Print is a great place to start your campaign.
Once you have a visual that can tell the whole story, the rest just builds from there.
The process for producing a print advertising campaign goes a little something like this.
- Rough Sketches
The first thing I do is present three or so rough sketches.
Now, I admit, my drawings are pretty terrible, but they get the idea across.
Here are some examples of how we take a rough sketch from concept to completion.
Every sketch contains a concept, which tells a story, because ads that tell stories are memorable. The more you elaborate on an idea, the more likely it is to embed itself in the long-term part of your brain (recall memory). Take a journey down the rabbit hole to the Intersection of Elaboration and Memory, just past 303 PSYC, and the cluster of trees.
- Mood Boards
Next, we present a page or so of imagery to give the idea of tone and feel.
When you are happy with the art direction, we move forward with production. This begins with a photographer that fits that style.
3. Pick a Photographer
Each one of the photographers we work with introduces a unique style to the production. Peter brings the epic. Matthew has the gift of stylish fashion (and sports). While Christoph brings a professional, more corporate/governmental feel.
Here’s a mood board of some of my best work with the talented advertising photographer Peter Holst.
This was from a beautiful, award-winning shoot I did with the always-stylish Matthew Chen.
Chistoph Prevost, the consummate professional, was the eye behind this uplifting campaign for the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Picking the right talent is huge. It will make or break an ad. We find our fit though a few channels: casting agents, our social media, even just talking to people on the street. Our criteria is that we start with experts where experts are needed (martial artists, acrobats, stuntmen, etc.) then we go for character over glamour (unless the spot specifically calls for glamour). For bigger shoots, we’ll do auditions. The client is welcome to come along (they’re pretty fun). Then the photographer and I make a short list of our favourites, and together we pick the best fit.
5. Location Scouting
I love location scouting, and I am always keeping an eye out for interesting places for shoots. If I didn’t work in advertising, I’d try to be a location scout for big budget film productions. It’s one of my favourite hobbies.
There are also some great studios in town that we like to use depending on the size and complexity (read: COVID safety measures) of the shoot.
Sometimes it’s a mix of both: RCABC – Father / Son. (Finding the right perch to shoot Vancouver out of a balcony with no glass was no easy task.)
6. The Plate
If we’re shooting in studio on a white screen (or green), we’re going to need a dramatic plate (static photo) for the background. Sometimes we shoot this. Sometimes we hire a retoucher to artfully assemble a beautiful post-apocalyptic wasteland. Shearwater is a good example of this. Miller Titerle too. Once we have sign off on the plate, then we build on top of it.
In the past, I have tracked down a real ball and chain, had a blacksmith forge an iron trident, built a giant, green, fuzzy YES, (with Snuffalufagus-like fur), found a grappling hook, had a real armourer build a functional set of chain mail armour (he had never built armour as a film prop before—the idea was completely foreign to him). He built functioning, historically-accurate armour for… battle I guess? I don’t know, I tried to stay on his good side.
Wardrobe is a huge component to any shoot. And if you are doing a bigger production and the costuming is key, it’s always best to bring a professional stylist onboard. A stylist not only brings the eye, but they also find whatever clothing options are needed (from leather and spikes and sporting goods a la Road Warrior to marching band uniforms).
A stylist is also key on set. It’s one thing to dress your talent, and another to dress them professionally, and be on-hand for any eventualities, be it wardrobe malfunctions, popping collars, or steaming and tapering shirts.
People gotta eat. There is also always an abundance of coffee on set. And sushi. Always with the sushi.
10. Hair and Make-up
I’ve worked with a bunch of HMU artists over the years, most notable among them has been Marie-Helene Babin, the artist body-painting wizard behind some of our best work. Hair and make-up takes it to the next level as you can see here, and here, and here.
11. Creative Direction
I work with the photographer to get the best shot. There are a lot of moving parts on a print advertising shoot, when the talent is in front of the camera, though, that’s all that matters. We take the attitude, “anything for the shot.”
I wouldn’t dare do a bigger shoot without an assistant behind the camera, helping with gear, setting up the skrim and lights, and being an extra set of hands. Sometimes you get out there and you’re missing a cable, or a battery, or (most commonly) duct tape. Instead of shutting down the set, you have someone to run to the store or back home without losing any time. Also, getting the right lift to billowing hair is better done by a human waving a large piece of cardboard than any fan out there.
13. On-Set Photography
This is the photographer’s time to shine. They set the lighting just right. They coach the model. And they bring their vision to life. After working for weeks (sometimes months) closely with a photographer in the pre-production stages, I’m always amazed at how the image I had in my mind is suddenly materializing before my eyes exactly as I saw it. That’s the sign of a good photographer. Intricate prep, good communications, and a mastery of lighting. We try to rely on post as little as possible, so we get it all right there and then.
14. The Selects.
The photographer and I will comb through the thousands of shots we take, and find the gems. We’ll assemble these as our best ‘selects‘ for use to choose from. These are un-retouched, straight out of the camera shots, usually still unmasked from the green screen.
- The Layout
Once we have our best shots of each talent picked out, it’s time to lay them out on the background. We will do a rough ‘mock-up’ first, to get an idea of how the spacing looks, then once that is agreed upon, we move into the polishing.
- The Retouching
We work with high-calibre retouchers that add that final, final layer of polish. It’s one thing to look at a website at 900×600 px and think, yeah, that looks great. Retouchers get right in there at 5000px and straighten every wayward hair and uneven hoodie string to make the final product look immaculate. It’s all in the details.
- The Design
Once we have everything looking great from a photography perspective, we move into the graphic design. (Realistically, I usually have design working on this from the layout stage, sometimes even earlier to keep the train on track.) Font choice is huge. Kerning. Tracking. Serif (or Sans)? Wingding. You’re into a whole new language with designers. As with every other professional on this list, I usually let them do what they do best and leave them to their Wacom devices—with minimal interference.
- Final Edits
With every job that we do, the client gets one round of free revisions at each stage. As you can see, there are several stages in the production of a print ad, so there’s plenty of room for the client to have their say if they are concise and organized in their feedback. By the time we get to the final edit, there are no huge surprises, but it’s always nice to see the final outcome of something that we have been working so hard at for so long.
The final artwork is now ready. We can resize it to whatever mediums we like, and send this thing off into the world. It’s always a proud and slightly melancholy moment, like sending your kids off to school, or finishing the last page of a good book.
NOTE: We can move through this process in as quickly as two weeks (I think 10 days is our record), but ideally we like four to six weeks.
Let’s make some print advertising. Let’s do this!