Between the talking bear, the sky full of balloons, and the flying acrobatics, there’s a distinctly whimsical feel to Visit California’s new TV spot, “Am I Dreaming?” But behind the scenes, a tremendous amount of hard work and ingenuity went into creating this multimedia fantasyland, which becomes reality in the accompanying Dream Theater, an immersive digital experience you can use to plan your next vacation. To get a sense of how the spot came together for its Feb. 13 Super Bowl Pregame debut, we talked to Kerry Krasts, executive creative director of The Shipyard and one of the key collaborators on the project.
“At its most basic, it’s a flying dream through California filled with surprising and surreal moments that suspend reality in a way that dreams do,” Krasts says. “But one layer deeper, it’s a more literal dream trip through the state because all of the elements have one foot in reality. It’s all possible—the places are real and the experiences are available to visitors.”
The high-energy ad showcases more than 10 California destinations, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Yosemite National Park. Krasts has enjoyed spending time in every corner of the Golden State but fell hard for Santa Cruz during filming. “It’s just so beautiful and peaceful,” she notes. “I had been before, but this time I took a six-mile walk along the coast one morning and was just blown away. It’s a true surfer’s paradise. The ocean is so big and present there. And the fog that rolls in some mornings gives it an otherworldly feel. You can ride a roller coaster with an ocean view. And then you’re just a short drive away from some of the most amazing big trees on the planet. It’s a soulful place.”
Here are some behind-the-scenes details from the production of “Am I Dreaming?”:
Given that the spot’s hero—played by actress Austin Boyce—“flies” across multiple California landscapes, one of the most technical aspects of the shoot was figuring out how to make that happen. “It took a whole lot of rigging, a few different harness-types for rolling, flying, flipping, a couple of stunt doubles, and incredible body control,” Krasts says. “We shot her on fly rigs both indoors and outside, in perfect lighting to fit our final composed scenes. Getting that naturally beautiful California lighting just right was a challenge.”
The crew used a 20-foot outdoor crane for some of the more dynamic flying moments, and director Rodrigo Valdes and the visual effects team at Santa Monica–based Parliament VFX collaborated to create a seamless final look. Although all the places featured in the spot are genuine California destinations, only five scenes were shot on location: the airport scenes (San Bernardino Airport), the car scene driving on Pacific Coast Highway, the roller coaster, the redwoods (both Santa Cruz), and the final pool scene at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. “The rest were ‘built’ with layered assets that were either shot or sourced, and the fake talk show set was physically built for that classic, ‘I’m in front of a crowd in my underwear’ dream moment,” Krasts says.
More behind-the-scenes fun facts: 85 crew members were on set to make the magic happen, 850 COVID-19 tests were administered to ensure everyone’s safety, and that friendly animatronic bear required four people to operate—and even had its own cooling system.
What would a California dream be without a few famous faces? The spot features appearances by actors Mario Lopez and Anthony Anderson as well as San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford. Krasts says they all brought something unique to set.
“Mario is so great in the Hollywood heartthrob role,” Krasts says. “His dimples should have their own Instagram account. He was truly excited to be on set and working on the project. Brandon Crawford was the ultimate professional and endured having to lie on a rolling platform against a blue screen for quite a few takes. I think he thought we were all crazy, but he was a great sport—no pun intended—and signed baseballs for the crew after the shoot. And Anthony Anderson was gracious, warm, funny, and even more good-looking in person, if that’s possible. He’s just a total class act.”
You may not know the star of the spot yet, “but you will,” Krasts says. “Austin (aka Alex) is an amazing actress with that oh-so-relatable ‘it’ quality that promises to make her a big star someday. She was unflappable, even suspended 20 feet in the air on a flying rig.”
Even the commercial’s extras have interesting backgrounds. The surfer catching a wave over San Diego is Malia Ward, a San Clemente native who was recently a finalist on Kelly Slater’s The Ultimate Surfer. The scene on a golf course in Palm Springs features Katy Ho, a former Division 1 NCAA athlete.
After watching this surreal journey through the Golden State, Krasts hopes that viewers are inspired to plan their own fantasy getaways. “I want that person back east in 15-degree weather to know that their dream vacation is waiting for them in California—and that it’s going to be a blast,” she says. “We all had to put off our vacations for too long, so it’s time to dream big, and go to a place where anything and everything is possible—including tan lines in February.”