Posted by Glenn Lazzaro for his series “Adventures in Television.”

1990, National Video Center, NYC.  Posted by Glenn Lazzaro

Before 1990, a lot of the things we did in the edit suite (animating art under the title camera, warping images, revealing the process, etc.) were primarily for promos and music videos. The commercial advertising world had yet to embrace the “MTV editorial style.” Agencies would borrow ideas occasionally, but they’d never really done a full-blown spot using “edit suite” techniques. This spot changed all that.

I’d worked with director Jon Kane from Optic Nerve on a number of projects prior to this. He always loved to take chances and subvert what was considered the norm.

Together with Steve Stein, Jon had built a stream-of-consciousness audio track combining spoken word, foreign language, and sound effects with music. This gave us the freedom to do anything we wanted.

Since this was a national spot with a big budget, Jon booked 3 open-ended nights so we could take our time and experiment. He also insisted that we have access to any and all equipment at National Video. The spot was going to be built from hundreds of still images from Time Magazine that we would manipulate under the title camera. (There are only 10 seconds of live-action footage in the 60-second spot.) When Jon said he wanted access to everything, he also meant the kitchen. We shot a series of Time Magazine covers through a fruit bowl under the title camera (you can see the actual bowl 13 seconds into the spot). We also ran the audio track through an ancient oscilloscope we borrowed from the video shop, to create the squiggly sound waves throughout the spot.

Placing the art under the title camera, we recorded 3 frames at a time and created animations that we then processed with digital effects and switcher “wipes” to create the spot. Trez Thomas, VP Brand strategy at Bravo, who was freelancing with Optic Nerve at the time, remembers “long nights and the fact that the Quincy Jones edit for ‘Listen Up’ got moved to LA, so all the suites could be used to edit this one piece.”

After all the layering and digital manipulation of the stills, Jon wanted to introduce a “human” element into the finale of the spot. We enlisted whoever was around at 3 AM to hold their hands under the camera as we animated more stills. That included, Jon, Trez, myself, and some of the girls who were stuck in scheduling that night because of us. This was the second time my hands appeared on TV. (See my “It Takes Two” blog post for the first)

The spot aired nationally, and was written about in the business section of the New York Times (see below). It wasn’t long before the advertising world started doing similar style spots to sell their products.