How to film a burger falling “per-fect-ly” into a model’s hand: Chuck Studios explains all
We go behind the scenes with a production company that specialises in food and is known for making precise (and pretty amazing) robotic rigs for food and drink ads.
- Ayla Angelos
- 29 September 2022
Chuck Studios knows how to make your food look tasty. From stacks of waffles to crispy bacon and burgers dropping artfully onto a plate, the creative production company specialises in food adverts and builds precisely honed machines, which replicate a particular movement over and over again – until the team has captured the perfect shot. The team of directors, photographers, stylists and SFX experts have fine-tuned their craft over years, producing a plethora of mouth-watering projects for clients such as McDonald’s and 7UP. They know what they’re doing and they know how to do it well.
So how does it all come together? Below, co-founder and global creative director Olaf van Gerwen talks us through the studio’s Burger Drop project, detailing the painstaking steps and the process from initial sketching to the final take. “We wanted to create a sense of craftsmanship and have the burger land on the cook’s hand,” he says. “Bam. Drops mic.”
Sketching and building the machine
The Burger Drop is a super precise machine. It needs to be or it will get messy. I made use of Arduino and programmed a five-millisecond delay —that’s 5/1000 of a second. This extremely short delay is necessary between the downwards movement and the pulling back [of the platforms]. You want to first go down, otherwise you get friction and this will get the burger to fall skew and land in the face of your director or hand model. After that downward movement, each platform moves backwards and the food falls. You can see that clearly in the test films. I also made a test that proves my rig can work from any height — another unique aspect. Most burger drops cannot defeat a height test.
Making the food look edible
You’ll understand that cauliflower may need a completely different approach to chocolate or whiskey. Yet still, there are many commonalities. Firstly, the food has to look tangible. Like you can eat if off the screen. Our brains simply do not know the difference between delicious food and an image of delicious food. The response of our reptile brain is the same: I WANT IT NOW.
How do we do that? Our main instruments are shape, colour and texture. We reveal texture with specific lighting techniques. A swirl of sumptuous dark chocolate looks more velvety and creamy with a soft blanket of light.
We humans are really, really good at determining what is edible and what is not. Evolution has programmed us this way. So if something is wrong with food, we tend to shy away and avoid eating it. This is why we hardly use computer-generated images. We feel that oftentimes humans can tell if something is real or if there is a computer involved. And the minute viewers feel a computer was involved, we simply sense it wasn’t grown or bred. We’re like rappers – we keep it real. And it is also much more fun. We create the circumstances in which “lucky accidents” happen. Little droplets, little unexpected dynamics, particles that fly away; it all adds to the sense of realism. And fun!
Testing... and testing again
We tested and tested. Willem van Muijden [the SFX supervisor who designed the bespoke rigs] invented a rig that first descends, and then really quickly pulls back. This prevents ingredients from sliding sideways and is a first of its kind. We were also challenged by the sauce – how do you make a blob of sauce fly and land without it becoming a mess? Willem recreated the sauce from a flexible, pourable plastic. It’s like a semi-solid goo. The lettuce leaves were glued together, as well as the bacon strips, so that these would drop downwards as one piece. We figured it would make the shot easier. Testing went really well. Willem’s rig performed like a dream. The only uncertain factor was… the human factor. Would the hand model be able to hold his hand still enough and fight his reflex to move? After the third attempt, he was.
Shooting on a high-speed camera
The magic happens if the whole crew cheers when the burger drops per-fect-ly on the guy’s hand. But the fun bit is yet to come. At that point in time we have only seen the action with our eyes. Now, we have a high-speed camera that shoots at a stunning 800 frames per second. Only if you play back the shot at that speed, slowing reality down by a factor of 32, then the magic unfolds. The detailed shot creates a close view on the beef, the wobbly lettuce, the crispy onion bits and the top bun landing on top of each other. That moment of playback is what sends chills down our spines: we nailed it.
Appreciating the physics
Also, the reason why we do and can time everything to the millisecond is that we capture the footage on a Phantom Flex4K camera. This means we can shoot at 1000fps and more. To put this into perspective, a normal frame rate is 25fps. This is why testing beforehand is so important. We don’t rely on CGI, but rather physics. Which is a good thing and a bad thing: we know the laws of physics so we can use them to our advantage. However, physics also means we cannot defy the laws. It’s just impossible. Centrifugal force can make our lives very complicated and gravity is not always our friend. We are always finding ways to work around our good friend physics.
Chuck Studios: Burger Drop (Copyright © Chuck Studios, 2022)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.