Responses by Wes Walker, director, Tool.
Background: After 20 years, sportswear brand Under Armour wanted to bring back “Protect This House”—the iconic battle chant from 2003. In 2023, Under Armour wanted to redefine the slogan for a new, younger generation. So, the phrase “this house” became a metaphor for everything a young athlete and their teammates protect: themselves, each other, their families, their friends and where they come from. This film captures the physical and mental preparation athletes put in before every game in a visceral, authentic way, infusing Under Armour as its symbol.
Design thinking: When reintroducing “Protect This House” to young athletes, we knew finding the right ambassadors was key. We tapped Stephen Curry, Aliyah Boston of the NCAA Championship–winning USC Gamecocks and Kelsey Plum of the WNBA Championship–winning Las Vegas Aces to lead the charge. The film was shot through a gritty, authentic lens to represent the Under Armour ethos and appeal to the next generation of athletes.
Challenges: Previous iterations of “Protect This House” were more focused on male-centric athletes and sports. Our challenge was to come up with a refreshed approach that retained the intensity of sport and teamwork but with a more clearly defined, impactful craft that spoke to a more modern, diverse generation of athletes.
Favorite details: Core to the approach was the question: How does one visualize an athlete’s mentality? We often see athletes working hard on film, but the “why” aspect is critical. Team is everything, and when representing basketball from an authentic perspective, we had to lean in and let our athletes guide the creative process as much as we did. I’m most proud of how this film was co-created in tandem with direct feedback from Aliyah Boston, Stephen Curry, Kelsey Plum, Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley and basketball athlete Bryson Tucker. We listened to each other and found scenes that were real to their mentality, their actual inner spiritual experience, team experiences and locker room rituals.
Visual influences: When asked to make bold, iconic work, the key for me is to go beyond modern and contemporary work when referencing. It’s hard to be original when your references are the other sports ads that came out last year. To push ourselves, Farhad Ghaderi, Max Goldman, Tim Sessler and I dug into our archives and looked to photographers like Bill Henson and Walter Iooss and cinematographers like Michael Chapman and Vitorio Storraro, among others, whose aesthetics elevated their subjects while complicating their stories. We needed a realism, a grit while maintaining imagery firmly in the realm of the epic. We also asked ourselves what was needed to truly feel these athletes. For immersion, we leaned in on textures: water, ice, sweat, blood and even lighting with actual fire in one scene. We worked with smoke, flashbulbs that freeze time in a mid-20th-century-photography way, light beams and smashed glass. The idea was to ensure that audiences feel how hard elite athletes push themselves to unlock inner and team greatness. It’s not always pretty, and that was the point.
Specific project demands: The demand for greatness came straight from the top: Kevin Plank, founder at Under Armour. Kevin joined me on set in Los Angeles and asked me directly how this film would elevate and build on the original Protect This House. My answer was simple: staying true to Under Armour’s core DNA as a brand, which is to understand, uplift and champion the athlete mentality and grit that it takes to be your best and reinterpret it through the diverse lens of the modern athlete, both male and female. Under Armour laid that foundation years ago, and I was inspired by early work for the brand by legendary directors like Martin deThurah and Aoife McArdle. To have the opportunity to add to that pantheon of great films was a blessing and a challenge I didn’t take lightly.
This was a film and campaign months in the making that took a heavy lift in post: days and days in the edit, color, sound and music, among other departments. It’s rare that a director in commercials these days is allowed this level of craft and attention to detail all the way through the final product. Kevin and the Under Armour creative team had full trust in us and helped us flow in the way we needed. From vice president of global creative Brian Boring and global creative director Alex Bardoff, plus our agency partners at Zambezi, they were vital in supporting this spot’s vision. Proof is the fact that there is no director’s cut; what is out in the world is what I envisioned and intended as a director, and I’m proud of what we built.