How the Air Jordan 1 Sneakers Made History

A 90-minute film created from 20,000 assets, 1,800 stock images, 180 hours of footage in multiple rooms over 3.5 years by Director Dexton Deboree and Editor Alex Trudeau Viriato, with Adobe Creative Cloud and Team Projects.

by Margot Nack

posted on 06-03-2019

The year is 1984. Countless societal shifts are rising and falling every day as a new generation tries to find its identity. The Cold War is waning. Hip-Hop culture is emerging. Professional sports are increasingly embedded in American society as legendary athletes achieve new levels of celebrity. The concept of individuality reaches new peaks across the United States and the old regime of resisting all this change is at full attention.

Enter a young Michael Jordan. Before ever playing a regular season game for the National Basketball Association—and against his own initial interest and amid much corporate resistance—he signs a contract with Nike, giving birth to the most infamous sneakers in history: the Air Jordan 1 (AJ1).

Upon wearing the loud red-and-black kicks in a pre-season game at Madison Square Garden, with then-NBA Commissioner David Stern in attendance, the controversy began. Some say the shoes were banned from the NBA, while others aren’t so sure. One thing was clear, though—the AJ1 became the most sought-after sneaker in the country and an immortal icon of the times.

For this reason and many more, filmmaker Dexton Deboree decided to devote a feature-length, cinematic documentary to the AJ1’s legacy in sports, pop culture, and beyond. This was not intended to be a marketing fluff piece, but rather a socio-political investigation of the 1980s and resulting cultural impact, through the perspective of the AJ1.

Creating a living, vivid tapestry

Dexton knew from the start that this couldn’t be a boring, drab, or purely informational documentary. His vision was to maintain journalistic integrity while investigating the controversy between the NBA, Nike, Jordan, and the shoes and accurately portraying the AJ1’s impact through many perspectives and mediums.

“We knew that we couldn’t just make a documentary,” says Dexton. “We needed to make the Michael Jordan of documentaries. It couldn’t be like everything else; it had to blow your mind.”

To achieve his goal in his debut feature, Dexton and his team began gathering material. In total, they acquired approximately 180 hours of footage from 62 multi-camera interviews, as well as 20,000 assets from a range of media sources.

The pieces of the puzzle were extremely varied and voluminous, and it would take a special approach to bring the tapestry to life. This is where Adobe Creative Cloud combined with the team’s masterful editing skills to create cinematic magic.

Unchained, seamless collaborative editing

Dexton worked closely with the project’s lead editor, Alex Trudeau Viriato, throughout the process using Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. Adobe Premiere Pro allowed the team to drop whatever content they thought was suitable onto the timeline, regardless of format. Team Projects, a feature within Adobe Creative Cloud video applications, enabled Dexton, Alex, assistant editor Charles Farrell, and the rest of the team to simultaneously edit in Adobe Premiere Pro CC every step of the way.

The team worked on shared sequences and compositions across Premiere Pro and After Effects, while giving each individual control and visibility of assets. This helped keep versions in order, enabled a more collaborative experience, and saved time by enabling them to keep working instead of losing time waiting for sequences. Because Team Projects is synced in the cloud the editors were enabled to work from the same location or different remote locations always keeping is sync.

“It’s not always about finessing the edit,” said Alex. “I wanted to be able to grab and throw things together, and if Dex was here, time was precious. I wanted to show him as many things as possible and get through notes, throw things in the timeline, try something out real quick, explore an idea, and bring it to life. Premiere Pro and Team Projects made that possible.”

The Unbanned team also used Dynamic Link to allow the post-production team to move between Premiere Pro and After Effects without the need to render or export sequences and compositions. Alex noted that these features were especially helpful given the fact that he’s a “rhythm editor” and doesn’t like disruptions breaking his flow.

Bringing it all together

Dexton, Alex, and the rest of the team created a fast-paced, dynamic film that bounces between a wide array of formats, sources, and music, using split screens, quick cuts, and other features. They used Premiere Pro features like Warp Stabilizer and the Lumetri Color panel to create a consistent aesthetic that properly represented the diverse subject matter.

From classic 1980s advertisements and mixed media to countless clips of interviews with eclectic commentators like Spike Lee, Lena Waithe, and the man himself, Michael Jordan, the tapestry they created is truly a site to behold.

After the film’s debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, the team knew they had something special. To build excitement for the film’s theatrical release Dexton, his team took advantage of the seamless integration between video and design tools within Adobe Creative Cloud. Designer John Qudoe Lee got creative with the promotional materials, including his decision to essentially dissect the AJ1 and use various parts of the shoe for social content, billboards, and more.

“We took apart the shoe so we could have more assets to build off of and really see what these materials look like,” said John. “We scanned them in, brought the scans into Photoshop, and zoomed in on certain textures to bring it all to life.” Adobe InDesign and Illustrator also came into play as the team created artwork and posters to help promote the film.

With a dynamic score filled with the music that shaped the decade, masterful editing, and powerful personal stories, Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1 is a must-see film for basketball fans, sneaker enthusiasts, and culture buffs.

Watch the video.

Dexton and some of the team involved in Unbanned are now part of the newly launched multi-disciplinary Entertainment and Advertising content company called FALKON, which focuses on the integration of Long-form Features, Episodic Series, short form digital content and innovative advertising for brands entertainment partners and original IP

Unbanned was produced by Stef Fink and Dexton Deboree and Distributed by Lionsgate.

Topics: Creativity, Video & Audio

Products: After Effects, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Creative Cloud