Elephants at GE

Not every GE site can boast of being visited by a dancing elephant. But the Schenectady campus is now on that short list.

Dancers portraying the GE elephant dance down an aisle in building 273. The dancers will be replaced in the final ad with a computer generated elephant.

Not every GE site can boast of being visited by a dancing elephant.

But the Schenectady campus can now make that claim after one of GE’s most talked about advertising creations visited the campus and Building 273 on Tuesday, November 9.

At least, it kind of visited. The dancing baby pachyderm that originally starred in the acclaimed 2005 Ecomagination TV spot isn’t real. In the original ad it existed only in virtual form as a computer generated image.

Splashing through rain forest puddles, it duplicated Gene Kelly’s steps in the classic movie musical “Singin’ in the Rain” as other forest creatures looked on. In the new production the same computer generated effects will be used to bring the animal to the Schenectady campus.

But the elephant’s real life alter ego DID dance down the aisles in the steam turbine plant, accompanied by a production crew. Two women in bright blue outfits slowly bobbed and weaved across the floor, duplicating the swaying walk of a real animal. Nearby, GE employees portraying themselves went about their normal business, carefully coached by the production crew from ad agency BBDO.

The dancers in their blue tights and oversized foam elephant-sized shoes served as stand-ins to help orient the technicians in post-production. Working in the studio, they will create the final pachyderm dancing so realistically that even shadows and reflections will match the real-life scene on the factory floor. The final commercial features the animal dancing through the manufacturing plant to a high-energy jazz sound track, playfully tapping unsuspecting employees on the shoulder before dancing away. In a companion spot it will do a line dance with “clean room” employees at GE’s Health Services facility in Troy.

GE welder Thomas McEachon, a nine year veteran in Schenectady, didn’t seem to be bothered by the lack of a real live elephant as he stood next to part of a huge turbine assembly. He was just happy to get the chance to jump-start his acting career.

In the scene in 273 McEachon plays his part to the hilt. Working on a turbine, he pauses to glance in the direction of the passing “elephant” before giving a quizzical look, shaking his head, and going back to his task.

McEachon said he’s never been on TV before, but when he heard there was going to be a commercial shoot on site his reaction was “I’m IN! Where do I go?”

“It’s more fun than I though it would be,” he added with a smile as he waited for the next shot.

Steam Turbine COE Manager Erik Olson has been inter- viewed on TV before, but had never participated in a full-scale commercial shoot. He said he learned a lot, beginning with giving production executives from BBDO an advance tour of the shop floor as they were scouting locations.

““It was a very interesting experience to see how much focus and detail goes into this,” said Olson.“They definitely have a different eye for detail than most of us here do. We get so close to what we do that sometimes we lose sight of how amazing it is.” Once the decision had been made to use the shop location, Olson had to help prepare the area and make sure the production had as little impact as possible on normal quality and fulfillment targets for the shop.

Not every GE site can boast of being visited by a dancing elephant. But the Schenectady campus is now on that short list.

Production personnel hold up for filming one of the globes that will let computer technicians program appropriate shadows and reflections on the baby elephant in the final TV commercial.

Then on shooting day he was asked to participate as a manager on the floor, talking with several employees as the main action subjects moved through the scene. He enjoyed the experience of seeing how the scenes came together, including some ingredients he wasn’t expecting.

“The helium balloons that they use for lighting look like Shamu the Whale coming down the aisle,” he said. The large balloons contain and diffuse the light from fix- tures that help correct color balance and illuminate the scene.

But the best part of the experience, said Olson, was the opportunity for him and other employees to gain a cer- tain degree of immortality in a piece of art that will be around for a long time.

“Your grand kids are going to be able to look and see you on TV.”

The total shoot involved 10 days at various Capital Region locations and over 75 people to work on the pro- duction. Jim Price works for Traktor, which hires the crew, scouts the locations and shots, and takes care of most of the details of filming.

Price does much of the advance work for the produc- tion, scouting scenes and angles and shooting still photos that will then be shown for approval to producers at BBDO, who will also inspect the location. Price says they are looking for “depth and visually stimulating things.” The factory floor in 273 offered the perfect mix of wide open spaces, huge machines, and overhead cranes that could move huge turbine parts through the scene.

Price has worked on about 20 different commercials and will remember the contrast in this shoot between GE Health Care in Troy, with it’s 200,000 sq. ft. clean room, and the more gritty factory floor setting in Schenectady. He adds that shooting in a factory has it’s own special set of challenges.

“There’s a lot of safety concerns and communicating that involve many people who haven’t worked together before,” he said.

BBDO Producer Regina Iannuzzi also has to keep those challenges in mind on the set.

“The biggest one,” she said,“is trying to be as least disrup tive as possible to production.”

Not every GE site can boast of being visited by a dancing elephant. But the Schenectady campus is now on that short list.

The baby elephant dances through Building 273 in the final version of the new commercial spot.

Iannuzzi said shooting in Schenectady was the end result of a long planning process. Producers and GE cre- ative directors sought to find photogenic real life loca- tions that would let them continue to feature real employees as requested by CEO Jeff Immelt when the Ecomagination series was launched.

“GE corporate reached out to various facilities to see what’s out there,” said Iannuzzi.“Everybody sent in some pictures and all of your facilities in upstate New York reached out to us and showed us what they had and we loved it.”

In her five years with the ad agency she has worked on a number of commercials for GE at a variety of com- pany sites. She was impressed but not surprised by the reception the crew got in Schenectady since they have shot here before.

“Everyone was so welcoming and excited,” she said. “This second time we came back here so many people from the first time were coming up, giving us hugs and being just as accommodating as they could be.”

That friendly reception and the ease of working with the Schenectady team were crucial to getting a product she says fully measured up to what everyone wanted.

“Everything went great! The film looked great. The people looked great. Overall, both the agency as well as corporate are very happy.”