Shadow puppets on cell phone ad - Possible?

There’s this cell-phone commercial in which hand-shadow-puppets of kissing bunnies are projected on the side of a building while people take pictures with their phone cameras (I didn’t find any video on line, but if you’ve seen the ad you know the one I mean). My wife always makes lots of aw-isn’t-that-cute noises when it comes on. Though I’ve seen it plenty of times, I have no idea what company it’s advertising – but yeah, it is pretty darn cute.

Anyway, the reason this is in GQ is that I have a specific question regarding the shadow puppets as shown in the commercial. My assumption is that the shadow puppets were actually made by human hands (i.e. not animated), but their projection onto the building is artificially depicted. Here’s my line of reasoning:

  • They cover several stories of a large building, so the light source would need to be quite large and/or powerful.
  • They are in pretty sharp relief, so the puppeteers’ hands would presumably be very close to the light source.
  • But, the bunnies fill nearly the entire circle of projected light, which would suggest a beam not much larger than a person’s hands at the source.

Or, am I wrong? Is it possible or practical to do a hand-puppet show on the side of a building as shown in this commercial?

I can’t see why not. You could use a movie projector and get pretty much any size you want, so house-sized doesn’t seem to be outside the realm of possibilities.

Given a sufficiently dark environment, it doesn’t take a hugely powerful lamp to create a building-sized visible circle of light on a wall a few dozen meters away from the light source. You could probably do it with a high-end flashlight, presuming a moonless night with no street lamps etc in the vicinity.

The penumbra expands and the umbra contracts with distance, so at great distance, only the weak penumbra is visible. For an example, if you are sitting on the correct side of an airliner, you can watch the shadow of the airplane grow as it climbs. It gets larger and weaker until it vanishes, at which time a brighter spot is often visible where the shadow would have been.

For the curious, a link to the commercial in question, which is an ad for US Cellular.

This certainly limits the practicality of direct shadow puppetry, however, it could still be done by using a camera to capture the silhouettes of the hands against an illuminated background (a small-scale setup), then feeding this video directly into a large-scale video projector capable of throwing a (reasonably) sharp-focused image on the side of a building.

(emphasis my own)

It’s not “sufficiently dark.” The commercial takes place in a city, projecting on multistory buildings. There are streetlights, car lights and other ambient light that, I would think, would greatly affect the effectiveness.

I’m thinking to get that sharp of a focus, you’re going to need a setup like a theater light and gobo uses - basically, you use a lens, and put your shadow-caster in between the lamp and the lens, in the focal plane. That means you get a nice crisp edge to your shadow. It’s certainly possible to cast big, bright, sharp shadows that way. The tricky part would be if you wanted to do it live, in which case you couldn’t use standard equipment, you’d need a lens separate from the lamp. I suspect it would also be very tricky to keep your hands in the focal plane, which is what gives you crisp edges. So, my guess is:

a) if you wanted to do that, you’d probably just be projecting a video (whether live or not), and

b) it’s easier to and cheaper to do that in post, at least for a commercial.

There are quite a few shots in the linked commercial of what are supposedly the puppeteers and crew, but I know little enough about the process to understand if the method is feasible. At one point, one puppeteer appears to be projecting just onto a screen.

Ah, I hadn’t noticed that. Looks like they are using a camera and (presumably) projector to get the big shot. Although I still suspect that (unless they were also doing a bigger ad campaign, including live stuff) they probably just faked the long shots of whole buildings. At least, that’s what I’d have done, if I had a budget.