TEXT BY ALICE B. MILLER • IMAGES BY DAVID ZIMMERMAN
Savory as a cup of fresh brewed coffee, zesty as a sparkling glass of bubbly, David Zimmerman's liquified images are making quite a splash in the ad world. His ability to capture the forceful, graceful, refreshing luminescence of beverages, baths, and beyond leaves clients like Lipton, Smirnoff, Pepsi, and Nivea tingly with excitement.
Early on in his career, Zimmerman became fascinated with the liquid in a goblet as he photographed it. "The more I explored, the more I saw new possibilities for a series of photographs," he says. "Liquid became a main element of many of my photographs. It's a challenge to capture the moment of perfect curve and composition—to capture an element that happens too quickly for the eye to see under normal conditions."
Liquid shoots require prep/prelight to set up an effect and ensure consistency over a series of takes. Zimmerman will call in two or three assistants, depending upon the complexity of the shot. Clients and the art director see test film/Polaroids the morning of a shoot, making any adjustments at that time.
If he's only shooting a single element on film, he makes it as clean and finished as possible, minimizing the need for retouching. When a shoot involves multiple elements, he scans each one of them individually and as the shoot progresses, each element is added to the composition so everyone can see on the computer monitor if the image is working.
"The set must be carefully planned so the effect can be repeated for multiple takes," says Zimmerman. "I rely on my own hand-to-eye coordination and don't use a beam to automatically trigger the strobe.The pace of the shoot is faster due to the fragile nature of many products in the liquid environment."
Zimmerman is similarly intrigued by H20 in its solid form. More than just being another phase of water work, he was turned on to frozen photos when a prehistoric Ice Man was discovered a few years ago in a glacier in the Alps. "The fact that ice could preserve such fragile elements led to my series of frozen objects."
MORPHING IDEAS INTO ADS
A funny thing happens whenever Zimmerman adds new effects to his portfolio: clients want their products presented with that way. His frozen flowers concept became an Aveda campaign. The morphing Water Horse became the visual for an ad, as well as inspiring special effects for Lipton. Manhattan was the catalyst for Baileys, Kirin Beer, Allsport, and Coca-Cola.
Beyond his reputation as a water-morphing wonder, Zimmerman is regularly approached with jobs requiring movement, special effects, or other "problem solving" layouts. Where there's morph there's manipulation, so his projects frequently require digital manipulation.
Many clients eventually discover that Zimmerman is a pilot, and as such, gets assignments for aerial and location work from such corporations as American Express and AT&T. This body of work is totally different, even requiring a distinctive portfolio presentation. Aerial and location work is lucrative, drawing tremendous international and Internet traffic and stock requests. Creatively, the differences fade when you realize a successful shot in either genre is one in which the timing, lighting, and angles converge to create a unique image in one perfect moment.
At press time, Zimmerman was just back from a shoot for the Times of India. "My first contact with India was in Mumbai [Bombay] five years ago, when I was a speaker at a Kodak Professional seminar. I became intrigued with Indian history and culture. Later, I developed the idea of documenting life and customs along the Ganges." A book, gallery shows, seminars, and Indian student involvement followed.
After experimenting with outside suppliers, Zimmerman now does all his scans in-studio. "I find I can get better scans that match my requirements for a specific project. Time is also an element . . . even same-day 'rush' service can put a project behind schedule."
Despite a soup-to-nuts digital workflow for location scouting and event work, Zimmerman favors film for studio assignments (e.g., billboards) and large-scale personal work (e.g., exhibition prints) because of file size. For his aerial work especially, film capture gives him more speed, which is critical, plus the ability to produce 60-inch gallery prints without compromise. Moreover, for rugged and rigorous location shooting, film is often a reliable, cost-efficient solution.
Zimmerman's Theory of Computer Equipment—"Each new piece of equipment must pay for itself in six months"—has served the studio well. "We try to plan so that as each older, slower computer is moved on down the line, it still has a job." He also has matching systems, so that if in the middle of a job a computer or monitor has a problem, it can be immediately replaced.
"The only doorstops we have kicking around are a few SyQuest Drives, Jazz drives, and the odd 10 Base-T Ethernet card."