‘The Hardest Commercial I Have Ever Edited.’ How Nike Created Its Split-Screen Masterpiece

The ad required extensive creative planning—and more than 1,000 hours of compositing

Headshot of David Griner

The best advertising ideas are often simple in concept but fiendishly difficult in execution.

On such a scale, this one might have surpassed them all.

Nike’s “You Can’t Stop Us” from Wieden+Kennedy Portland brought life to a concept that’s easy to describe, effortless to watch but brain-meltingly complex to assemble.

Using a split screen, Nike aimed to draw unexpected parallels between different athletes from a wide range of sports. The message would be one of unity that bridges all aspects of athletics.

The resulting 90-second spot, narrated by Megan Rapinoe, is a testament to creative planning and immaculate editing (from Joint Editorial duo Peter Wiedensmith and Jessica Baclesse), along with all the steps required between. “You Can’t Stop Us” required more than 1,000 hours of compositing to create such a seamless combination of visuals.

Adweek spoke to four of the key creators behind the ad to learn how it all came together.

The Concept

Naoki Ga, art director, W+K Portland: We wanted to send a powerful message. So we told ourselves to come up with an idea no one had seen before. Easy, right? But it was almost as if we concepted an idea for animation, because of how high we set the bar for matching pairs of athletes in action.

Dylan Lee, copywriter, W+K Portland: As we came together to produce the scripted scenes, we agreed with the team that executions that were “kind of impressive” or “really good” wouldn’t be good enough.

Ga: When we were working on the idea behind the film, we knew we had to say the message in a new way—in a way that got people’s attention because the idea of ‘together’ has been done many times.

The Footage

Lee: We scripted the types of actions and scenes we wanted in the spot. And we ensured there was an arc. We knew the process would be challenging, but the footage searchers and everyone who helped edit the spot came through phenomenally.

Peter Wiedensmith, editor, Joint Editorial: The editing process was truly a collaboration with so many people. It started with a script and still image concept frames about the common movements of bodies during sport, which you would come to recognize as a message of togetherness and unity. Dylan and Naoki, the W+K creative team, figured out early on that it was interesting when the two sides were as different as possible. So two soccer players doing the same thing was far less interesting than a discus thrower and ballerina moving the same way.

We worked with footage researchers and together reviewed thousands of shots. The simplest technique is to identify a common movement, then superimpose the two shots together to align their bodies, and finally create the split screen. To make the shot work, the framing, camera angles and lenses needed to be similar, and the body positions needed to be identical.

The spot was a mix of found footage and filmed content. Though mostly found footage, Oscar [director Oscar Hudson] did a great job making his footage look found, so it doesn’t stand out.

The Editing

Wiedensmith: The magic of this edit happened when we could sit on a shot and absorb what the scene and movement was, oftentimes for two seconds or more. We would sometimes get a great pair going, and then maybe the athletes’ movements would line up for only six frames, diverge quickly and the shot wouldn’t end up working.

@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."