HPE Universe Commercial – Fan Breakdown

HPE Universe Commercial – Fan Breakdown

For those who don’t know me, in addition to being a filmmaker I’m also an IT enthusiast and I grew up seeing HP and HPE brands closely. For these reasons, and because this is the way I watch videos, I chose to publicly breakdown, or in this case to “reverse engineer” a well done project that I really enjoyed watching, the HPE Universal commercial.

Here is the spot that explores Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s efforts in mapping the known universe.

This commercial has been directed by Bryce Wymer for Mill+ and the Director of Photography was the well known Khalid Mohtaseb, while VFX and design have been done by The Mill. (Go to the end of this article for full credits.)

Before starting breaking this commercial down, I have to thank Siro Valente, 2D Lead Artist at The Mill, for helping me figuring out how VFX have been implemented in certain scenes.

I’will try to be as objective and as simple as I can while reversing the scenes, but since I don’t know exactly how all the production decisions have been taken, some considerations could be influenced by the way I would have done those sequences.


This is what I call a final reveal commercial, in fact, this video reveals us that the blackboard is actually endless and full of data only in the last scene, representing how much work and data is needed to map the know universe, but also the huge effort HPE is putting into this to provide enough compute power.

“We’ve always looked to the stars with questions.”

This is the voice-over sentence for the opening sequence. It tells us that we have always looked to the stars with questions, as if to mean that the vastness of the universe always made us feel just a very small part of it, and left us with so many questions about what happens out there and what’s our place within it.

From a directing and cinematographic point of view, a high-angle pull away camera movement was chosen to reinforce the concept of smallness of the main character which is looking upwards, towards something that we will discover to be an endless blackboard representing the known universe.

Here is the lighting diagram breakdown of this scene. The key light seems to be positioned at 45° with a low angle, while the kicker light on the left that lights the girl’s shoulder, hair and chin profile has been set quite higher than the first one.

This low-angle close-up introduces the action (the hand of the scientist is writing equations) and for the fist time we see a small area of the blackboard.

The next sequence starts to reveal more, in fact we see the scientist that is busy writing on a big blackboard. The viewer is guided throgh the action by two low-angle push in camera movements, that move the focus to what the scientist is doing (solve calculations to answer questions) and in fact this scene represents the voice-over sentence “Hewlett Packard Enterprise is helping answer them”.

Now let’s see how this scene has been lit. Since the hand close-up we can see that the light diagram has changed, and now the key light is a top light which lights both the subject and the blackboard. I also noticed some fill light under the arm of the girl, maybe coming from a reflector panel on the floor or from the floor itself.

In this frame 2D VFX do their first appearance to extend the real blackboard and make it fade into the dark.

“providing physicists with enough compute power” takes us to a look through framing. The camera was in fact positioned in front of the actress to simulate the blackboard point of view. In this case the blackboard becomes transparent so we can spy the scientist through it. The light diagram is exactly the same we saw in the opening scene.

But, how was the look through blackboard made?

It was designed in pre-production and made in post-production by adding a tracked 2D layer to the footage and blurring it to follow the footage focus shft. As you can see in the next couple of frames I took the “after” image and cleaned it to show you how the original footage should have looked like.



From the previous scene the commercial cuts to a wide-angle shot/matte painting reveal scene that is introduced by “to map the universe”. A pull-away camera movement has been used to gradually reveal the infinite blackboard in this sequence and making the scientist look increasingly smaller compared to the universe in this well done metaphor.

The whole sequence was made using the matte painting technique. It integrates camera footage with 2D and 3D elements. The girl was filmed on some kind of green or blue screen and then composited, I guess. You can also notice how the global illumination affects the 3D elements (the ladder, the scaffolding and the floor).

Analyzing the lighting of this composite we can see that in the room there are three CG spot lights and the central one acts as key light on the actress. The real top light/key light that lights the subject in this scene seems to be a quite hard light source positioned a few meters above it. Two light profiles are also visible on her legs and they come from two more light sources used to simulate the irradiance of the two side spot lights.

“…unlocking its secrets to better understand our place within it.”

The outer lights turn off, the central one goes down, the huge blackboard fades away, the scientist finds herself in front of the universe and a in front of a 3D model of the HPE logo.

The scene key light is lowered and becomes a sort of moonlight, or at least this is the look and feeling they created. The girl’s lighting was instead obtained by underexposing and increasing the contrast on her, and some CGI Smoke was added to the scene to boost the mood. As you can see in the next picture the HPE logo and others 3D elements caught the new global light.

In the last part of this sequence the top light turns off, while the HPE logo turns on (with a cool sound effect of a powerful light turning on) and its brightness becomes the new key light of the composite. The real key on the actress is still the same we already saw, but now it’s graded.

The light emission of the logo, global illumination, shadow catching, grading and additional effects have been studied and realized with care. In this frame you can notice the anamorphic flare for the 3D camera, the greenish tint on the highlights “due to” the light source, as well as the fake drop shadow of the legs, exaggerated to increase the sense of brightness of the HPE logo.

I want to dedicate the last paragraph to the nice color grading of this commercial. Below you can see the color palette I got from the video and all the colors seem to be based on the HPE brand color.

Starting from the end, the color of the lit 3D logo is a softer and less green shade of the original one, and this could be due to light emission and diffusion simulation. The famous emerald color then lead to the choice of analogous colors for midtones, shadows and all the shades in between. The skintones present a pink to red tint in the shadows, while they are quite desaturated and greyish in the midtones and highlights.

To create a contrast with the general teal look the production chose to make the actress wear a yellow sweater (orange would have contrasted the blue shadows, but it would have been almost complementary to the brand color, and so too strong). The sweater in the video got slightly different grades for different scenes. It looked golden in the beginning while in the reveal scene its tint moved a bit to green. Just another personal consideration: other than the nice color contrast, another reason for the production choose this kind of yellow color could have been to create enough color contrast with a green or better with a blue screen used for the final scene and then do a clean chroma key.

Unfortunately there is no behind the scenes material, so I can’t tell what equipment and software have been used for this production.

In conclusion, I liked this commercial since the first time I watched it, it has the same style, timing, and photography I like to do in my works. I really enjoyed analyzing this awesome work and hope that the people behind this project appreciate my tribute. It would be nice to see spots like this on italian TV too.

Hope you enjoyed reading this breakdown!

Full Credits:

Director/Designer: Bryce Wymer | Director of Photography: Khalid Mohtaseb | Executive Producer: Ian Bearce | Design: Ricardo Villavicencio, Jason Hogg, Daniel Colon, Laura Nash | Production: Mill+ | Producer: Tia Perkins | VFX & Design: The Mill | Executive Producer: Zu Al-Kadiri | Senior Producer: Georgina Castle | Production Coordinator: Samuel Centore | Shoot Supervisor: Adrian Hurley | Creative Director: Bryce Wymer | 2D Lead Artists: Siro Valente, Krissy Nordella | 2D Artists: Heather Kennedy, Gabriel Kim | 3D Artists: Hubert Wozniak, Billy Jang | Editor: Ryan McKenna | Edit Assist: Leanne Belgiorno | Executive Producer, Colour: Dee Allen | Colour Producer: Evan Bauer | Colourist: Josh Bohoskey |

VFX & Design: Agency: Publicis | Producer: Lauren Schneidmuller | Creative Director: Matt McKay | Creative: Carlos Perez

All rights reserved to their respective owners.