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Inside Our LED Wall Shoot for Hopewell Brewing Co.

Demo Duck recently wrapped a delicious LED wall experiment, producing a video series for a local Chicago brewery. From embracing new technology to partnering with old friends, the project had plenty of layers to it. Our ACD Jarrett Hothan tells the story from his unique perspective. 

In 2011, my friend Jonathan Fritz picked me up for band practice. Chicago had finally thawed out after a long winter, and the fresh optimism of spring was in the air. During that ride, Jon told me something interesting. He was finally setting in motion a dream long fermenting with his University of Illinois friends Samantha Lee and Stephen Bossu—they were going to open a brewery in Chicago. 

Although our band unceremoniously disbanded after one show, it’s safe to say Jon's new side project was destined to be a hit. After years of planning, The Hopewell Brewing Company officially opened its doors in 2016, bringing crisp, crushable beers to the masses—especially via their bright and welcoming taproom in Logan Square. From day one, their visual branding was on-point—minimalist and tasteful packaging design with vivid colors, sharp angles, visible brush strokes. Hmm, maybe this stuff would look good in motion…

Our team capturing some footage of the Hopewell Tap room to display on the LED wall.
Our team capturing some footage of the Hopewell Tap room to display on the LED wall.

Tapping a New Technology

Certainly a few things have happened since 2016. Perhaps the most noteworthy? That’s right. Baby Yoda. Grogu, the cute, coo-ing, merchandising machine, became the breakout star of The Mandalorian. But another major star of the series was “The Volume,” a 20-foot-tall, 75-foot-wide, 270-degree immersive LED space designed custom by Industrial Light and Magic. The LED wall created high-resolution backgrounds that are illuminated as an actual light source—making the space western scenery all the more immersive and realistic as opposed to a green screen. 

Naturally, the Demo Duck team wanted to get our hands on that thing. No, not Grogu. I’m talking about the LED wall. We’re always trying to learn new video production styles or try out new technology to elevate the work we do. Since we didn’t have a specific project that called for the LED wall, we decided to do a spec project where we’d bring to life a concept that would be a good use of its unique production benefits. An exciting decision, but it raised a few questions. Where would we find an LED wall? And what would we even shoot? 

RJ Pole is a producer for MK Films in Chicago, a company that specializes in “tabletop production,” which finds dynamic, delicious ways to showcase food and beverages on film. And guess what they just added to their arsenal? An LED wall. Perfect! We reached out to RJ and his team to see if they’d be interested in partnering with us on the project and letting us use their studio space and the LED wall. Not only were they in, RJ also offered some creative advice for our concept development. He mentioned that the LED wall really sings when it’s the background for liquid, providing a delicious brightness and beautiful reflecting off glass.

The Ducks flocking together at MK Studios with the LED wall in the back. RJ Pole, pictured right.
The Ducks flocking together at MK Studios with the LED wall in the back. RJ Pole, pictured right.

The Fermentation Process

Our team hosted a brainstorming session featuring different ways we could utilize the LED wall. From explainer video parodies to fun multiversal bits, the room was buzzing with creative energy. However, RJ’s advice regarding the LED wall and its beverage benefits really offered us a “north star” to help us hone an idea. Let’s create a series of product-focused videos for Hopewell that uses the LED wall to bring their vibrant branding to life for the first time in motion. 

Naturally, the Hopewell team was excited and on board for us to use their product and branding for our spec project. Who doesn’t like three cool videos produced on-the-house in the name of creative experimentation? Their only request was for us to use beers that are typically brewed year-round, so we settled on Ride or Die, Clover Club and Lightbeam due to their gorgeous packaging designs. 

Call me Ishmael, I must confess that I am more of a narrator of this journey than captain of the ship. Our core project team involved a variety of Ducks, including Creative Director Kelsie Ozamiz, Producers Katie Williamson, Marissa Davis and Cody Benefiel, Designer/Animators Jake Allen, Aimé DeLattre and Ossian Mendoza, and our Director/Editor Nick Roth. Design and animation was a main part of our pre-production process. For two of our videos, we planned to have the LED wall display real footage of a warm evening on the lakefront and the Hopewell tap room—only for it to transition into animated versions of the Hopewell packaging designs. Creating this animated graphics was led by Aimé, our motion graphics guru who I actually met for the first time at Hopewell’s tap room. 

“It was important to remember that the animations needed to serve as a background for the scene,” said Aimé. “Since the camera is shooting from different angles, or occasionally might blur the background when shooting something in the foreground, I needed to make sure both the design and the motion of the elements was very obvious.”

The Perfect Pour

Once we had all of our assets to display on the LED wall ready, it was time for the shoot! Our intrepid producer Marissa helped pull together props for the shoot to also bring some personality and color to the real objects in the foreground. These included a finished wood surface to create the illusion of the Hopewell taproom bar, as well as a delicious picnic scene. This is the magic of the LED wall. What we’re displaying is the location—all we need to do is switch out the elements and actors in the foreground. This certainly made things a little easier for the full team, and freed up producers like Cody to lend creative suggestions and more. 

“In this case, we were able to accomplish the effect of a large location shoot without all the equipment moves and setups,” said Cody. “It really took the stress off me that day to not have to think through those aspects. Even though we were just experimenting with angles with the LED wall in the background, it made the video feel very lived in and immersive.” 

Our first video for Lightbeam featured the sunny Hopewell taproom on the LED wall, and our well-coiffed ACD Jake in the foreground taking a sip of the beer. The idea was that he would then enter into a world of flavor, drawing slight inspiration from 90s advertising for Tang, Gushers and other teeth-rotting delights. Aimé’s animations then transform the taproom into a colorful squiggly interpretation of the beer label. Marissa and I got to work dueling hair dryers to create a transformative “flavor” effect of wind blowing back Jake’s hair. Practical effects are back, baby.

The second video was for Clover Club. This was an interesting creative pivot from earlier iterations of the project. We were thinking of maybe another “location turning into animated label” bit, but Kelsie brought up the idea of creating a video based on, well, good vibes. Inspired by the gin cocktail of the same name, Clover Club features a vibrant, flowery label. So we decided to create a sunny picnic with a high-definition nature background. Our director/editor Nick, who shot the footage, saw the LED wall as a unique advantage.

“The LED wall was great because I was able to keep an eye on the background and use that changing light and react to what was happening in real-time,” said Nick. “This was especially important for the picnic scene, where I made sure to shoot footage that featured light reflecting off the glasses, cans and other objects to really make it vibrant and feel outdoors.”

An interesting learning was that the luminance of the LED wall isn't always your best friend when it comes to shooting beverages. We found that the light reflecting off the cans was indeed a little harsh from certain angles, and was throwing off the desired vibe of the footage. We sprayed the cans with a a little bit of dulling spray, reducing reflections and light glare. This is a common issue that MK Films encounters for such shoots, and they have a full toolbox on hand for problem-solving customizations.

The day was moving and grooving, and soon it was time for the third and final video for Ride or Die. It was also time for me to serve as on-screen talent. This video featured myself and Ossian as two buddies meeting up at the Chicago lakefront to enjoy a tasty beverage, which would then transform into the Lake Michigan-inspired packaging. It was the role I was born to play—step aside Daniel Day-Lewis! 

Although Ossian and I’s actions were pretty minimal, my takeaway was how much intricacies and timing are often necessary for key moments like a can opening or even toasting. When the pressure is on and the cameras are rolling, it’s funny how you can overthink everyday actions. Fortunately, Nick and Kelsie were there to guide our timing. “Alright enter…walk…open cooler…crack beer…cheers!” If there's no need to capture audio, there's nothing wrong with over-communicating and working out a plan for choreographing small actions.  

After the shoot wrapped, it came time for the edit. This was handled by Nick, and former Duck and current freelancer partner Sam Powell. Since Hopewell wasn’t an official client per say, it allowed our team to explore the right story or shot mix that we wanted. When it came to the edit, Nick’s main goal was to have each video feel slightly different, and feature the product shots in unique ways as well.

Lights, camera, chug! Aimé, Jake and Chris get ready for their on-screen debut while Kelsie helps direct.
Lights, camera, chug! Aimé, Jake and Chris get ready for their on-screen debut while Kelsie helps direct.

Last Call

Three delicious brews. Three delicious videos. And of course, lots of learnings from our first experience working with the LED Wall. We still love building immersive live action sets, or utilizing green screens or colorful cyc walls. It’s all about what is best for the client and concept. Hopefully these videos—and the transformative power of the LED wall—can transport you to a sunny Lake Michigan day with a cold beverage with a buddy. Or if you’re in the Chicagoland area, you can actually visit the Hopewell tap room in person. Maybe you’ll see me there…strictly doing research for the next video series, of course.

Written by Jarrett Hothan
Jarrett is a writer for Demo Duck, a Chicago-based video production company. He has a passion for helping clients tell their stories through video. He also plays guitar and sings in Chicago's 143rd best garage rock duo.