The Vanity turns to the undead for self-promotion

As something of a zombie movie connoisseur, I’ve seen a lot of undead archetypes over the years. They range from your run-of-the-mill “shufflers” as depicted in Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead, etc., to the fast-moving zombies of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, the Korean zombies of Last Train to Busan, and even the played-for-laughs zombies of Shaun of the Dead.

But for all the intestine-slurping, bone-gnawing mayhem I’ve watched over the years, I’d never seen a giant zombie: Until now.

A Godzilla-sized zombie is the star of “Monster Mayhem,” a new two-minute promo video for Toronto-based post-production company The Vanity created by The Deli (formerly HeydSaffer) and written and directed by Paul Constantakis.

Naveen Srivastava, VFX supervisor at The Vanity, said the long-gestating project—shooting took place in a farmer’s field just outside of Orangeville, Ont. pre-pandemic—began simply as a creative endeavour, with no real timeline for its completion.

At the time, Constantakis was looking to transition into directing after spending the early part of his career as a writer with agencies including Taxi, John St. and Sid Lee (he has since gone on to direct spots for brands including M&M Food Market, Clover Leaf and eCapital).

“He wrote this project and said ‘Hey, do you want to do this as a commercial for the Vanity?'” said Srivastava. “It sounded interesting to me, but truthfully, we don’t do a lot of self-promotion. It’s not really in our nature. We barely post things on our Instagram.”

Everybody who worked on the project volunteered their time, so it took literally years to bring the finished product home, he said. “We like to do things well, which means they can’t always be fast… It was just people doing things when they had bits and pieces of time.”

The spot’s premise is a showdown between a group of post-apocalyptic survivors and a giant zombie, except it’s undercut by a rocket launcher that shoots useless projectiles such as a bunch of balloons and an oversized donut. “It’s the visual effects team,” says one character to his bewildered partners. “They’re trying to show off their FUCKING SKILLS!”

“We see the rocket launcher and think that something big’s about to happen, and they’re expecting something big to happen as well,” said Srivastava. “We’re all in the space together, and when the first rocket hits and a bunch of balloons come out, we think ‘What’s going to happen next?'”

Srivastava and the team at The Vanity spent hours researching the small details required to create the FX for the spot, researching things like what does it actually look like when someone actually fires a rocket launcher. “It was great experience for me to do that stuff,” he said. “I’ve been doing effects for something like 20 years, but there’s not a lot of Tim Hortons ads where they want an RPG. If you want to make steam for coffee though….”

The spot’s climax is an extended sequence showing a robot, complete with a retracting hand that turns into a ray gun and the obligatory glowing eye. It is the work of CG artist Joaquin Manay, a relative newcomer to The Vanity. “He really shines when it comes to projects like this, where he gets to really work on detail and bring all kinds of spit-and-polish to everything,” said Srivastava.

“We used [the project] as a bit of a learning tool, and I think Joaquin learned a lot about lighting from creating that robot. That was a great process for him that added value to the project for us,” added Srivastava. “Rather than having a more senior CG artist take it and do it, Joaquin was able to spend some time and give it the craft it needed while learning that craft.”

The spot feels a bit like the zombie equivalent of the famous online question: Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses. So, would Srivastava rather fight a zombie horde or a single Godzilla-sized zombie? “I think one giant zombie is too much,” he says. “I’m going with a horde of zombies.”

Chris Powell