Honda has launched the world’s first never-ending YouTube film, which shows the CR-V car driving on an infinitely looping road, through day and night. But while the film feels charming in its simplicity, don’t be fooled by this effortless facade, as the technical lead describes the spot as “by far the most difficult job I have ever done”…
The ad, from agency mcgarrybowen London, is in the mould of the brand’s previous Illusions ad, which featured various Escher-style visual tricks. The new spot is from the same director as Illusions, Chris Palmer, and features a 3D version of the ‘droste’ effect, where an image is shown endlessly repeating within itself.
The finished film, shown above, appears simple, but within it there lies an almighty technical headache, as Jordi Bares, creative director at post-production company Glassworks, reveals.
“When we at Glassworks first read through Chris’s notes for the project, we began to prepare for what seemed like a complicated challenge but nothing too crazy.” he says. “Yet to our suprise once we started research, the project quickly began to feel like a Russian doll in that when one problem was solved, another multi-dimensional technical challenge would appear.”
The road in the film is based on Pigtail Bridge, a curved road found in South Dakota in the US. But as it was impossible to film at the real location, the team recreated the road as a detailed model, constructed at Shepperton Studios (see images below), and used this alongside high-tech 3D tools to make the ad. “With the use of 3D software, we embarked on a research and previsualisation period to exact the novel Droste effect,” says Bares. “We needed to be extremely precise with this to ensure the flow of the camera was maintained, whilst fitting into the timings of 60 and 30 second blocks. The camera timings, radius of the move, car animation and positioning of the elements all had to be configured in such a way that there is enough time to read the car before being driven into the next ‘world’.
“Meanwhile,” Bares continues, “not revealing to the audience that with each ‘new world’, we were changing scale from the start point, a one tenth scale construction model at Shepperton Studios, to a one hundredth on the first iteration, a one thousandth on the second and so on and so forth. Of course this is impossible to do in real life scale due to the practical limitations of the camera, model making, lighting etc. Therefore Chris planned for a one-tenth model shoot that would still retain realism. The final model design not only took into account the effect itself, but also included the actual possibility of shooting it.”
The team created 126 different versions of the model, before they settled on one that worked. “The process of designing the environment had to evolve in many ways due to various technical challenges, for example when placing trees into the environment, they would be perfectly arranged in the first ‘world’, but as the camera travelled through into the second ‘world’ the trees would collide with the camera rig,” explains Bares. “Therefore the layout was not only spatial but also in time, meaning that we had to look at the animation in many points in both time and space. For this we used Houdini, an invaluable 3D software tool that made the process something we could handle and describe using mathematical equations.
“The same approach was used for the car itself and for the many visual surprises throughout the film that are carefully designed to work with the length of the commercial but also timed to feel as natural as possible. If we chose to change the timings of these elements, the whole ‘canvas’ would also have to change.
“Once we had the layout, we then had to create the blueprints for the modelmakers, the set designers and the camera team which brought up the challenges of transferring from a virtual world to a practical one, where factors such as budget had to be taken into consideration… The sensation when we arrived on set for the first time and saw the little world built for real was extraordinarily weird, every rock and tree was in its correct place as planned and there was definitely an extra magic in shooting it for real.”
The attention to detail in the spot was taken all the way through to the car lights in the night shoot, which Palmer wanted to be real, even though the car was itself was inserted into the ad in CG. “A miniature light rig was constructed and with our blueprints at hand, we mapped the car animation path frame by frame in huge pieces of paper so we could stop motion the animation,” says Bares. “Due to the practicality of needing to remove the paper, we had to animate this part in reverse.
“After four hours of painstaking frame-by-frame animation we perfectly matched the timing of our CGI car. Once the shoot was finished, our job in post started again as this time we started working on the project from the point of view of adding a CGI car, animals and composite the various pieces together. We used Softimage software and using Redshift added lots of elements to bed the car and the various elements into the shot to give the film the final quality.”
The ad will air on TV in the version shown top, which is set to the soundtrack of Twisted Nerve by Bernard Hermann, made famous by its use in the film Kill Bill. In addition to this film, there is the aforementioned never-ending YouTube version, which reflects the time and location where you viewing. This can be found online at endlessroad.eu.
Agency: mcgarrybowen London
ECDs: Angus Macadam, Paul Jordan
Creatives: Charlotte Watmough, Holly Fallows
Director: Chris Palmer
Production company: Gorgeous
Post: Glassworks and FaTiBoo
Creative director (3D): Jordi Bares
Digital production: MediaMonks