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Behind The Scenes: The making of....

Behind the scenes: Toshiba “Space Chair”

By Christine Clarke on December 14th, 2009


For one lowly red chair and eight Toshiba cameras, it was an epic journey to the edge of space. To tout the picture quality of Toshiba’s REGZA SV LCD TV, Grey, London teamed with Hungry Man, London to launch, literally, the Space Chair project. The team strapped eight HD IS-HR1S Toshiba cameras to a rig consisting of a lightweight chair and a helium balloon and launched it into the atmosphere to an astounding 99,268 feet. The hi-def images captured are stunning and the project itself ambitious, proving “Space Chair” to be one hell of a product demo.

“In effect, ‘Space Chair’ is a beautiful documentary,” says Hungry Man EP Matt Buels. “One of the interesting things about the way Toshiba is working is that they’re using their own products to make these films. Even with [last year's] ‘Time Sculpture’, the fact that we’re using all their equipment makes for quite an extraordinary product demo. Aside from the technical challenge of just achieving it, it was also a really innovative and modern way of working as a partnership between prodco and agency.”

“There were no boundaries at all. This was a complete crossover of ideas,” says Grey’s Andy Amadeo, who was not only creative director but also “Space Chair’s” director. “Everyone chipped in and it was a great way of working because I think what you do is you get a huge team of really talented and diverse people. It all just comes together and you end up with a better product at the end.”

Amadeo takes Boards behind-the-scenes in his own words.

“We have to backtrack to last year’s ‘Time Sculpture‘. The main idea behind each of these ads is that there’s a project behind them and the reason that we do these projects is that Toshiba is all about leading innovation. So we decided early on that the smartest thing to do would be to make the marketing as innovative as the brand, that way it would be a demonstration of their ethos and what they stand for.

“We sat down when the briefs came in and just tried to cast the net and find out what kind of interesting products Toshiba makes. There’s a whole different arm to Toshiba that’s not consumer based, it’s medical and scientific. We delved into the company and what they do to see if any ideas or thoughts came out of that. At the same time, we looked around for really interesting visual things that are out there and looked at what artists are doing.


“We stumbled across these cameras that Toshiba makes, which are really durable and they’re used for scientific surveillance and all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff. At the same time we were aware of groups of people who launch things to the edge of space with weather balloons. By coincidence a guy called Simon Faithfull came in with his production company and showed us this piece of film [2004's 'Escape Vehicle No. 6' and it was one of those lucky moments where everything gelled together. We thought it'd be brilliant to take that film on and shoot it in HD.

"We approached [independent space program] JP Aerospace. They’re a really interesting company that has a neat approach: they have this theory that they can launch satellites from the edge of space and save on the fuel of getting a rocket up that high. We pulled this team together along with Hungry Man.

“I knew it was going to be a quite daring shoot because there are so many things that could go wrong. There were four launches in all. We had three rigs, six cameras in all and every camera was covering a specific angle. Then we had a spare one, so if any of the footage wasn’t good enough or if something had gone wrong, we had the ability to replicate that angle on the final shoot. That way we can walk away knowing that we have something to give to the editor that would maximize the effect of the commercial as a piece of film and not just a documentation of the ascent.

“Basically, the first rig collapsed on our initial take-off in [the Nevada Black Rock desert]. I suddenly realized how stressful this shoot was going to be. We did the first two launches and the rigs were recovered at nine or ten o’clock at night. So we had a bit of an intense wait. We knew none of the rigs worked because the cameras were all offline. But the second one did work, it was slightly overexposed but it was usable footage. Once we saw that and saw how good the footage was, it made the next day really stressful because you wanted everything to be perfect.

“One of the biggest production issues was the weight of the rig because the FAA stipulates that you cannot go over four pounds in weight for the entire thing: chair, cameras, everything. The reason for that is air strikes. If it does hit an engine apparently that’s the weight an engine can take and still continue to run. That was a real challenge but one of the things that fell out of that problem was the fact that we couldn’t have video playback because it would just be too heavy. We basically took the cameras apart and rebuilt them with special mounts to take the lenses we needed. We set the apertures, put the cards in the hard drives, switched the hard drives on and launched, hoping for the best. It was 90 minutes up and then half an hour back down, and then however long it would be to recover the rig. The most it’s ever taken JP Aerospace to recover a rig is five days because they track it with GPS, which is the sound you can hear intermittently throughout the whole film.


“It wasn’t just about weight. We had specific times and we also had a specific area that we needed to launch in. Even though we’re in the middle of the desert, it’s still air space and actually on one of the launches, an airliner did fly about 20,000 feet under the rig. Basically we had a specific slot. It wasn’t like we could go down there all day and launch until our hearts content, we had a slot and that was it. We got really lucky with the fact that there was no wind. Because the balloon went straight up it meant that when it drifted back down it wasn’t too far away, it was still in the valley. Had it been in the next valley or half way up the mountain, we could have been looking for it for a week before finding it.

“You’ll notice in the ads when we do the reprieve shot you see the balloon actually pops. The reason we wanted to cover that is when the balloon pops, it actually shatters like glass because it’s gone from such extreme temperature changes, which was one of the other issues with the cameras and why they’re so good. It goes from minus 60 at one point and then it heats back up again as it gets higher. What happens is once you get into the vacuum, there’s nowhere for the heat to dissipate. Effectively what you’ve got is a kettle that’s getting hotter and hotter and that’s why these cameras are so amazing because they can just take it. Although we got all the footage we wanted there were compromises here and there, but ones that didn’t effect the overall quality of the film.

“We couldn’t get insurance for this. Literally no one would insure this shoot, so there was a lot of money riding on this and a lot of faith on behalf of the client. Fortunately, it all came together. We brought everything back, edited it together and cleaned up the film. But everything you see is real. That was actually another challenge in the filmmaking process. We’re so used to seeing CGI that you show people the first cut and they say, ‘Well you didn’t do that.’ We’re at pains to keep everything in, which is why you see the fishing wire and we hadn’t cleaned up the images that much. We left a lot of lens dust in there and things like that just to basically say, ‘Look guys this is real, we actually did this.’ We were at pains to make sure everything was real. I think it’s important because it shows a level of authenticity and integrity. If you’re going to say, ‘We’re going to do something innovative’, and then use CGI it’s just cheating and that just goes against what Toshiba’s overall strategy is about. At one point we contemplated having a super on the ad going, ‘This is real. This is real.’ But we just had faith in the fact that if you go online and experience the whole thing, then you start to see the idea behind the project coming to life.”

Toshiba “Space Chair” was just one of the month’s top work highlighted in the Creative section of Boards Nov/Dec issue. Check out the rest of our picks here.

Visit Toshiba’s Innovation Hub to learn more about Space Chair and future Toshiba projects here.






  1. the adventure life | The Red Chair says:

    [...] In a recent interview with Boards, a Canadian trade magazine focused on commercial productions, Gary Amadeo, one of the project’s directors, talked about the making of the film. It took three tries, coordination with federal aviation authorities, and the assistance of an aerospace company that’s looking to launch satellites from the edge of space. Here’s a snippet, but it’s well worth reading the whole piece. [...]

  2. Tweets that mention Boards >> Behind-The-Scenes » Blog Archive » Behind the scenes: Toshiba “Space Chair” -- Topsy.com says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by showbizgirl, ShiftyWriter. ShiftyWriter said: RT @showbizgirl: great story of "space chair" from my friend hungry man EP @dduffy and Grey London - http://bit.ly/7mpzQ1 [...]

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