup and making my girlfriend really anxious and terrified. So yeah, ceramic.
After all the coatings were applied the surface looked perfectly smooth and the size had grown to be perfect in ratio with the planned body size.
Creating the character. God bless aluminium foil.
Heating the body, minus the head of course because MELT.
Here we go buddy, you’re all set.
Melt time! As you can imagine my butthole was pretty tight during this “let’s make sure we get it right the first time ok?” take.
And that was it, this is the beautiful mess I was left with.
Everything ended up being put together in After Effects of course. I used stock footage for the backgrounds because I didn’t have either time or oxygen to go shoot on top of a real mountain.