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December 22, 2005

Superballs
Posted by Teresa at 02:33 PM * 51 comments

Random joy: the most physically beautiful commercial I’ve ever seen. Director Nicolai Fuglsig made it for SONY Bravia. There are no special effects. What they did was set up a bunch of cameras, and then, on a sunny day, send 250,000 brightly colored superballs bouncing down the hilly streets of an old San Francisco neighborhood.

There’s 60-second version available in high res and low res, and a 180-second extended version that’s likewise available in high res and low res. I highly recommend the high-res extended version.

What are they advertising? Next-generation television technology. At the end, you get a one-line message: Colour like no other. I’d say they make their point.

Comments on Superballs:
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 03:05 PM:

In other news, dozens of dead sea lions have washed up on the shores of San Francisco Bay.

Preliminary results suggest superball poisoning.

#2 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 03:12 PM:

Thank you! I needed some color and fun today.

#3 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 04:28 PM:

The poor frog...

#4 ::: tobias Buckell ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 04:35 PM:

They not only make their point, but it's almost a piece of art in and of itself. I've had a snap from this up on my desktop background for a while now, it brings out the 'oh cool' kid side of me :-)

They also have the 'making of' video there, which is just as cool.

#5 ::: veejane ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 04:36 PM:

David Letterman did that with two large buns of super balls -- okay, it was a vertical drop off a six-story building -- just a couple of weeks ago on his show. For a lark.

It was pretty cool, but for some reason, watching the footage backwards was cooler. The balls all sorted themselves out and flew back up the wall to the roof.

#6 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 04:55 PM:

They dropped 'em up somewhere on Leavenworth, I think. I was excited just because it was SF.

(And then I promptly went and downloaded the artist's music in the background. It plays soothingly on repeat in the background while I code. Who says sharing music doesn't lead to sales.)

#7 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 05:05 PM:

Yes, we saw that one in the cinema recently. Nice image. (It did rather recall a candy campaign from a couple of years ago, tagline "Skittles: taste the rainbow," but it's not really fair of me as a member of the ad-watching public to remember that far back...)

Oh and don't worry about the frog: we saw him in an ad for digital cameras in the same theatre a week later, so he's clearly not hurting for work at the moment.

#8 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 05:30 PM:

Jonathan Sanderson points out that it could have been more fun with less bouncy balls:
http://www.quernstone.com/archives/000883.html

#9 ::: Cassie ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 06:19 PM:

I don't need to see it (okay, I do, but not on this computer) to know that it's wonderful. Just hearing about it warms the very cockles of my heart.

#10 ::: Fran ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 06:26 PM:

That was gorgeous. And I actually teared up a little over the frog leaping into view.

#11 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 06:32 PM:

I was excited just because it was SF.

With a strong component of urban fantasy.

#12 ::: Fran ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 06:40 PM:

Aha! I just checked emusic.com (where I've had an account for years) and you can get full version of "Heartbeat" by José Gonzalez (from the album "Veneer") there.

#13 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 06:44 PM:

I really love it. Over on my livejournal there's a discussion as to whether the Frog was a ringer or not. I like to think it was a random moment of gorgeousness, but I could be wrong. There's a certain amusement value to the idea of someone yelling, "Okay, frog-wrangler, bring in the stunt frog!"

#14 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 06:53 PM:

Jose Gonzalez - Heartbeats
is available on Rhapsody.
Added to my library.
Very nice.

#15 ::: Zzedar ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 07:10 PM:

I can't get this to work properly -- I just get the sound, with no video. Any suggestions?

#16 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 07:28 PM:

Zzedar, I just went through updating from QuickTime ver. 6xx to ver. 7 (20 minute process, at least, and it gave me iTunes, which I hadn't particularly asked for), and now it works, including video. You might try that. This is a WinXP machine.

#17 ::: grackel ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 08:11 PM:

I did sort of wonder at what arrangements they might have made with the city for cleanup.

#18 ::: Orange Mike Lowrey ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 08:16 PM:

Thanks, Teresa; that was just... oh, wow!

#19 ::: enjay ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 08:38 PM:

Isn't it nice to see a moment of purely gratuitous beauty, coupled with a sense of fun that drags us straight back to being kids? I watched it grinning and thinking, "It's gorgeous... and damn, I wish I could do that on my street!"

#20 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 09:07 PM:

Too cool for words for me...

(iTunes has the music also)

#21 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 09:16 PM:

The first scenes of bouncing balls looks like Filbert and Leavenworth in Russian Hill. There are shots on both streets. In one of the shots, the camera is pointed east at Coit Tower. In another, the camera is pointed north at Alcatraz.

However, in the final shot, the camera is certainly on Telegraph Hill, overlooking Broadway pointing down Kearney Street. You can see the sign for Fresno Street in the lower left. You can also clearly see the corner of the Coppola Building at Kearney and Columbus right in the middle of the picture.

It was clearly not just a single street. I strongly suspect the use of virtual superballs. Still, very cool. Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

#22 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 10:43 PM:

I should add that every time I see this (I've now watched it five or six times) I think of Damon Knight...

#23 ::: Mygaera ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 11:13 PM:

I remember reading something a month or three ago about the making of this, probably before it had even hit post-production. IIRC, it was a write-up/blog article that someone had written, having lived above the street/one of the streets that they had filmed the commercial at. There were even some snapshots posted, on Flickr, I believe. Definitely not virtual superballs.

The more I think about it, the more I am leaning towards having found the write-up initially on boingboing...

Ah, my google-fu is strong!

#24 ::: paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2005, 11:16 PM:

i would think the physics work pretty well in predicting where 'most' of the balls would end up (for some value of 'most'). there would be some random scattering of balls hung up in various small spots, but there were some images of rafts of balls in places that were at the bottom. Physics works (it's the Law). Just a thought. it was a beautiful video, thanks for sharing.

#25 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 12:48 AM:

"Definitely not virtual superballs."

I thought perhaps they used lots of superballs, but added more, perhaps extra-colorful ones in prominent places.

#26 ::: Janet McConnaughey ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 01:08 AM:

[sigh]

My computer apparently is too old, slow & otherwise limited (eg 96 meg RAM, and it may be out of slots) to handle Quicktime v7, needed to play the ad. What it has is 4; the computer tried to upgrade to 5, which ain't there no more, neither.

Ah, well. It does most of what I want it to, most of the time.

I did look at some of the stills.

And, though it looks like I'll have to try downloading their files and it's too late right now, here's a page with a bunch of video from the pingpong ball avalanche experiments.

#27 ::: Graham Blake ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 02:54 AM:

Truly a beautiful and magical thing, thank you.

I believe things bode well for the frog. I was looking at the making-of video, and it seems in addition to the main shots they did a few controlled shots with fewer balls. It looks like the shot with the frog had only a small number of balls within it, which leads me to imagine the clearly talented ranine likely escaped unscathed.

I would have loved to have been there to see them go, but slow motion film really captures the beauty. At full speed in real life, I bet it would have been a huge adrenaline rush.

#28 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 03:31 AM:

Boy, this is why the Bay Area is so cool.

Drains were blocked and ball wranglers brought in to prevent the sort of side effects Stefan mentioned above. If there were dead sea lions, it would had made the papers here. If the Chronicle didn't report it, the Examiner would had and would had blamed it all on Mayor Newsome. If neither of those reported it, the Mercury News would had in order for Silicon Valley to count coup on San Francisco.

But wait, there's photos:

Bouncy Ball Cannon

10,000 Bouncy Balls On the Roof

Fortunately, the commercial did not provoke the outcry that trucking in snow for a snowboarding contest did. That even, for Johnny Mosely's 30th birthday, upset a Bridus Godzillus who didn't want it upstaging her spotlight.

Oh, and Leavenworth... what famous movie detective lived on that street?

#29 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 03:49 AM:

"Definitely not virtual superballs."

There is no way anybody would sit for some crazy German guy pouring real superballs down Kearney onto Broadway for a television commercial. I don't care who he is or how cool it would look. That just isn't done. I think the superballs shown in the final scene were added by blue screen effect.

The ones on Leavenworth and Filbert were real superballs.

#30 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 04:10 AM:

"Oh, and Leavenworth... what famous movie detective lived on that street?"

Tough one. Sam Spade lived on Post Street. If I had to guess, it would be Nick Charles in The Thin Man, but I don't actually remember him living in San Francisco in the movie until he shows up in After The Thin Man, and the swanky place they put him in for that movie was way the heck up on Russian Hill somewhere. Might have been on Leavenworth.

I give up. Which one?

#31 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 07:04 AM:

Preliminary Googlage seems to indicate that bulk pricing for Superballs starts at about five cents each, decreasing for purchases of 1000+. Not that I would ever suggest that anyone bring a backpack full of them to the top of the Empire State Building or similar locations. Heavens no.

#32 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 08:15 AM:

Thanks for posting about this. That's absolutely beautiful. I'm even more blown away by the fact that those were actual balls.

My guess is it was a stunt frog, one of the shots where they just let a small controlled drop (same with the dog). All of these shots were carefully set up and planned, yet the camera captured spontaneous moments because there's no controlling 25,000 superballs or how a frog jumps. The camera found the randomness.

#33 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 09:07 AM:

For those of you who get sound only and no video, note that earlier quicktime versions are able to play at least the low-res version of the extended commercial. (If you don't want to upgrade just for this)

#34 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 09:55 AM:

air cannon? Nah, I'll wait till the Bouncy Ball Trebuchet is available.

#35 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 10:12 AM:

Nah, I'll wait till the Bouncy Ball Trebuchet is available.

Now that I know there's a market for it, I'll start mass production immediately.

#36 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 11:09 AM:

"There is no way anybody would sit for some crazy German guy pouring real superballs down Kearney onto Broadway for a television commercial. I don't care who he is or how cool it would look. That just isn't done. I think the superballs shown in the final scene were added by blue screen effect.

The ones on Leavenworth and Filbert were real superballs."

You're right. They didn't. Fulgsig is Danish.

#37 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 11:32 AM:

At full speed in real life, I bet it would have been a huge adrenaline rush.

Yeah, among other things. Watching the trash cans get knocked over made me think...if you got too close to that, you could be killed. One hit from a superball might or might not leave a bruise. A hundred, and certainly some of them will. Thousands and thousands...well, enough bruises really will kill you (kidney failure). Not to mention what happens if you get hit hard enough to damage organs directly.

This may be why there are no people getting caught in it. No way to do that safely.

But gods, it's beautiful.

Drains were blocked and ball wranglers brought in

Ball Wrangler. Somehow it never occurred to me that such a job existed. That's what I want to do with my life.

#38 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 12:34 PM:

"Fulgsig is Danish."

My apoligies to him for calling him German. That was stupid. I should have listened more closely.

He's still crazy— I saw that Bond villain gleam in his eye. Nobody sane gets that gleam after successfully depriving a hundred million American children of their supply of polyurethane toy balls.

#39 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 01:52 PM:

I said: I was excited just because it was SF.

John M. Ford said: With a strong component of urban fantasy.


I'm sure you were just being facetious, but that does bring up the issue I have with other folks (nobody on this board really!) being so anal over the use of SF to describe science fiction. I live in SF (aka San Francisco) and my mom grew up in Oakland, so SF has always meant San Francisco in my head. I use science fiction or SF/F to denote science fiction for exactly that reason. (Or I would wander around SF going, "Where's the science fiction in this pizza? It says SF Pizza. I demand science fiction.")

Of course, knowing what I know about this board, it does behoove me to cautiously throw around my city's initials. I will now refer to it as SF! to keep everybody from being confused.

.....

Back to the balls. I know 90% of the balls in the commercial were real balls. Apparently they were QUITE noisy, and reportedly the filmmakers brought in prop cars because they weren't sure what sort of impact 100,000 Superballs would make on most peoples vehicles. I think one of the filmmakers wanted real balls because he said something about how the virtual balls don't have the same effect.

I'm willing to bet that one of the final shots had blue-screened balls though, or went through some kind of digital compositing.

I don't know how they do stuff in other cities like NY, but here whenever they film on a street in SF!, they pass around flyers a month in advance and tell us that if we park on said street on such and such day during such and such hours, the DPT will tow us. (The DPT is happy to do so. SF!--look, I'm doing it again--parking is nigh on legendary for how crappy it can be, and I've never heard of any of my friend successfully fighting the DPT on tickets or towing. I sometimes wish the city would release numbers on the revenue that comes from parking fines.)

Anyway, the DPT will tow your car, and the street gets all blocked off, and you have lots of men in official looking vests and headsets waving you around. (They did a shoot recently outside my MUNI stop. In a year or two when a Will Smith movie about a homeless guy in SF! in the 80s shows up, and you see him at a BART stop in front of a park--THAT BART STOP DOES NOT EXIST. They tore up an eighth of Duboce Park to make it, and transplanted trees and everything. It made all us commuters at the stop a little sad that it wasn't a real BART stop.)

But I digress....


#40 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 03:31 PM:

"It made all us commuters at the stop a little sad that it wasn't a real BART stop."

Cripes, the producers of Spiderman 2 built an entire working cross-town elevated line and then tore it down without leaving a trace.

Man, that pissed off a lot of New Yorkers.

#41 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 03:36 PM:

So, I'm watching this again, because, man, I really liked it, but something's niggling at me, in the back of my head. Something about superballs. And an office. I can hear a rumble like a stampede of a billion tiny elephants.
I can't figure out what I'm thinking of. But I know it wasn't long ago, and that it made me laugh. I remember hearing laughter.

Off I go. Greater minds than mine have offered guidance in the ways of Google Fu; what I like in skills is my fault, and not theirs.

I found this:
http://us.gizmodo.com/gadgets/announcements/gold-medal-winner-the-superball-prank-108453.php

(Unfortunately, while I can google like a mofo, my html skills blow. So, Teresa, if you'd like to fix this comment so the links are actually clickable, rather than cut-and-pasteable, please, do so)

Unfortunately, the link at the end of the article there didn't provide me with a solid destination. So further discipline:

http://www.darrenbarefoot.com/archives/002769.html

The video is there. It's a .wmv and slightly large, but, boy how, is it worth it.
(enjoy)

#42 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 05:07 PM:

Truly, the Devil finds work for idle hands.

**SKNFFFPLPBTTT***

Okay, I almost managed to say it with a straight face.

#43 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 07:41 PM:

Several of the shots look as if they might've been taken in Bernal Heights or on Potrero Hill (based on tree and housing types).

As for the music -- another ripple from VW's use of Nick Drake, perhaps?

#44 ::: Michael Turyn ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 10:00 PM:

The stunt I want to see:


  1. Take a CRT into a vacuum with micro- or no gravity.
  2. Have it show some colourful moving picture.
  3. Induce the screen to fragment---a glancing blow with bullet, or maybe a bunch of squibs (we don't want to damage the CR gun, just the T).

If luck is with us, we will continue to get images on the shards as they fly outward (as we are born to media trouble), at least for awhile---the shapes will be distorted, and the colours off, but it still might be impressive. Use it for a scene showing the protagonist's fracturing personality, and matte in a gun for the origin of the event, for Elvis' sake.

Of course, if I knew how to use elementary ray-tracing and kinematic software, simulating this might be a kindergarten project.

#45 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 11:02 PM:

beautiful. thanks for sharing this.

#46 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2005, 11:11 PM:

Thank you, Teresa.

#47 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2005, 12:27 PM:

I have downstairs a box of official Wham-O Superballs (TM) that I bought when the company ran their last production run six or seven years ago. (Toys-R-Us placed a large order and then cancelled it and Wham-O, upset at having been stiffed, hasn't made any since.) The reason I bought them was that I'd been carefully nursing along my Superball from the early 80's and guarding it from the dreaded "cracks" and I wanted to quit worrying about it shattering and just enjoy bouncing the thing.

Unfortunately, I then learned that the Chinese company that had done the production run for Wham-O used a different makeup of Zectron (TM) than the original balls did and my big box could only do an 80% bounce rather than the 92% my old Superball did. So I'm back to carefully using my old Superball, storing a really cool shipping box downstairs with 11 Official Superballs in it (I gave one to a friend recovering from cancer surgery), and fighting off a burning desire to go into illicit Zectron manufacturing. Hmmm..sounds like a job for Jon Singer. Hey, Jon--admit it, you need a break away from pottery glazes...

#48 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2005, 02:50 PM:

@ j h woodyatt: John 'Scotty' Ferguson, the star-crossed detective in Vertigo. And one thread over, that's one of my four favorite movies.

#49 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: December 25, 2005, 05:14 AM:

I dragged Hazel away from Christmas preparations to show her the extended video, and there was much goshwowing here in Reading, Berkshire. Lots of thanks for the link!

And, while I'm writing: festive good wishes all round.

#50 ::: fidelio sees even more spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 08:55 AM:

The poorly-punctuating Pet Lover is spam as well.

#51 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 07:40 PM:

But a better subject would of thougth off that.

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