iPhone Screen Replacements and Animation

Pick up your mobile phone. Go ahead, pick it up. Take a look at it. It's pretty remarkable, isn't it? Whether it's an iPhone or (some other phone that I'm not interested in)...it can do some really amazing things.

Just a few years ago, when someone mentioned a phone in a commercial or corporate video, it usually involved giving someone a phone number to call. Phones were just that, phones. Now they are so much more. I remember when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone, it was nothing short of amazing. Nowadays, when we talk about typing a message, or browsing the internet - we often pantomime the action of using a touch-screen smartphone. The paradigm has shifted.

We see a lot of products that involve devices like the iPhone. Businesses have mobile apps, or a great new feature via text message or mobile browsing. More and more, they want to feature these in commercials and videos. There are a lot of solutions, and plenty of challenges. Let's look at a few of them.

Method 1: Shoot it Live. 

Shooting it live is hands down the easiest to execute. All you need is a camera and a phone. There are some challenges, like trying to reduce the glare and making sure the timing of the actions will work with your script, but overall it is a rather simple solution. It does have some drawbacks, however, like not being able to make any changes to the content after the shoot.  What you shoot is what you get (WYSIWYG).


Method 2: Replace the Screen

Screen replacement is probably the most common solution. It involves filming the phone with none of the final content on the screen. The phone's screen is then tracked using tracking software (like Mocha for After Effects), and the screen content is generated entirely in post-production. Anything interacting with the screen has to be carefully planned out ahead of time and plenty of work is required for everything to look natural.

This commercial produced for Tri Counties Bank's mobile banking is a great example of screen replacement.

The advantages of screen replacement are the ability to change the content at any time. If the look of the mobile app changes there is nothing to re-shoot, it all happens in the editing. Of course, it is more time consuming and requires a more advanced skill set, which costs more money. 


Method 3: Full 3D Animation

Sometimes what you want to do goes beyond the bounds or reality. When you want a phone to be spinning alone in 3D space with the clients content on the screen, there is only one solution: full 3D animation. 3D animating a phone with content is labor intensive, but the results can be incredible.

Here is an example of 3D animation in a commercial produced for B-Line Transit. In this example we not only have the phone existing alone in 3D space, but it starts in the hands of the user. This required additional camera tracking to match the 3D movements of the phone to the 3 dimensional characteristics of the live shot.

Everything about that phone is fake. 

The reflections of trees in the screen: fake.
The reflection of his finger in the glass: fake.

What makes it great, is that you don't notice the effects...that's the key to great compositing and animation. It should go unnoticed until you want the viewer to see it. 


Each project has it's own unique challenges. Choosing the right solution for a project requires examining the needs laid out in the script, the overall desired impact, and budget. No single solution is better than the other, they all have a time and place for use. If you need this kind of work completed, hire the professionals. Contact me.