Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Dance in New Media: Apple's iPod Commercials

We've seen the commercials. The dark silhouettes of energetic bodies dancing against colorful backgrounds. We're talking about the infamous Apple iPod commercials, which have captured our imaginations since the early 2000s. Now, the signature silhouetted body with the white earbuds and iPod body are synonymous with Apple's popular music player product. In the campaigns, they've used dancers to showcase the feelings created by the iPod and it's worked wonders for their product line. (Photo above is from a Wikipedia entry on iPod advertising.)

You can see one of the commercials here (w/ abstract dancer Elsewhere):

You can see another commercial with Mary J. Blige performing "Work That" here:

And here's another commercial with the Ting Ting's "Shut Up and Let Me Go":

In recent years, we've rarely seen dancers' silhouettes used in visual media. Fred Astaire famously danced with shadows of himself in the film Swing Time. But these iPod commercials have taken it to another level. One of the most notable features is the use of dancers moving against motion graphic backgrounds. Whether it's a simple monotone color backdrop or various shapes interspersed behind the dancer, we're seeing a new visual style where the dancer's movements are motivating changes in the background. We don't usually see this in film musicals or reality TV dance shows since physical props are much harder to move on stage. In these iPod commercials, the background manipulation is achieved in post-production with motion tracking techniques. Simple effects can be achieved through Adobe AfterEffects or higher end programs. In more recent iPod ads, we're also seeing the camera moving along with the dancer whether it's bouncing up and down or swaying left to right. This slightly handheld camera effect makes the visual space of the dancer more vibrant and fluid than ever before.

The still iPod ads, as seen in billboards and print magazines, are another interesting development. We're seeing strong, visual poses demonstrated by the dancers' silhouettes. Often, the ad directors are choosing energetic poses that capture a moment in time. After all, it sells the product well to audiences. Looking at these still ads, we're in awe of the human body when it's in motion. Imagine if we could see these bodies in slow motion while dancing. There have been Gatorade and Nike commercials that captured athletes' bodies in slow motion. Why not dancers? For street dancers, we often think about creating "pictures" with our bodies. Bboys and bgirls hit freezes to punctuate their downrock. Poppers are constantly imagining new illusions and presenting them in picturesque ways to woo an audience. And lockers have very distinct poses that they hit in their funky dance. You could argue that our street dance styles are informed by a desire to create moving pictures.

Finally, the Apple iPod commercials are taking us into a new visual space for dancing. With the use of motion graphics, it's like we're stepping into a kaleidoscopic space where anything is possible to put on screen. If we can dream it, we can execute it on screen with the right tools. This possibility offers many new opportunities for dancers, filmmakers, and motion graphic designers to explore. And dancers don't need to remain faceless. Some of the recent iPod ads have featured well-known musicians like Eminem, Mary J. Blige, and U2 with slightly illuminated facial features. The same can be done for dancers. Imagine if one of the top crews from MTV's America's Best Dance Crew popped up in one of these iPod commercials? Surely, the fans would love it. This new visual space created by the fusion of dance and motion graphics means that we can explore dance ideas on a limitless canvas. Could we see the beginnings of an artistic movement fusing dance and visual art as motion pieces?

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