The man behind twirling chocolate and luscious liquids – Joel Fonseca
[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ave you ever thought of how a simple bar of chocolate can look oh-so-tempting and how something as basic as water flows so lusciously? Ever wondered what goes into the making of these perfect product shots? Introducing you to the brains and expertise behind this perfection, India’s packshot man – Joel Fonseca.
“My job is all about common sense, it is not rocket science”, says the humble and jovial Joel Sir, whose work and contribution to the ad world is iconic. He works round the clock, 365 days of the year, to ensure that each packshot looks visually stunning and picture perfect. With years of experience in the field, he has collaborated with almost every product, ad filmmaker or the food stylist you can think of.
Pandolin had the fortune of speaking with him as he shot for an ad in his own studio in Andheri, Mumbai. Accompanying him were, as he calls them, his batteries – wife and Production Manager, Gemma Fonseca and son and assistant to him, Goldwin Fonseca. Also present in the studio was his older son, Sylvester Fonseca who was the DoP on the ad. It’s all in the family, we say.
Joel Sir takes us into his world of packshots, the creativity and hard work involved in this field, the challenges he deals with and his advice to aspiring youngsters.
Tell us about your journey into the world of ads. Have you had any formal training before getting started?
I have had no formal training at all. I started with Genesis as a spot boy, gradually grew and became a production manager and finally to what I am today. In my job, nothing is written in textbooks, it is all about common sense. We have learnt on the job through trial and error.
How has product styling evolved over the years in advertising? What according to you has prompted this change?
[pullquote_left]There is nothing like a perfect shot. It is something that you perfect over the years with experience.[/pullquote_left] Earlier there were only table tops. But nowadays because of competition and people drawing inspiration from foreign ads, there is a lot of variety. Also technology and new equipment has given rise to change. Earlier we didn’t have high speed cameras, there was only the camera with 100 FPS which has evolved and now we have cameras with upto 5000 FPS. Today there is also a lot of compositing that takes place. Earlier you had to do each shot repeatedly till you achieved perfection, but now you take the best elements, compose them together and make it a shot. Also today since we use digital and not film, you can keep taking various shots till you arrive at the perfect shot without being worried about wasting film.
What according to you is the key to get an almost perfect product shot?
There is nothing like a perfect shot. It is something that you perfect over the years with experience. It also varies from product to product. But at the end of the day, getting the perfect shot is a team effort.
Goldwin adds: It’s the way you place your equipment, the way the product is lit up, the angle, the lenses etc that add to a perfect shot. It is the coming together of 3 – 4 minds.
Can you tell us about some of the most interesting/complex brands you have worked on and what did it comprise off?
I still remember the first time I had to shoot Kellogs cornflakes. There was a corn cob and we had to show the corn flying towards the camera. It was very difficult to shoot. I used an air compressor and a high speed camera (at that time high speed was only around 500 FPS). It took me 3-4 hours to get the shot right. First I had to remove each single piece of corn and then applied air pressure, so when you saw it in high speed, the corn appeared to be flying. I was very happy with the outcome.
What are your primary sources of inspiration? Whom do you look up to?
My inspiration varies from product to product. But Prahlad Kakkar is the person I have always looked up to, he is my hero. I started from nothing and I what I am today is because of him. He helped me learn and he gave me the chance to keep making mistakes and learning till I achieved perfection. That is how I have risen from being a spot boy to the packshot man.
You are shooting round the clock, how do you plan and prepare for every new product? What is the primary procedure involved in taking pack shots?
There is a lot of R&D that I do before each shoot. I ask the director for references and choose one R&D day before the actual shoot. On that day I show the director my research and ideas and he approves of it post which we shoot. The time given for the final shoot is pretty less. So you need to do your permutations and combinations on the spot. That is where common sense comes into play, you need to make a decision as to what will work and what won’t. You need to know lenses, the speed of the camera, the duration and so on. Also you need to be ready with backup options just in case things don’t go as planned.
Which are the trickiest products to work with? Can you throw some light on how you handle them?
It is difficult to shoot liquids as they have a body language of their own. You need to have a very good camera person who understands liquids and can light them well. For example, shooting milk is very difficult. Milk is such a thing that if you over light it, it will burn and if you under light it, it will go black. So the DoP needs to have a lot of knowledge on how he is going to light it.
Goldwin adds: The DoP needs to understand the limitations of the liquid. Since liquids don’t have a shape, you can predict where it’s going, but you cannot always rightly predict what shape or form it will take. For example if you want to create a wave, I can tell you where the wave is going to go, what height it will go to but I cannot tell you what shape it will take.
Do you use any substitutes while shooting?
[pullquote_right]The future is good but we need more people who are willing to get their hands dirty in this field. There is a lot of dirty work involved since you are working with chocolates etc. Hence people don’t get involved easily.[/pullquote_right]
We use real products because the texture, gloss etc that real products have cannot be compensated with substitutes. Earlier you had to use substitutes because the frame rates of the camera were limited. So if I had to shoot a mango drink, I would sit with around 20 Kg of sugar, keep dissolving that and add mango colored flavor to it, to make it look thick and luscious. But today because of high speed cameras the problem is solved, we can show liquids beautifully by shooting on 5000 FPS.
Also the audience today is very intelligent, you cannot trick them by showing a substitute or artificial product on screen as they will immediately understand.
What kind of equipment and gadgets do you work with?
In India there are no gadgets or equipments available for packshots. But over the years I have created my own instruments locally. I have designed my own rigs that can be used for pouring milk etc. I have created fish tanks in various shapes like V fish tank, W fish tank and so on which can be used for different purposes.
For example, in instances where you have to show products like sugar, salt etc. being poured, you cannot manually hold the spoon for so long because if you shake even minutely the focus will get affected. So I have made a rig that smoothly pours the product and is steady so there are no focus issues. I create rigs as per the shoot.
What are the key differences in packshots for print and TV commercials?
For print, they rely a lot on Photoshop. I had once done a print ad for Cadbury where we had to show a cube of chocolate falling over other cubes. It was very difficult as I had to shoot with actual cubes at every stage. But now the process is much easier with edits and changes done on Photoshop. But I prefer doing television, it is much simpler.
What is the collaborative process like between you and the cinematographer? Please tell us about your favorite cinematographers and directors.
Like I mentioned earlier, it is a team effort. The cinematographer needs to understand the product being shot and also its limitations. Plus as a pack shot person, I need to understand angles, lenses, framing and so on. When collaborating with a DoP, I show them my work and explain my R&D to them prior to the shoot. I make the DoP comfortable and give him the freedom to ask me anything so that we have a comfortable, mutual working relationship.
I have worked with almost all the DoP’s, food stylists and most directors. I enjoy working with all of them, so it is difficult to choose favorites.
How much does client interference infringe on your creative process?
There are some clients who demand things in a particular way. At the end of the day you need to give the client what they ask for as the final work gets approved by them itself. However if you feel that the client’s demand is not reasonable and it will not look good, you should prove that it doesn’t work. Make them understand by physically showing them whether it’s working or not rather than rejecting it before even trying.
[pullquote_right]Budgets are a major constraint and so is the time given for pack shots in India. Also in India we have more of storytelling in ads, the pack shot is barely for 5 secs.[/pullquote_right]
According to you, what is the essential difference between packshot styling in India and abroad?
Budgets are a major constraint and so is the time given for pack shots in India. Also in India we have more of storytelling in ads, the pack shot is barely for 5 secs. Very rarely do you have a product montage in ads.
Gemma adds: Internationally, they take 2-3 weeks to do R&D on one product. Here we don’t get sufficient time for R&D. Also abroad, even the R&D is done on superior cameras. Here because of budgets we don’t get good cameras for R&D and have to use a regular camera with 400 – 500FPS.
Furthermore, Goldwin says: Abroad during the R&D, the entire team is present during the shoot. They discuss everything and the lighting, framing etc. is all locked during the R&D before the actual shoot.
What is the future of product packshots in our country? What can we expect in the coming future?
We have a lot of hardworking people in India and the best of DoP’s and other artists. We can do better than international artists if given appropriate budgets and time. Lots of good cameras are coming into the market which is an added advantage. The future is good but we need more people who are willing to get their hands dirty in this field. There is a lot of dirty work involved since you are working with chocolates and several other items. Hence people don’t get involved easily. They are more attracted towards the glamorous roles like directors, actors etc.
How can aspiring youth prepare and get into this field? What advice would you give upcoming product stylists?
Common sense is of utmost importance. There are no courses. So they need to learn on the field. I am willing to teach anyone who approaches me. Aspiring youth need to understand camera, frame rate, lenses etc. They need to do a lot of R&D and also have a vision that if something goes wrong on the shoot they should have a backup plan. You need to be prepared for anything and be focused and willing to give it time. Most importantly, you need to enjoy what you do.
The entire family is a part of the same industry. Do you’ll get a chance to work together often? How is the experience?
We don’t get to work together very often but today is one of those days that the entire family is on the same shoot. My wife, Gemma, is the production manager, elder son is the DoP and younger son is assisting me. So it’s a good time. We all have our individual parts but when we are home we don’t discuss work.
[box_light]In conversation with Gemma Fonseca[/box_light]
Tell us about your foray into the field of production.
I worked with an export house for over 11 years. Money brought me to this field. I have no formal training in the field. I just went and joined Joel at Genesis and that is how it began.
You have earlier worked on films, why do we not see you working on films anymore?
Ads give you an opportunity to work with different people and different products. There is something new and no boredom. Films get boring after a point and they are also very bad pay masters.
What is the difference in line producing for films and ads?
Production for films is on a large scale. You need to prepare way in advance. You are also working with more number of people and catering to a larger group. The logistics associated are more. In ads, it is a short story, so you can prepare even a 1 week in advance. It is also better to train on ad films first and then move to features.
How has the field of production evolved over the years?
Earlier there was no training available in production. We had to learn on the job. But now there are places that teach you the various aspects involved in production. Also earlier there were only production houses and no freelancers. So all of us worked in – house and did everything from casting to sourcing props etc. Nowadays you have many overheads – costume stylist, prop in charge and so on. So the production manager just does the production. That way the roles are more precise now.
Can you tell us about your preparation process prior to each ad?
You don’t need much preparation time unless they need something elaborate or unique for an ad. For example: if they need an artist who is very busy, like a food stylist or a well known DoP, I need to be informed in advance so I can get them in time. Also if we are shooting with a star and I am not informed well in advance, I cannot get the preferred location. So these things require prep time otherwise everything else can be arranged in two days as well.