The “Big Sister” Ad: Did one guy make it, in his apartment, in 6 hours?

posted at 11:03 pm on March 22, 2007 by Bryan

Keying off a couple of liberal blogs, Patrick Ruffini challenges the official story on the Hillary 1984 ad. Pat asks:

Did Phil de Vellis just cop to a “crime” he didn’t commit, or had only a minor part in committing, to advance his career (it’s working) or cover for the real perps?

And then quoting Buckeye State Blog:

Also, where was De Vellis’ “Big Sister” ad of the Brown campaign. Where’s that one piece that hinted at Phil’s creativity? Where is something – anything – that shows a high level of technical skill with video editing/manipulation. If you’re still looking, stop. I couldn’t find anything either. In fact, there’s nothing, I repeat NOTHING, from Phil’s work on that campaign (or any other work he’s done elsewhere that I’ve tracked down) that even leaves one to hope that he is capable of the pure genius that is “Big Sister”. I remain skeptical.

An artist’s past is usually a good clue to his capabilities, though breakout performances are always possible. And if previous jobs never let De Vellis stretch out in this way, that’s not necessarily his fault. He could have been working for unimaginative directors and producers.

Phil De Vellis claims he made the ad on a Sunday afternoon in his apartment.

I made the ad on a Sunday afternoon in my apartment using my personal equipment (a Mac and some software), uploaded it to YouTube, and sent links around to blogs.

Using only “a Mac and some software,” he says he made this ad:

Here’s the original ad, for comparison.

On the Mac side, your editing choices are Apple Final Cut Pro, various Avid products from XPress DV all the way up to Symphony (very expensive high-end HD plus a whole lot else), and a couple of compositing programs, Shake and Adobe After Effects. He’s probably talking about Final Cut Pro, but he could also have something more powerful to work with. He could be talking about Adobe After Effects (my preferred effects tool) or Shake, both of which are serious compositing apps (think Photoshop + video and animation capabilities, amped up to 11 and then multiplied by 42). Shake is an Apple product, it’s cheap, and is far more adept than FCP at creating scenes like this one, from the Hillary ad:

votedifferent1.png

Here’s a grab of the same scene from the original for comparison:

votedifferent002.png

Look at the top one, and look at the bottom one. They’re the same shot, altered. The shot of Hillary in the top one has been distorted so that it fits the perspective of the movie screen, but not perfectly. It has been color corrected to blue to match the scene, but again not perfectly. Close enough is good enough in both cases, though. There are heads in front of Hillary, just like the original. They’re not real heads; they never move. In the original, they’re real, moving heads (the guy in the foreground moves a little). And look at the slapdash shape of that guy’s ears in the top shot. That’s a quick and dirty matte that the artist made by pulling a still from the original and Photoshopping it to let the Hillary screen replace the original one. That much, he did in haste or that guy’s ears would look better than they do. There are a couple of scenes like this one, that have the heads of the audience layered over the movie screen. Watch them closely, and you’ll see that the heads never move at all in the Hillary version, and the cutouts look terrible in that version versus the original. He created both scenes the same way, by pulling a still from the original and Photoshopping around the heads so he could put the Hillary vid into the scene. The artist went to all that trouble to sell the idea that all of the real people you see in the rest of the ad are watching Big Sister up on the screen. It’s a sell that works very well as long as you don’t look too closely. Shake can do this, and so can Adobe After Effects. But it could have been done in Final Cut or Avid or Adobe Premiere Pro (if he was on a PC). There are quite a few effects going on at once–color correction, distortion, alpha keying (putting the heads in front of the screen)–along with the editing itself, but all of those apps can pull off an edit like this. This edit is less groundbreaking than it appears at first viewing.

He also pulled one other slick trick, at the end. The original ad finishes with a camera truck showing row after row of slackjawed zombies, with text rolling over them. The Hillary ad zooms in while the truck maneuver is going on. That gives the editor time to roll the end text without the original text getting in the way. That move is easily done in most editing apps, and isn’t a big deal. It’s a cheat, but it’s clever.

The artistry doesn’t stop with the visuals. The artist had to take the original ad’s audio and replace it, pretty much entirely, with the Hillary audio. In the original, the Big Brother character’s voice runs throughout, rendering much of the underlying sounds useless for mixing with Hillary’s voice. To get the signature recurring whine sound, the Hillary editor probably isolated one clean instance between Big Brother’s words and re-used it throughout his edit. No big deal. The ambient sound is harder since BB’s voice is on top of most of it, but not impossible. Decent sound fx libraries have tracks like that. Or he could have recorded street noise and manipulated it, slowing it down, adding echo and chorus, things like that. The marching feet sound also probably comes from isolating one clean instance in the original and repeating it, though he could have gotten it from a sound library. However he got those sounds, a decent sound editor program could mix it, and over that he edited in Hillary’s track and added reverb to it where needed.

Can this be done in one day? On a topped-out Mac or PC with the right software, yes it can. It’s unlikely that he went from idea to finished product in one day, but the actual execution in one day is possible for someone who knows how to do this sort of thing and knows what he wants the end product to look like. And if he has thought through the mechanics of how the edits will work.

So if this were an episode of Mythbusters, my ruling would be: Inconclusive to Plausible. Certainly not busted based on the evidence at hand. There’s nothing in De Vellis’ past work that says he’s capable of this kind of work, but that’s not a show-stopper. Some editors are good for one really brilliant piece of work, or a breakthrough piece after discovering some new trick. This could be a case of that. The editing and effects can be done in a day, start to finish, by an accomplished editor with the right tools at hand who knows what he wants from the final piece. Is De Vellis that editor? I have no idea. He says he is, and what he says isn’t impossible for me to believe.

More: I’m not a great matte maker, but the one I made for this still could just as easily be used to make a movie. I did a better job on the ears than De Vellis (or whoever) did.

beatles.jpg

One more: Got a photo editor that understands layering and transparency? Then make your own 1984 rip-off with this.

Update: The iPod wasn’t in the original ad from 1984. But it was in this update, from 2004.

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Perhaps he turned to the right side?

The dark side of the spectrum is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be… unnatural.

Keljeck on March 22, 2007 at 11:11 PM

Its plausible that someone could put that ad together in a weekend, he could be BSing that it only took an afternoon, but so what? Maybe it took a full day late into the night, or even a Sat/Sun. I don’t think he thought it up AND put it together in a day. I’d guess he took awhile to assemble the idea itself into something workable.

He could well be lying about getting no help, he coulda just had help from activist friends who thought it was a cool idea, even if they had no affiliation to the campaign.

Bad Candy on March 22, 2007 at 11:13 PM

It’s red-on-red so who cares?

billy on March 22, 2007 at 11:15 PM

Excellent research Bryan. I don’t have those skills and wouldn’t know what it takes to produce something like this. I appreciate an educated opinion like yours. Some things can be asserted from this, such as there is no evidence he’s produced work like this before, and it (apparently) takes great skill; and it would require more time than “an afternoon”. If anything, we can surmise that he’s very likely shading the truth. People will do that for reasons of self-promotion. I wonder what his standing was with his (now former) employer, and if that has anything to do with this.

thedecider on March 22, 2007 at 11:17 PM

Mashups are so ’01.

Jim Treacher on March 22, 2007 at 11:19 PM

I’m a hobbyist game developer, but I have no finished games to show off. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t complete a good one if I got the motivation.

DaveS on March 22, 2007 at 11:20 PM

Yay! More Hot Air photo/video shopping mythbusters segments!

frankj on March 22, 2007 at 11:34 PM

So if this were an episode of Mythbusters, my ruling would be: Inconclusive to Plausible.

Err… more like plausible to highly likely. It looks like something either done in real big hurry or by someone who’s not very good.

The masking from the still screams amateur hour.

Of course, it could be made to look cheesy on purpose…

elgeneralisimo on March 22, 2007 at 11:41 PM

either done in real big hurry or by someone who’s not very good.

I’d say “real big hurry.” The matte shots only last a couple of seconds each, and he had a lot of audio editing to do. He wisely chose not to fret about the guy’s ears much. Plus, YouTube makes everything look more awful than it really is.

Bryan on March 22, 2007 at 11:44 PM

It’s really not that hard for an amateur to make internet ads and movies. I slapped together this video with Garage Band & iMovie and about 4 hours of dedicated work, never using either program before. So I can believe it if this guy did the vid.

Nethicus on March 22, 2007 at 11:54 PM

I’m an editor by profession. You bring me the Hillary speech, and the Apple spot and I could put it together quite a bit better than he in less than 4 hours. On a plain old Media Composer. All the sounds could be had from sounddogs.com right over the internet. However, I would wager someone brought him the idea and the source material.

Griz on March 23, 2007 at 12:05 AM

I would wager someone brought him the idea and the source material.

That is very possible. The 2004 re-make, which was used in the Hillary spot, is tough to find online. It might be in a bittorrent somewhere, but I can’t find it.

I always found Obama’s line, that his ad people didn’t have the technical ability to do this ad, unbelievable. Of course they had the technical ability to do this. The campaign has millions of dollars to spend if it wants to. It could probably get David Geffen to pay for ILM to do the work, if that’s what Obama wanted and what the spot needed. It’s not a question of technical abilities at that level; it’s a question of having the idea and standing behind it if you had anything to do with producing it.

Bryan on March 23, 2007 at 12:12 AM

He did a pretty good job of getting Obama’s campaign logo onto the runner’s tanktop. (Though he missed it in one or two shots). I wonder how hard that is to matte in when she’s running, changing perspective, and err, jiggling? ;)

Ed Driscoll on March 23, 2007 at 12:16 AM

Watch that logo closely, Ed. I said, the logo. The motion tracking that’s keeping it in place isn’t perfect. It jiggles more than the actress does.

I hadn’t paid much attention to it before, but its presence signals (to me) that either Shake or After Effects were involved in producing this. They both have motion trackers that would be used to make the logo move with the actress. Iirc, Final Cut doesn’t have a motion tracker. But I could be wrong on that. I haven’t used Final Cut in about a year.

Bryan on March 23, 2007 at 12:23 AM

Not at all hard to do the tracking on the short fast clips of the runner Ed. But it wasn’t done by an amateur or beginner. I don’t personnally know this guys work. But the tracking shots take some experience and technique for sure. All be it not a convincing job. Just like AP said. Whomever did the work knew the down and dirty tricks for cranking this kind of work out fast.

Griz on March 23, 2007 at 12:24 AM

Just like AP said.

Dude. One editor to another, this post isn’t AP’s.

Bryan on March 23, 2007 at 12:27 AM

correction; just like Bryan said…

sorry. bet you get tired of that.

Griz on March 23, 2007 at 12:32 AM

I do usually look. I should have known. Anytime AP sounds like he knows what he’s talking about it turns out to be you.

Griz on March 23, 2007 at 12:33 AM

Downloading the original: 1 minute

Making the holdout matte in Photoshop, frame by frame = 2 hours

Sourcing and editing Hillary’s audio = 2 hours

Effecting the video = 10 minutes to get it right.

Effecting the audio = 30 minutes to get it right.

Reading and writing the announce at the end = 30 minutes to get it right

Making the title card = 10 minutes

Easily done in less than 6 hours.

wordwarp on March 23, 2007 at 12:36 AM

Found a copy on someone’s page. Right Clicky, Save Asy

- The Cat

MirCat on March 23, 2007 at 12:37 AM

No wait, That’s the original. Must keep looking . .

- The Cat

MirCat on March 23, 2007 at 12:39 AM

I should have known. Anytime AP sounds like he knows what he’s talking about it turns out to be you.

I keep telling people who don’t like my posts to e-mail Michelle and tell her to have me replaced, but I think most of you just can’t be bothered. Maybe tomorrow if the news is slow enough we’ll have a referendum on the subject. An online poll would make it nice, easy, and anonymous.

Allahpundit on March 23, 2007 at 12:47 AM

Anytime AP sounds like he knows what he’s talking about it turns out to be you.

Now that’s just uncalled for.

Bryan on March 23, 2007 at 12:49 AM

Here’s the 2004 version

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxShzoUjiAQ

I’m just kidding Bryan. Lighten up or get some emoticons going.

Griz on March 23, 2007 at 12:53 AM

You too AP. The leftie wackys got you guys on the run or what?

Geez. I didn’t know it was such a touchy subject.

Griz on March 23, 2007 at 12:55 AM

I found that version. It’s embedded above. But no way did De Vellis use that to make his ad. He need a lot more clean pixels than that.

Bryan on March 23, 2007 at 12:55 AM

GOT IT!! Right Click, Save As For really this time.

- The Cat

P.S. You’ll notice they didn’t edit in just the IPOD, it’s a completely new girl.

MirCat on March 23, 2007 at 12:56 AM

Nicely done, MirCat. That’s probably the file that was used to make the Hillary version. It’s clean enough.

Bryan on March 23, 2007 at 1:00 AM

Yup.

Griz on March 23, 2007 at 1:00 AM

Oh… and AP. I’m here reading your posts 2 or 3 times a day. That’s how much I don’t like your posts.

Griz on March 23, 2007 at 1:02 AM


Nicely done, MirCat. That’s probably the file that was used to make the Hillary version. It’s clean enough.

Bryan on March 23, 2007 at 1:00 AM

Exactly the same compression distortion in the dolly shots of the crowd.

Griz on March 23, 2007 at 1:05 AM

Good catch Griz. So we have our source file. I’ve matted one of the two effect scenes. Let’s see a mashup, somebody. Best one gets something from the Hot Air store, on me.

Bryan on March 23, 2007 at 1:09 AM

A question I have is why would he use such a hard to find version? I mean I had to intentionally look for it. Unless he had a copy of the commercial from the broadcast and it’s been sitting on his shelf along with the idea, just waiting for the right person/time to use it.

- The Cat

MirCat on March 23, 2007 at 1:09 AM

Nevermind, Griz just pointed out that they match up too well. To unlikely that two source could have the same encoding. Could just be that it took time to find a high quality one to use.

- The Cat

MirCat on March 23, 2007 at 1:12 AM

dam it Bryan. I’m at home and my rig is at work. [1 hour away] And I’ve been dreaming of something from the Hot Air store.

Griz on March 23, 2007 at 1:18 AM

“Mz. Boxer, you don’t make the rules anymore…….. elections have consequences…”


“FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,” “TWO AND TWO MAKE FIVE,” and “GOD IS POWER.”………. Room 101 Please………..

PinkyBigglesworth on March 23, 2007 at 1:23 AM

I edit videos in my spare time (anyone ever heard of anime music videos? yea, that. im a dork, i know.)

So anyways, yes this can be done in a day. no problem.

video editing is a lot simpler than most people imagine, you don’t even have to be GOOD to do this in a day, just an informal understanding of the concepts involved will do.. google can take care of the rest..

triple on March 23, 2007 at 2:21 AM

Now we’re talkin’ g33k! Awesome!

Like I said in the earlier thread, I was impressed that the guy took the time to super the logo on the shirt (though it does drop out of a couple of frames). It’s certainly doable by one guy, though not a n00b.

That said, if Joe Public thought this ad was buzzworthy… let’s just say I’m inspired. The minute Fred Thompson announces, look out.

Mashups are so ‘01

OK, since you begged me: here are a couple of my audio mashups.

saint kansas on March 23, 2007 at 5:12 AM

P.S. I heart Allahpundit!

AP…seriously, do you know how many times I clicked over to your old site only to have my heart sink at the sight of that world series post? (I don’t follow sports, so I don’t remember the specifics…so and so holds up so many fingers…). That was the day the music died. And then seeing you reappear here was like Christmas, but way better, ’cause I hate Christmas.

If John McCain gets a pass for being a war hero, AP gets a lifetime get out of jail free card for being a blog hero. THIS IS… ALLAHPUNDIT!

saint kansas on March 23, 2007 at 5:19 AM

Awesome video fisking, Bryan and subsequent replies. It would be nice if you were all in your PJs while doing this.

…possibly obscure reference to the Bush National Guard “memo” incident…

Anton on March 23, 2007 at 8:33 AM

Using only “a Mac and some software,” he says he made this ad

Only a Mac? Blasphemy

This isn’t the Zapruder film btw.

Valiant on March 23, 2007 at 10:02 AM

AP, if you’re not feeling the love here, you can jump over to my blog, and I’ll pay you in donuts.

Nethicus on March 23, 2007 at 10:34 AM


AP, if you’re not feeling the love here, you can jump over to my blog, and I’ll pay you in donuts.

Nethicus on March 23, 2007 at 10:34 AM

AP is just watching way too much ‘Rosie’

this place would not be the success it is without him.

Griz on March 23, 2007 at 11:06 AM

I think the importance of this ad is being way overblown. It’s popular among bloggers and political junkies but the average person out there couldn’t care less. The people thinking this heralds in some new age really need to get over themselves. The first time I saw it I couldn’t believe all the hoopla genned up over it.

Faith1 on March 23, 2007 at 11:28 AM

Fred Thompson’s talking about it right now on the radio.

When he’s done I’m going to lie back and put a lit cigarette in each ear. Aural sex, baby.

saint kansas on March 23, 2007 at 12:00 PM

…I couldn’t believe all the hoopla genned up over it.
Faith1 on March 23, 2007 at 11:28 AM

Well, I think it’s worth all the hoopla. Not because of the ad itself, but what it means. In this, and future, campaigns, all it takes is someone to loveya or hateya, and you’ll have campaign materials out there that are as effective and persuasive as anything put out by the candidates themselves.

eeyore on March 23, 2007 at 12:07 PM

Well, I think it’s worth all the hoopla. Not because of the ad itself, but what it means. In this, and future, campaigns, all it takes is someone to loveya or hateya, and you’ll have campaign materials out there that are as effective and persuasive as anything put out by the candidates themselves.

eeyore on March 23, 2007 at 12:07 PM

That’s the significance for me, not so much the ad itself. (Although anything that makes Shrillary look bad is okay in my book.) But after all the attention this ad received, we’re going to see a lot more, as people try to not only help or hurt candidates, but also to make or boost their own careers.

ReubenJCogburn on March 23, 2007 at 1:06 PM

I think people are missing the point. This ad was produce in a short time at relatively little cost. Just what will that do to those who pay millions of dollars to produce their campaign ads? Here’s a guy, if true, that produced a very popular ad that people like Hillary can’t get produced no matter how much money they spend. No wonder she’s so pissed.

I think we’re looking at the beginning of the demise of the million dollar campaign ads. All it takes now is a few hours with a digital camera, an Internet connection, and a Mac. If I were this guy, I’d start advertising the work and start a new political ad company.

RedinBlueCounty on March 23, 2007 at 7:49 PM

I didn’t miss the point. The ad will appear to tech geeks, news junkies and political junkies–ie, those of us already reading blogs. To Average Joe/Jane American he/she watch 5 seconds of it and quickly go to the next jackass-waana-be skateboarding face plant.

Again, I think the impact of the ad as a political option is overblown, I think the controversy is overblown and the hoopla surrounding needs a healthy dose of reality (and no not the liberal kind) checks.

It is what it is–a rank amateur production that can be done be a 20 something graphic artist with cheap software and a laptop, shows no original thought, and simply rips off a 20+ year old ad campaign by Apple.

I hate the traditional media as much as the next guy but I think a lot of people need to get a grip.

Does the new media have potential? Absolutely, but this video is being hyped beyond it’s true impact and that may end up backfiring. It wasn’t original, it wasn’t inspiring, and frankly it wasn’t particularly harsh in terms of its political comment. YouTube is filled with lame recuts of famous commercials or TV shows or movies. This is the same category. That’s the danger of the “good political ads can be done cheap”–so can a whole of crappy ones too–which will force the campaigns to do better ones–and more expensive etc.

OK, so lets say the “million dollar campaign ad” is at its demise. I’m sorry, but the “10 dollar campaign ad” isn’t going to be a lot better–you’ll just have to sift through the tons of crap ones to find them–and your average American voter isn’t going to bother.

Faith1 on March 23, 2007 at 8:47 PM

It is what it is–a rank amateur production that can be done be a 20 something graphic artist with cheap software and a laptop.

Hey, I’m 39, not 20! Oh, you were talking about another rank amateur.

I hear you Faith1. We obviously have talented people on these boards with mad skillz, but I’ll admit, every idea I have for a “viral” ad might appeal to, well, people exactly like me. It’s March 2007 and I’ve already seen, in my neighborhood, Obama, Hillary, and Kucinich bumper stickers. (And one Condi 2008 sticker downtown! F’in’ A!) These people are already sold.

The sad fact — so sad I hate to say it — is there are a lot of not-so-bright people out there waiting for Rosie to tell them how to vote. You come up with the idea and I’ll help you make the killer $10 campaign ad. Maybe Allah can send me a clip from The View and I’ll just dub in “Vote for Fred Thomspon!” in the most shrill voice I can muster.

a very popular ad that people like Hillary can’t get produced

That’s the beauty. The candidates themselves can’t put out a Hillary is Satan ad, but Joe Schmoe can if he’s not on the payroll.

saint kansas on March 24, 2007 at 5:48 AM

Bryan: It seems that you are saying that an experienced video editor (like yourself) could have made the “Big Sister” mashup. But is there any evidence at all that De Vellis had previously done any video editing whatsoever?

Where is the former employer or colleague of De Vellis, telling us that he used to amuse his co-workers by creating funny parody mashups? Where is someone from the ODP or the Sherrod Brown campaign telling us about how quickly De Vellis could edit TV news clips and put them onto YouTube?

But even beyond the question of technical capabilities, there is still Buckeye State Blog’s point about the complete absence of any creativity in De Vellis’ background. He is simply not a creative guy, and the adaptation of this Nike ad as an anti-Hillary attack is very creative. I’m sure plenty of Republicans saw that video and said to themselves, “Damn, why didn’t we think of that?”

Ali-Bubba on March 25, 2007 at 12:51 AM

I keep telling people who don’t like my posts to e-mail Michelle and tell her to have me replaced. …

Allahpundit on March 23, 2007 at 12:47 AM

You bring up something interesting, Allah. Why would somebody who doesn’t like your posts even bother visiting HotAir? I mean, you’re the lead blogger, and probably blog 75% or more of the stuff here. Bryan blogs mainly late-night, after he’s done with the grueling job of editing “Vent.” Ian blogs once or twice a day, tops.

If they don’t like AP’s stuff, why are they visiting HotAir, just to read something they don’t like? Masochism?

Ali-Bubba on March 25, 2007 at 1:05 AM