ABC’s season 29 launch spot for veteran reality-competition series Dancing with the Stars seems like a simple 30-second promo but in the days of the pandemic, producing it proved to be something of a Herculean effort.
The little spot had a big job to do: it had to create a flashy reveal for new host Tyra Banks and it had to introduce the cast, which, unbeknownst to the audience, is ever-changing up to the moment all of the participants are announced.
To solve these problems, Bigstar and Black Label Content put processes and creative in place up front that would allow the rest of the assets to be added later.
“It was the first show we were going to have back as part of our fall schedule. We felt like people were experiencing some Zoom fatigue, so the biggest thing that we wanted to push was that we were back in the ballroom,” said Lucas Aragon, executive director, design, ABC. “The challenges were that the stage hadn’t been loaded in yet and we cast the celebrities up to the very last minute, so we were literally tracking various versions of the cast until the night before they announced it on Good Morning America.”
“From the very beginning, it was an interesting challenge,” said Josh Norton, founder and creative director of Bigstar. “Lucas and his team and Bigstar have a history of doing exciting work together. This project was special in how important it was for the show, for the network and for people who need to be entertained, especially right now.”
“We wanted to create something special and the pressure was on because we were working on a short deadline,” said Norton. “Tyra Banks is a huge personality so we wanted to create something visually stunning and powerful and we wanted to put her in the ballroom.”
That was the trick though—the ballroom wasn’t ready—so it fell to Bigstar to create 3D animation that almost exactly replicated the ballroom as well as a motion-graphics package that would introduce the cast, even though the cast wasn’t yet known to them.
To capture the portion of the spot that featured Banks, Black Label ran a live-action shoot in Los Angeles with the show’s new host under the specific COVID-19 protocols the agency had developed over the past several months of quarantine. These include testing all participants 48 hours prior to the shoot, as well as rapid-testing them upon arrival. It also includes social distancing, wearing masks and PPE, and keeping everything clean and sanitized.
While Black Label was producing the footage of Banks, Bigstar and its team of designers, 3D animators and compositors were busily at work on the motion graphics and CGI.
“We were nervous about pulling off a photo-realistic ballroom but we were blown away with the way it came out,” said Aragon.
The whole team wanted to shoot the cast for the launch campaign, but considering the timing, they agreed to use still photos instead. That way, names and photos could be inserted almost right up to air time.
“The thing I have been so impressed by since quarantine began is how resilient and creative people are,” said Aragon. “If you had asked me a year ago whether we could pull something off like this, I would have thought you were crazy. But I am so inspired and impressed with everyone and how creative they are. They adjust and they impress.”