The Toy Commercial

Creating a World Unto Its Own

How do you create a world of color and sparkle?


oy commercials are an interesting sub-genre of filmmaking. Not simply a commercial, where the idea is to trigger the viewer to buy something, or to stimulate brand awareness, but an opportunity to create a world apart from any other – a world that the child’s imagination will go to when they play with the toy. A good one will use as many tools as any other filmmaker will – and yet, there are specific requirements for these types of commercials. The toy has to actually work. It can’t be a special version that the child won’t be able to acquire. The toy needs to be seen clearly, yet the world presented has to become one of the imagination, unique to each type of toy.

From a photographic perspective, this presents a lot of challenges. There are often multiple scales in the same frame; capturing the motion of both the actor and the toy at the same time; and many times the level of sharpness and clarity need to be supreme. Often, one of the most critical choices is what lenses to use. My “go-to” set of primes is usually the Zeiss UltraPrimes for their clean and sharp yet beautiful manner in rendering images, but they’re often in heavy rental demand and not always available.

This fall, I had an opportunity to try out a new set of lenses. Clients don’t pay for failed experiments, they pay for problems to be solved, even if that takes an experimental approach. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t use a new set of lenses without a test, but this time I felt I could take the chance.

Why take a chance this time?

Two major factors weighed into this decision:

  1. The lenses were the Leica Summichron-C series. Leica’s long standing, impeccable reputation in the imaging world is unsurpassed, and these lenses were long in development in conjunction with another major rental house here in Los Angeles. Designed to finally provide filmmakers with the legendary imaging equipment that still photographers have had for many years, the Leica lenses are sharp, distortion free, fast, and perform well wide open.
  2. My long-standing relationship with the staff at DFS. Sure, I’m biased. I’m one of the owners of the company. But I’m also a customer, and a demanding one. Everybody there knows that I won’t cut them any slack just because I know the circumstances of their day. And no, they don’t treat me any better than any other customer. Everyone gets the same amazing service. And if you don’t get amazing service, I want to know about it.


The spot turned out really well – we made full use of all the tools available, including the Mo¨vi 15 to move the camera, the Leica primes, a probe lens, and a full complement of lighting gear from Kino Flo units, Arri M18’s, Jokers, a new set of LED Dedo lights, and multiple BriteShot RGBAW units that let us precisely dial in the colors we wanted. After all, color is a big factor in the worlds we create. More about that another time.

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