I Baked The Skoda Cake-Car

Skoda’s ad The Baking of… shows a group of white-coated home economists busily making a full-size car – out of cake. Gavin Lucas talks to art director and production designer supreme, Brian Morris, about his role in making the ad.

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CR: As well as commercials, you’ve worked on a huge range of feature films as an art director and also as a production designer – including the first of the Pirates Of The Caribbean films. How did you end up working with cake for Skoda?

BM: My first commercial was for Fairy Liquid in the mid 1960s. From there I then went on to work for Alan Parker, Adrian Lynne, Bob Brooks, Tony Scott, Richard Loncraine, Terry Donovan and through the 70s and 80s must have done hundreds of commercials.

How did I end up working on this? I was the man daft enough to take it on I guess! Actually, I’ve worked with [director] Chris Palmer quite a lot recently and he likes to throw out the odd challenge now and again. I have, of course, been doing my job before the development of CGI and there was no way of avoiding actually doing whatever it is you want to do for real then, so almost everything was done in camera. So the idea of doing something like this – the “for real” brief – phases me less, maybe, than most art directors.

I had never done anything using cake, I have to say, but in the end it’s a design brief like any other – same process, different materials. Making films involves solving problems that you’ve never encountered before on a daily basis – that’s a big part of the job. A fun part – once you’ve done it and it has worked that is. Now we know how to do it, of course, we will never be asked again and it’s on with the next one…

CR: When, where and how long was the shoot?

BM: The shoot was over four very long, hard, sticky days at Shepperton Studios at the beginning of May. The final Skoda badge was applied at 2.30am precisely on the final day. The badge being, quite literally, the icing on the cake.

CR: The cake-car really was made of edible cake, right?

BM: The cake car was indeed made of an awful lot of cake – about one and a half tonnes of the stuff, in fact.

CR: How did the decision come about – to actually build it from scratch, from real cake/icing/jelly etc?

BM: Chris Palmer said, from day one, that it had to be real and that it had to be made on camera with the actual technicians doing it and he was not to be swayed!

CR: Was there a research phase? Did you talk to modelmakers before er, home economists?

BM: There was no time for a research phase – air dates didn’t allow it. We had but four weeks’ notice with Easter taking out a large chunk. It was a question of sourcing the right people for the team who, like me, were prepared to lay their professional reputations on the line and take the gamble. The rest was done with a calculator and a crystal ball. We had to believe it would work but were just never quite sure until the Skoda badge finally went on.

The team we assembled included PPL’s John Pennicot (the SFX modelmakers), Sarah Tildersley and her team of film/stills home economists, the CakeBake company of commercial bakers, who undertook to break their production line and go for the challenge, and also Brook Food, the baking machinery company who provided the equipment and operators.

CR: How many home economists worked on the ad?

BM: There were six home economists; three sugar chefs; a machine operator/baker; two prop masters and four SFX modelmakers, all of whom appeared on screen, backed up by a battalion of backroom boys and girls, off camera, bringing up the rear.

CR: There’s an impressive list of ingredients that were used to make the car (see our blog) – how did you work out how much of everything you’d need and what recipes to use?

BM: The “recipe” evolved. The structural bricks were simple (we used Madeira cake) only the scale/volume was a bit of a worry. Moulds for special tins were taken from an actual car and produced by PPL with whom I dealt on the structural design problems. The other components, as I said, were brainstormed. “Perhaps jelly lights would be nice?” Find the best jelly-maker… here’s the mould… do it.

CR: And, very importantly, what happened to the cake-car after the ad? Was it eaten? Carved up and dished out to the crew? Was the dismantling of the cake filmed at all?

BM: Ah, well, immediately after the shoot I was on a plane out of the country but I know that there was a plan to cut the cake car up and distribute it to local charities, schools and hospitals. Unfortunately, however, as the car had been under hot studio lights for several days, it would have posed a health and safety risk if eaten. Some parts were preserved though, such as the marzipan wing-mirrors and chocolate speedometer. The rest of the car, I hear, was composted and will be used by the residents of Clapton, East London, to fertilise their gardens and allotments.