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It’s Hard to Stop a Trane: Shooting Action Sequences

Director Mike McCoy and Shane Hurlbut planning out a shot

Director Mike McCoy and Shane Hurlbut planning out a shot

“It’s hard to stop a Trane.” That was the tagline from the agency. Director Mike McCoy and I collaborated on a series of spots for Trane Air Conditioning. The location was a dry lake bed near Baker, CA with which I am very familiar. I shot parts of Act of Valor there, as well as the Keith Urban “For You” music video, and a variety of photo shoots when I was lighting for Herb Ritts in the late 1980’s.

 Launching a bus on the Trane AC commercial

Most of the shots for this concept involved complex stunt and practical FX work, so proper planning was paramount. The Elite Team was strategically placed for maximum coverage during each action sequence using 17 cameras: 2 Arri Alexas, 8 Canon 5D’s, and 7 Canon 7D’s. The Arri Alexas shot 120 FPS from a safe distance while the 5D’s and 7D’s were put into Pelican crash housings and placed in harm’s way. You can read more about the crash housing here.

Here is a break down for two specific spots.

Extreme heat:

Mike McCoy filming the C130 fuel dump

Mike McCoy filming the C130 fuel dump

This spot involved a C-130 plane dropping 3,000 gallons of simulated flammable liquid on a Trane Air Conditioning unit. It was then ignited with a flare gun by one of our Trane Endurance Engineers. We set up 4 crash housings with different wide focal lengths along the path where the C130 would drop the gasoline. Elite team members Jose De Los Angeles and Bodie Orman were tasked with placing the cameras, hitting record and running out of harm’s way before the plane flew over.

Elite Team members Jose De Los Angeles,  Derek Edwards and Bodie Orman with crash housings

Elite Team members Jose De Los Angeles, Derek Edwards and Bodie Orman with crash housings

We also had an Arri Alexa inside an Eclipse head mounted on a helicopter to fly along the C130 to capture the “fuel” dump from the air.

Arri Alexa on an Eclipse head

Arri Alexa on an Eclipse head

Elite team member Mike Svitak was inside the C130 and shot all of the plane’s interior shots. Dean Mitchell, Marc Margulies, Mike McCoy and I then shot from cameras on the ground. Special effects coordinator Dan Cangemi triggered the pyrotechnics, and here is the end result.

Blowing up a Trane AC unit

 

Belly flop:

Bus belly flop for Trane AC commercial

This spot involved the Endurance Engineers jumping a remotely controlled bus over a ramp on top of a Trane unit. Considering the damage the bus would undergo, this was another one shot wonder. Elite Team member Dave Knudsen rigged the bus with five cameras: above the driver’s seat, on the front of the bus, on the passenger’s side, in the back seat, and one on the outside near the back right tire. Then two crash housings were set on the ground near the Trane unit where the bus was landing.

The RC controls of the bus

The RC controls of the bus

Canon 7D rigged in the back of the back of the bus

Canon 7D rigged in the back of the back of the bus

Canon 5D rigged on the outside of the bus

Canon 5D rigged on the outside of the bus

21mm Zeiss ZE prime on a Canon 5D rigged to the front of the bus

21mm Zeiss ZE prime on a Canon 5D rigged to the front of the bus

Trane AC bus crash

Education was another important aspect of shooting these spots. I blasted Twitter asking for interns to come out and learn from my team. Three interns were selected and rose to the challenge of camera interning: Arjun Mano from Toronto studying at Centennial College, Peter Johnston from North Carolina studying at UNC Wilmington, and Joshua Ledlow, a shooter from Phoenix, Arizona. They all did a great job assisting in keeping our cameras up to speed running cards, lenses, and gear back and forth.

From left to right Joshua Ledlow, Peter Johnston and Arjun Mano.

From left to right Joshua Ledlow, Peter Johnston and Arjun Mano.

Drinks with the interns after a long shoot day

Drinks with the interns after a long shoot day

 

Thanks to Jamie Thalman for the BTS stills. Take a look at the behind the scenes video shot by Nick Kramer and Corey Jennings.

Author: Shane

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26 Comments

    • Shane, how do you deal with correct exposure the scene at time of explosion to keep all detail on the big fireball ?

      Thanks,
      Mateus

      Post a Reply
  1. Hi Shane, just out of curiosity I noticed you never use the Canon 60D in any of your shoots. Isn’t the 7D and 60D almost identicle except the 7D is more geared for photography and cost more.On top of that you have an articulated screen on the 60D.

    Post a Reply
    • I can’t speak for Shane of course, but we’ve shot extensively with both the 7D and 60D, and can confirm that the 7D outputs a better-looking video file, especially above 640 ISO. On paper the cameras are very similar, and can only guess the reasons for the difference, not knowing any Canon engineers personally! (: The only spec I can see that would make any difference is that the 7D has dual DiGIC 4’s, whereas the 60D has a single processor. I’ve heard that the second DiGIC 4 in the 7D is used to reduce noise/preserve detail, which would make sense given what I’ve seen coming out of the cameras.

      Cheers!

      Post a Reply
      • Thanks Paul, I own two 60D’s and rented a 7D for a job awhile back and used the 7D as the A camera and 1 60D as the B camera and when I took the footage into post, I didn’t notice any real difference. Your right on the processor and it would make perfect sense that having two processor are better than one and to be quite honest my shots were well lit, so I might have seen a difference in a low light situation.

        Post a Reply
      • Can’t speak for Shane either… maybe of the weather sealing of the 7D and the compatibility with accessories. (form factor / memory cards) Just a guess….

        Post a Reply
  2. Lot’s of fun. Thanks for posting. Well done as usual. BTW, Trane is a great product.

    Post a Reply
  3. Hello! This looks awesome, but I was a little confused. The cameras were mounted onto the bus for extra angles but I did not see these shots in the videos posted above, are there more Trane promos coming?

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Saad with action sequences like this its always best to get as much coverage as possible to have more options in the edit bay.

      Post a Reply
  4. Very cool – love the angles and and in depth explanation of how it was actually done! Also the end where the guy goes for the “fist pound” and the other scientist doesn’t notice is brilliant LOL. So funny.

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  5. this is just plainly amazing. Want to get to that level! Where I can explode stuff.

    Post a Reply
  6. Hey Shane,

    Very happy to find your posting. I was the editor on this Trane campaign and a blast working with Mouse putting them together. Very nice job on your coverage. At last count I think my assistant said you had 15 DSLRs and two Alexas (she had a lot of sorting to do when it came to organizing the dailies). Just talked to Jon and Jeff from the agency a few days ago and they said everyone (including the client) is extremely happy with the spots.
    Hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to repost this article on a blog I’ve recently started.

    Great job.

    Best,
    David Henegar

    Post a Reply
  7. Nice!
    Just want to say a props to Arjun Mano for representing Centennial College! (I’m a grad from near 10 years ago :)

    Always love how much you share about the work you do Shane, & many thanks from all of us who visit your posts!

    Post a Reply
    • Jeremy Bernatchez. Thanks so much for the kind words and support.

      Post a Reply
  8. Shane, what a commercial. I was wondering was that truck that was following the bus the chase vehicle? And who was the remote driver? This is a very cool commercial.

    Post a Reply
    • Paul, yes that was the RC operator. I am not sure about who was the remote driver but he kicked ass.

      Post a Reply

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