Mars Ice Cream – a little bit tasty

Mars Ice Cream – a little bit tasty

I think of myself as a photographer, not a writer – and I’m certainly not an active blogger.

So I’ve had to ponder long and hard about my new role as a photographer/blogger. But I reckoned that with over 20 years of shoots – mainly automotive – under my belt, I wanted to pull some of it together in a series of pictorial blogs, eventually building all this into an ebook.

A life’s work behind the lens, if you like. “Everyone does it sometime, so why not me?” I thought.

If you want a manifesto, then I guess that’s it.

Furthermore, I’m not going to go down the predictable chronological route. How I started, when, with whom, where etc etc. That will fall into place over time. I’m using a scattergun, disjointed approach to my life and work, a sort of Pulp Fiction in stills. One day in Los Angeles, running from heavies, the next gobbling ice cream on Hove seafront.

And that’s where I’m kicking off my blog – Hove seafront, shooting an ad for Mars Ice Cream. One of my few non-automotive shoots, but oddly built around the image of a very imaginative, chocolate shaped car. It also won me an award. So I’m proud of that.

I was commissioned to produce two campaign ads for Mars Ice Cream. Simple job and not far from home. Just down the motorway on the south coast.

The basic idea was to make ice creams trendy for kids on the beach. It was meant to be a bit sexy, a bit raunchy. As always, the clients didn’t want it to be as sexy or raunchy as the guys in the agency wanted it to be. The client wanted a simple “hello boys” approach, so it had to be watered down and what you see is the middle ground.

I was sent the layouts by the agency, but it was when I saw the car designs by a student at the Royal College of Art that I knew we had a uniquely different job on our hands.

Ehsan Moghaddampour – for that was his name – initially drew several pencil sketches, sending them back to the agency, which forwarded them on to the client. This backward and forwarding, amending and correcting, went on for about 3 months till it was eventually signed off. The result is the image you can see here.

Sketch, Mars Ice Cream


For the right effect, we wanted bright, direct sunlight; you need an ice-cream-type feel to the shot, which is hard light. So you shoot it as close as you can to mid-day and Hove lends itself to that.We then received all this, estimated how much it would cost to get a location shoot, the models, props and the post shoot CGI. As I’ve mentioned, for the location we chose Hove seafront.

For the car, we hired an ice-cream van for the day. This turned out as a cross between a hearse and a giant chocolate bar; it had all the colours and the tones of a Mars bar, which are black, red and gold. That played heavily in the colour scheme. It certainly wouldn’t look out of place on a Batman set. Funny a lot of my shoots end up with that gothic look about them.

She’s a model…

The girl selling the ice cream was a lively 19 year old who lived with her rich boyfriend on Chelsea Wharf in London. Boasted she had a pole in her front room for fun and games. She was a very interesting young lady.

We had her selling the ice-cream from the van, so she had something to relate to; then popped the young guy outside so he had something to relate to.

The other guy in the background was a model on an ice cream bike. We had to get that down from Lincolnshire in the East Midlands.

Funny, you would think you would find one of those in a seaside resort like Brighton and Hove, but you need one that looks good, you can’t just put a skanky one on with a broken umbrella.

We couldn’t find any around there. So the production company eventually tracked one down in Lincolnshire. The owners drove it down in the back of their van, turned up for the shoot and wondered what the hell was going on. But they were getting paid to be there, so they didn’t mind.

Where do you buy buoys?

With the rest of the picture, the clouds were luckily compliant that day, although I did need to move them around a bit later in photoshop. With the life buoys, we had to buy them on ebay and put them in position. You can’t just remove one from the beach and use it; you’d certainly be in big trouble if someone drowned. Also, you don’t start a shoot and then ask in the middle for one, you have to have it ready and paid for.

So we had the props and then, in essence, we shot some positions that were usable. So that was how it worked; shot the elements, shot the backplates, shot the guys, shot all the bits and pieces, composed the HDR, gave them a rough comp on the day with the lightweight model that we produced and worked the crops and the layouts to suit. Hope that doesn’t sound too technical. But that’s it in a nutshell.

Backplate, Mars Ice Cream


After this, we put it altogether with CGI, photoshop and all the various packages that we use; about 7 or 8 pieces of software that go into making that picture. This took us some time, working it out with the layouts, making sure everyone was happy with the heights, the angles and all the rest of the bits and pieces that have to fit, because it’s not worth taking the picture if it doesn’t fit the page. Getting the scale of things right, people’s positioning right – it’s like a recipe.

I delivered it and then moved on to my next job. But unbeknown to me, someone from the agency entered the picture into the Campaign magazine photo awards 2010, and we ended up winning!

You always like to play awards and accolades down, but I was very proud of that. Not just for me, but for all the people – around 15 – who helped me work on the ad. It was recognition for a job well done. And here I am, pleased as punch and rather worse for wear having consumed my fair share of champagne on the night.

Mars Campaign Photo Awards

Mars Campaign Photo Awards

Nigel Harniman

The Making of Mars Ice Cream

To download the free Mars Ice Cream Backplate & HDRi click here

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