“Bees,” a commercial created for San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park, is a surreal look at how children’s imaginations are sparked through animal encounters – in this case, the Tiger Trail at the zoo. Director Matthew Swanson of Epoch Films teamed with Timber to bring the spot for the San Diego Zoo to life via agency M&C Saatchi.
The commercial, part of a multi-spot campaign, reveals how one boy taps mysterious powers after exploring the Tiger Trail, the Safari Park’s home of the majestic big cats. Working closely with the agency creative team, Swanson and Timber created this blend of live action, CG and a few million bees.
“We came to Timber with a pretty crazy idea – let’s show a kid with a full-grown beard – and not just any beard, but one made entirely out of bees,” explained Maria Smith, associate creative director, M&C Saatchi LA. “Their team made our impossible scenario a reality, and they did it with beautiful attention to detail. The effects were magical, and they helped us create a mesmerizing piece of film.”
The pivotal bee scene involved side-by-side shoots with Swanson directing the live-action narrative and Timber on the bee camera. The boy, filmed wearing a fake beard adorned with a single layer of 200 bejeweled fabric bees created by production designer Justin Trask, meets a girl who asks about his precocious abilities. With the help of a bee wrangler, Timber shot a million bees swarming in formation on the face of a child-sized dummy. Timber would replicate each scene directed by Swanson by moving the dummy to approximate the boy’s action so that they could digitally adhere the bees onto the bee beard scenes in post.
“The agency’s core idea behind each spot including ‘Bees’ was so beautifully odd – I just tried to push them as far as I could tonally,” recalled Swanson. “Getting the bee beard right was definitely a challenge. I knew exactly what I wanted it to look like, but getting there with somewhat limited time and resources wasn’t easy. There were a lot of conversations between myself, my production designer Justin Trask, and Timber creative director Jonah Hall. We literally had swarms of bees out in the open in a public park in Studio City. [I’m] still impressed that we were actually allowed to do that. Happy to report not a single person was stung.”
The shots were digitally united by the Timber team, which also created CG bees for the interior and exterior shots of the school bus where the school children meet.
“Everyone at Timber was really incredible to work with,” said Swanson. “They were really committed to the process from our very first conversations, and delivered impressively on everything we talked about. They seemed much more interested in offering solutions than pointing out problems, which makes my life a lot easier. I can be a little fastidious when it come to small details, particularly in the very final finishing stages, and the entire team at Timber made sure there wasn’t a single i undotted or t uncrossed.”