How R/GA Fit 1 Billion Colors Into This Ad for a Samsung Television

It was filmed in Paris, the City of Light

How many colors can a person count? How many can a human eye even see? And perhaps more important, how many can the brain comprehend? A few dozen? Hundreds? A thousand? A million? A billion?

And even if we as humans can’t, what if we could?

While working on a campaign for Samsung’s new QLED TV, which boasts the ability to display 1 billion unique colors, agency R/GA wondered if it could create a film using 1 billion colors. They went to Paris, “The City of Light,” and filmed at dawn to show all the lights and how it affects color.

“The light in Paris is actually beautiful,” says Eric Jannon, a group executive creative director at R/GA who lived in Paris for 17 years. “You have a lot of architecture, the water, a lot of lights in the middle of the city.”

See the spot here:

The agency built an algorithm that counted the colors in the film and mapped them against a 3-D cube containing all 1 billion colors the television is capable of displaying. Every scene was assigned a specific palette of colors. Then, in postproduction, R/GA ran the film through the algorithm, which allowed the team to restore any colors that were lost in the production process.

But it was about more than replacing color, says Michael Hirsch, R/GA’s data science lead. They didn’t want just a cumulative number, but a reference to every color in the film. But because they were working with 1 billion colors, there wasn’t a database that could hold the information in the right way. They found histograms, but none for video, and none that were scalable enough.

“With colors getting lost and being averaged out, the extreme values—the deep blacks and the super bright whites—are imperceptible in a lot of ways to the human eye,” Hirsch says. “So the compression algorithms will take advantage of these imperceptions and try to simplify the color space by averaging it out. So what you see if you look at this data structure that we created, it almost looks like Swiss cheese, in a way. There are these little holes where colors have been removed, but what we were looking to do, and successfully achieved, is filling those holes back in.”

Creating a film about color wasn’t a new idea on its own, so R/GA had to find a new angle into the exploring the idea. That led to the idea of creating a narrative about light by turning light itself into a character that is followed through the city. However, light moves pretty fast.

“If we’re traveling at the speed of light, that means every frame needs to be frozen in time,” says R/GA group ECD Chris Northam. “We haven’t seen traveling at the speed of light. We’ve seen things moving really fast, but basically it had to be frozen. It’s not just for a cool, cinematic technique, but it’s informed by the idea of following light.”

To create the effect, R/GA and its production partners used cameras on cranes, drones and dollies to capture everything—with special effects used only sparingly for things like broken glass and raindrops. Creating the slow-motion effect required focusing on every little detail in the film—a woman’s dress and an engagement ring, a boxer’s glove and a pin before it drops.

“It’s a little like when HDTV came and Hollywood had to rethink makeup and wardrobe and set decorating because HD could now actually see the details,” Wortham says. “We had a similar situation with this.”

They followed the light as it darted and ricocheted and reflected through stained-glass windows of a church, then inside an apartment, a boxing ring and a jewelry store, before heading to the scene of a heist and the inevitable crash. Each scene glowed with a different aspect of how light affects color. The end result gives the film an “otherworldly glow,” Northam says. It’s beyond colorful, and gives the appearance of something more than what would appear naturally to the naked eye. Meanwhile, in what amounts to a “giant mannequin challenge,” the actors had to stand still during the scenes so that the speed of light wasn’t lost.

The end result feels almost like strapping a GoPro on a bird as it flies through the French capital, taking video along the way while constantly adjusting filters on an editing app to adjust the saturation and shadows.

Client – Samsung
Agency – R/GA
Eric Jannon – Group Executive Creative Director, R/GA
Chris Northam – Group Executive Creative Director, R/GA
Oriel Davis-Lyons – Associate Creative Director, R/GA
Beth O’Brien – Associate Creative Director/Executive Producer, R/GA
Kim Edwards – Executive Producer R/GA
Simon Ludowyke – Group Account Director, R/GA
Tom Morton – SVP Strategy, R/GA
Aaron Harridge – Senior Strategist, R/GA
Jenna Halliday – Executive Project Manager, R/GA
Amie Diamond – Project Manager, R/GA
Kat Friis – Executive Production Director, R/GA
Magdalena Wiater, Nakeilla Smith – Business Affairs, R/GA
Bruno Aveillan – Director/DP, Believe Media + Quad Productions
Liz Silver, Martin Coulais, Claudia Traeger, Clémence Lhuilier, Nathalie Aveillan – Film Production, Believe Media + Quad Productions
Ashley Bernes, Rob Walker, Seif Boutella, Franck Lambertz, Sophie Lebreton, Anthony Ricciardi, Bilali Mack, Camila De Biaggi, Dorian Douglass – Visual FX, MPC
Michael Piccuirro – Senior Technology Director, R/GA
Michael Hirsch – Senior Data Scientist, R/GA
James Dick – Creative Director, R/GA
Oscar De La Hera, Scott Kundert, Sam Royston, Hana Marie Newman, Wing Luo, Lucas Ajemian, Keliang Shan – Prototype and Data , R/GA