Wheelhouse Creative has a love of special effects.
A brotherly love, you could say.
One from brothers Joe and Pat Monahan, as well as compadre Dave Everly.
And recently that love shined brightly in a commercial known affectionately around the office as the “Panhandle Golf Disaster.”
Those in the Ohio Valley have no doubt seen the wizardry on their TV, computer and cell phone screens. It’s a commercial for our friends at Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration that incorporates WVU golf coach Sean Covich, Panhandle founder Bob Contraguerro Sr. and even his grandchildren.
You’ve seen the golf ball tearing through the air, into Contraguerro’s house, through his newspaper, onto the green and, finally, into the cup. A make-believe disaster for the crew at Panhandle to professionally and efficiently clean up. (If you haven’t seen it, check it out here: https://vimeo.com/535016282)
Well, that make-believe disaster took a lot of creativity and hard work to produce.
“Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration had purchased a series of commercials in the past focusing on disasters,” said Wheelhouse creative director Joe Monahan. “The commercials were based on far-fetched, ridiculous things happening in and to someone’s home that would require major repairs. There was a kitchen catching fire, trees breaking through windows during storms, etc., but they were comedic in nature. A string of events would happen to a homeowner that would leave his house destroyed.
“The trouble was, while entertaining, the ads weren’t customized. It was like buying a commercial off the store shelf and slapping your logo on the end. The competition could buy the exact same ad and run it in a different market. Panhandle was ready to try something different. They wanted to see if we could create one of these disaster ads, but one that was uniquely theirs. Challenge accepted.”
Especially, said brother Pat, because so many visual effects were conjured. Pat said his father jokes that his job title should be “visual effects enthusiast.”
“It gave us the opportunity to use a lot of visual effects,” he said before chuckling. “One of the things you like to do as a visual effects person is blow stuff up. Panhandle is perfect for us because they need things to blow up so they can handle and repair.”
The challenge is there’s nothing really blown up. It’s all creativity and computer software.
“This ad is full of intricacies, but I think there’s one very important thing happening: suspension of disbelief,” said Joe. “Obviously, a golf ball can’t really do what is being portrayed, but it doesn’t matter. The visuals are top notch, and the added sound effects, blended with the visuals, makes you feel the damage.
“You feel every busted light. Every broken window sounds like it’s actually happening when, in fact, nothing was damaged at all. It’s preposterous yet believable, which makes it very entertaining. If I had to pick a favorite thing, it was putting Bob Sr. reading his newspaper in the middle of it all. You can’t get more customized than that.”
“We had the kids in the room,” Pat added. “We had the computer generated golf ball planning to crash into the room, through the window and over their heads. We told them to pretend to be playing and when we said ‘Action!’ turn their heads really quick, to fake it.
“We made 3-D glass and, in production, cut out the actual window. We put 3-D glass in there with a 3-D ball come in and bust through the glass. The glass breaks. We put up little barriers you can’t see. Our computer then came up with physics to simulate the ball bouncing around. The kids are reacting to nothing.”
You can hear the pride in Pat Monahan’s voice. In a DeNoon Lumber ad, he helped build Noah’s ark on the computer. In a Bordas & Bordas ad, he helped simulate Jamie Bordas’ pseudo-Batman cave. Then came the Panhandle masterpiece.
“It’s the closest thing we get to what’s done in movies,” said Pat. “You don’t have many clients that give you the freedom. A lot of people play it safe with pitches, which is fine, but it’s not as much fun.”
The ability to handle such a visual effects project and pay attention to the smallest of details is what sets Wheelhouse Creative apart.
“We actually cut a hole in the newspaper and filmed a shot with [Contraguerro’s] eye looking through,” said Pat. “Then I had to put scorch marks digitally on the edges of the hole where the golf ball supposedly went with little lights that served as embers. There always must be something moving in a shot. You want to call attention to visual effects.”
“For many agencies, this ad would have been problematic,” said Joe. “The hard part was coming up with the concept. We knew they wanted it golf themed, but that was it. They let us create from there. We shot multiple scenes on the golf course with the WVU golf coach, then the rest we shot in a cabin provided by Oglebay, which is a mutual client of ours and Panhandle’s. Once that was done, the rest was produced inside the computer.
“We have the staff to do that. Many agencies can produce video. A few agencies can do it in-house, but it is very rare for an agency to not only have in-house video, but also talented visual effects artists on staff. That makes Wheelhouse truly unique.”
“It really does set us apart,” said Pat. “You don’t see it very often around the state. Many production companies don’t think about or put in the time to do visual effects. We are unique in that we offer 3-D visual effects. We can really manipulate a scene to tell a story in a certain way that another company can’t. It allows you to open your mind to be creative because of our software.”
Yes, he said, a TV station might be able to use a “green screen” and put a background in. But Wheelhouse can move a camera on the green screen. It can have multiple objects moving according how our cameras move. We can make it look real. Which makes us unique.
“We can put anybody anywhere in any environment,” said Pat.
In the case of the Panhandle ad, Wheelhouse took you to the golf course and beyond.
“This ad is among my favorites,” Joe said. “It was fun to work on, and the end product lived up to the expectations. It’s funny, because when you are doing it, no one really knows what you are doing. They’re just doing what you tell them and trusting that you have the end product in mind. It’s hard to react to things that aren’t there, and sometimes I think that can be uncomfortable.
“But they trusted us and we did our best to deliver. The best feedback I received came in the form of a phone call from Panhandle. It wasn’t a congratulatory phone call. It was a phone call to let us know they were fielding calls from angry people who couldn’t believe we would put people and children in such danger by launching golf balls at them. Panhandle wanted to let us know they were impressed by that. It seems we truly achieved that suspension of disbelief.”