Cinematographer Dennis Grishnin teams up with decorated Olympian Tessa Virtue for Buick Commercial

Dennis Grishnin

When renowned Director of Photography Dennis Grishnin embarks on a new project, he aims to create a visual language through fundamental understandings of the creative and technical processes on set, ultimately serving the director’s vision. It is not simply about making a shot look good and moving onto the next one for this talented Canadian; instead, it is about understanding all aspects of what the audience sees, coordinating with other technical departments like camera, grip, and lighting to achieve the ideal look. He works in tandem with other creative departments, on and off set, to understand how their work will ultimately translate on screen, considering each and every aspect behind-the-scenes to determine what goes in front of it. He ensures everything is cohesive and achieves the look that he and the director are striving towards, and does not rest until he has achieved a cinematic masterpiece. Whether working on a film or a 30 second commercial, he takes this same thoughtful and masterful approach to achieve extraordinary results.

Grishnin’s artistic eye has greatly contributed to the success of many acclaimed projects. He recently worked on the new film Good Morning, which has already been accepted into two prestigious Canadian film festivals, Blood in the Snow Film Festival 2021 and the Hamilton Film Festival 2021. He is also known for his work with some of North America’s top musical talent, such as Canadian rapper Night Lovell on his music videos “Counting Down The List”, “Alone”, and “BAD KID”, as well as chart-topping pop artist Tate McRae, collaborating with her on her live performances for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and the 2020 VMAs, as well as her music video for her hit song “r u ok”. 

“It feels humbling to know that I have been involved with productions from a variety of scales and ambitions that have gone on to be viewed by millions of people around the world. To look

back and see that all of this started with a simple curiosity, nothing more than a hobby, to now

having a career where people want me to lend my eye onto their creative endeavors. It feels like I have something of myself to give each time I’m brought onboard. It’s only made it that much more exciting for me to continue pushing my limits and to see how much more I have to offer,” he said.

Grishnin has also made a name for himself in the advertising world for his vast contributions to national campaigns for major brands, acting as Director of Photography on commercials for AirBnB, The Bay with The Toronto Raptors, Wyndham Hotels, and countless more. One commercial that was a highlight for Grishnin was for the 2021 Buick Encore GX, which involved working with three-time Olympic Gold Medalist and Canadian Ice Dancing icon Tessa Virtue.

The commercial has Virtue showing off the features of the Buick Encore GX. Wearing five different outfits, she transitions through various scenes and uses for these features, depending on what you are doing and where you are going. The spot as a whole does a great job of highlighting the fun elements the car has to offer.

“It’s light, playful, yet elegant. It shows that people of all generations can enjoy and afford cars like the Encore GX. I sat inside during our interior scenes and can confidently say it really is a nice car. I think the message of the spot is that a great car will reflect an individual’s many passions,” said Grishnin. “Tessa was also an absolute pleasure to work with. Very comfortable in any situation and was always willing to give us her best.”

What made shooting this commercial so exciting for Grishnin was pioneering a new type of studio. Working alongside Director Justin Singer and a team of technicians from Pixomondo Studios in Toronto, Grishnin captured the car and Virtue against a large LED volume wall and was one of the first to shoot at this LED volume wall studio. The Stage 6 facility, comprising a 16,100 square foot stage with a large semi-circle LED volume measuring 62 feet across, will have four dynamic modular sections to give directors of photography more lighting flexibility.

Grishnin had previous experience working with LED video wall technology, making him an asset to the commercial as he was able to help guide the team through the process. The main direction of the shoot centered around the idea of having Virtue’s scenes correspond to a color that would reflect the theme. Working with the in-house LED wall technicians, he would carefully dial in each background color to correspond to the outfits she wore for each scene. Therefore, it was incredibly important for Grishnin to understand how the wall reproduced color and texture, allowing he and his team to match the color of the wall to Virtue’s clothing. Thankfully, this was something he had experienced in the past on his previous LED wall shoots, and he was able to overcome the challenges early on.

“I had to pay attention to the fact that, when looking at the wall up close, you can make out each individual pixel. This meant that we could only get so close to the wall before we started to see a collection of clustered dots all along our image. I needed to find a way to create depth so we could allow the wall to fall slightly out of focus, thus blurring it and all of those pixels. This would prove challenging for our wide shots where we had to see our Buick fully in frame. It’s a game of relativity. The further the car pulls out from the wall, the less coverage of the wall you have behind the car because the wall becomes smaller on camera. Finding a balance for those particular shots was challenging,” Grishnin described.

The commercial was a great success for Buick, and was shown both online through social media and on networks across the country. For Grishnin, it is just a pleasure showing off a great car with a talent like Virtue.

To see Grishnin’s work with the LED wall, watch the commercial on his website.

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