Leap of Faith: John Fulton Gets High-Flying Imagery for Viasat

Jun 23, 2020
Photographer Spotlight

Once you finish reading this story, you’ll understand why a whole team of creatives stood up and applauded John Fulton for his work with California-based communications company Viasat. What's more, you'll understand why we hosted a Member Open House to talk with John just about this project (see bottom for link).

Viasat needed some difficult-to-capture imagery for a consumer-targeted ad campaign (its first ever), which featured actors raised up into the air by a rigging system to give the appearance of floating in zero gravity. The reason? The company wants to get its services on commercial airlines. Due to the nature of the shoot — it was brand new territory for most parties involved — John worked directly with Viasat and had a large amount of say with regards to the project’s conception.   

Viasat is a provider of high-speed satellite broadband services and secure networking systems covering military and commercial markets. My impression is that it’s one of those giant international companies that most people have never heard of because they’ve primarily a B2B company. In fact, this was their first campaign targeting consumers in their 35-year history.

John Fulton Viasat concert goer

Typically, an ad agency is involved to liaise and act as intermediary between the client and myself, but this project was client-direct, so I worked directly with Viasat’s creative team, which was excellent. It was a terrific ensemble of hard-working, creative people.

John had no reference point for this work, so the onus was on him to deliver work that fit this bill:

What they were really after was for each air passenger to look as if they’ve been set free by the ease that they’re accessing the important content they’re interacting with on their devices while on a flight and, most importantly, they all need to look like they’re levitating.

John Fulton Viasat John shows the way
John tests out the rig Matrix-style.

In a still image, the look of levitation in an airplane versus a passenger being launched into the air due to turbulence is a very fine line. Legit levitation means hair, clothing, limbs, and all the props need to look like they’re in zero gravity. This made the project a much more technical endeavor than simply photographing talent that looks like they’re up in the air.

So, the Atlanta-based freelancer spent several days studying videos of humans in zero gravity, culled his own reference pics, and began brainstorming ideas to make this ambitious ask come to fruition. What everyone realized during the weeks leading up to the shoot is that it would be best if it took place in L.A., which has no shortage of resources related to a project like this.  

I came up with the initial idea for the rig approach after running across those big sling-shot people launchers they often have at theme parks and fairs. So, I zeroed in on some sort of suspension rig similar to the bungee system on the sling shot.

Working with his agent and others, John nailed down some of the best in the business at their specific disciplines. Chief among them was the main rigger, who brought a phenomenal résumé to the fold.

I found out during the shoot that the rigger was a stunt expert that, among other accomplishments, was the person who trained Trinity for all her aerial moves in "The Matrix."

Over three very full 15-hour days, the team put together ten final ads to show Viasat. The crux of the work, of course, was getting imagery of actors launched high in the air. Those actors needed to be athletic and patient. Since no one could send videos of themselves, you know, getting rocketed into the air, John and company had to go through a large number of applicants and do some guesswork as to who would fit the ask.  

We reviewed 100+ videos of models demonstrating their athletic abilities through everything from martial arts to street dancing — but launching yourself into the air and maneuvering your body into specific positions in less than one second of airtime is a challenge (especially while wearing high heels or a suit).

John Fulton Viasat contact sheet

We scheduled two hours to photograph each person but the actual capture time varied depending on how well the model acclimated to using the rig system; talent that had a harder time required the full two hours while one amazing stunt woman knocked it out of the park in about 20 minutes.

John Fulton Viasat the star of the show

The woman pictured above was lauded by John and the production team for her ability to withstand the pain of landing on high heels constantly and still get in position for quality shots. While her work was done after the rig adventures, John’s was not. In fact, it was merely beginning.

A lot went into the post phase — several hundred hours including two separate all-nighters working 24+ hours straight to meet deadlines. These hours were dedicated to bringing together the most ideal body and wardrobe elements, rebuilding talent midsections where the rig system affected the flow of the clothing, CGI modeling and rendering, and making revisions for the creative team and various departments at Viasat.

John Fulton Viasat post pro stuff

John being John, he got everything done and delivered the final images to a satisfied client. Remember how we talked about the applause John received after completing this work? Yeah, suffice to say he earned every last clap.

Toward the end of the last day on set, the art director asked if I would come up to the green room where the Viasat team was set up, about ten people. I thought maybe a few of them might be heading out early and just wanted to say goodbye, but when I walked up the stairs through their door, everyone looked at me and the whole room went quiet (at this point I had no clue what this could be about). The whole Viasat team stood up and began applauding! It was a fun but long and very detailed shoot, so for the whole client team to be this happy with the production was extremely gratifying.

Credits:

Senior Art Director: Justin Patrick
Creative Director: Clay Black
Producers: Karin FittanteTheresa MarthBrennan Romeril
Lead Rigger: Tim Storms
1st Photo Asst: Byron Nickelberry
2nd Photo Asst: Peter Wintersteller  
Digital Tech: Dale Gold
Prop Stylist: Scott Stone
Wardrobe Stylist: Stacy Lauwers
Make Up: Catalina Cacho
Soundstage: Stray Angel Film Studio

If you'd like to know more about the project, check out the Member Open House in which John and others talk about it.

Check out more of John's work at johnfultonphotography.com.

Check out our other great photographers on our Find Photographers page!