This Air Jordan spec ad is better than any actual Nike commercial

Rarely does a spec ad catch our attention as much as this Air Jordan short film, "Become Legend". No wonder Nike's ad agency, Wieden+Kennedy, has worked with the film's producer, Image+Noise, in the past.

The production of the short film was led by Michael Emley, a producer and director at Image+Noise based in LA and Portland. The mission, according to Emley, was to "create a vibrant and quirky world of myth and adventure around Nike's most iconic shoe. Similar to how swords have been revered in old legends, the shoe would look like a secret artifact bestowed upon the brave and daring to aid them in their journey toward great trials and deeds. It's like Excalibur.

Emry has had great success with commercial work for several major global brands, including Toshiba, Red Bull Media House, and Puma, but his latest project was unsolicited. This project demonstrates Emry's desire to work more independently, where the full responsibility for creativity rests on his shoulders.

To put "Become Legend" together, Emley and the Image+Noise team teamed up with Troy Brown, a British visual artist who specializes in collage. In just 30 seconds, they were able to tell a complete story, featuring exciting visuals that make us stop again and again to examine some of the intricate details in greater detail.

We spoke with Emry about the challenges he and his team faced in putting together this unique short film, and his ambition to work on more independent animation in the future.

Cartoon Brew: How did this film come together? It was a fairly organic process. I stumbled across Troy's Instagram and loved the flamboyance of his style. I wondered what kind of story would fit this look and came up with this concept on the run. A few days later, I saw he was back from parental leave and looking for projects. It was perfect timing

How did you divide your labor to produce the short film? Was this something you were working on in the background or was it a priority for you at the studio? It was a priority for me because it was one of those projects where I had a lot of energy as I was working on it. So it was difficult to keep it away from me or put it on the back burner. Troy built up the first characters and I got into the environmental design and the first animatics. Danny Stern was the master of mographs and was crucial in making sure the project didn't get "stuck" anywhere on the technical side.

Can you briefly describe the process of blending the different techniques used to create the short film? Which tools did you use to achieve your vision? Troy's style is based on building characters with photo collages, so I had to work hard to find royalty-free assets to build the scenes. It's a lot of work, but when you find a photo of a rock with the necessary perspective, it gives you a big dopamine rush. In terms of animation, the characters were either rigged in Duik or hand-drawn and animated using rotation and parenting. Environments were created with a 3D AE layer for "true" parallax.

What problems did you encounter during production and how did you overcome them? It all comes down to the photo. Working with baked-in 2D assets, it was difficult to create perspective. Getting the character's head to 3/4 is easy with a shape layer. However, we found it difficult to modify the layers of the photo to achieve the same effect. A lot of tweaking and distorting was needed for each frame to make it look organic and natural. Sometimes it was necessary to find a new reference photo to replace it in order to move on to the next pose.

Emry: Absolutely. It's all about what ideas you have and who you have on your side to make them happen. Whether commercial, narrative, or somewhere in between, concept for me takes precedence over medium. I am currently in pre-production on an animated picture book I wrote about early adolescent loneliness.