Watch: That's Not CGI. It's Just Water, Paint, and a Robotic Arm

This is probably one of the most jaw-dropping commercials you'll see this year, especially when you learn how it was made.

There are only a few things in filmmaking that get me jumping up and down like a kid waking up on Christmas morning, and one of them is brilliant practical effects. So, when I saw this commercial entitled "Epiphany" for paint company Sherman-Williams, created by McKinney Advertising and Psyop, and then learned that zero CGI was used to create it, I jumped out of bed in my reindeer pajamas and dove headfirst into a pile of presents. (Uh, so to speak.)

It's kind of difficult to fully articulate what's going on in this ad, but just imagine flying through clouds made of undulating paint and then coming upon a giant blue and green paint tornado. Why am I trying to explain it?Just watch it for yourself!

Cool, right? Yeah, I know, it's pretty cool. But guess what? "What, V?" Not a drop of CGI was used in this ad (except for the actual paint can). Really, a tub full of water, paint, a robotic arm, and a high-speed Phantom camera were pretty much all that was used to capture this amazing piece of art. So really, while the actual ad was spectacular, the story behind how it was made is on a whole other level.

Credit: Psyop
Credit: Psyop
Credit: Psyop

In order for these types of high-speed macro shots to work, you've got to get every single detail nailed down before you actual go to shoot it. Choreography is the glue that holds projects like this together, so it has to be solid and perfect. Aside from the technical aspect, though, is the creativity required to essentially make materials, like paint, do things that you don't really see it do in the natural world. For instance, Psyop used a power drill submerged in water to get a vortex thing going, which caused the paint to form that awesome paint tornado...the paintnado. In fact, Psyop used a ton of interesting techniques to get paint to "tell a different story," as they put it.

If you want to know how McKinney and Psyop masterminded this incredible ad, check out the behind-the-scenes video below: 

To learn more about the ad and how it was made, head on over to PSYOP's blog    

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Your Comment


I love stuff like this. It's real (not CGI) I would love to know what this "effort" cost Sherman-Williams !!

May 1, 2017 at 9:03AM


Probably less than if it was made with cgi...

May 1, 2017 at 10:01AM, Edited May 1, 10:01AM

Oscar Stegland

Yeah, that's a good point. I absolutely love how they did this, but from a business standpoint would it have been faster/easier/cheaper to do it CG rather than practical? To pay for the crew, equipment, test shoots, prepro, all the days needed to get it right.... would it be more expensive in time and money? If so, what would be the motivation, in a business sense, to push on that way?

May 1, 2017 at 10:08AM, Edited May 1, 10:08AM


Practical here is cheaper for sure. Render farms, and CG specialists would be way more expensive.

May 1, 2017 at 11:56AM, Edited May 1, 11:56AM

doman nelson
Director, Editor

Very cool and beautiful! I'm not convinced that the cost to do it practical or CG was a factor. I'm sure this was a fairly expensive project in terms of planning, shooting, and post-production. The truth is that practical always looks better than CG and if you can achieve something with practical effects (within the budget of course), why would you ever do it in CG?

May 2, 2017 at 11:18AM, Edited May 2, 11:18AM

David Summers
VFX Supervisor/Artist and Filmmaker

that's the point

May 3, 2017 at 9:35AM

Gregorio Nocco
Filmaker / Screenwriter