Ever wondered what the inside of a golf ball looks like? How about a robot? Or a camera? In Wieden + Kennedy London’s new ad for Honda we are taken on a journey through all these objects, and more, and shown the unexpected beauty that is found within each item, before the ad ends by highlighting the size and quality of the Honda Civic Tourer’s interior. Directors Smith & Foulkes and the special effects team at Time Based Arts talk us through how it was done.
Inner Beauty is the latest in a long line of clever and brilliantly made ads created for Honda by Wieden + Kennedy London. It is directed by Smith & Foulkes who are regular collaborators with both the agency and brand, in the past creating the award-winning animated spot Grrr, as well as Hands, a series of charming TV idents, among other projects. For this ad, the focus was on the interior of the car, an area that is often overlooked in advertising.
“The brief was to illustrate both the beauty and practicality of the car,” say the directors. “As always with Honda, Wieden + Kennedy came up with an idea that was a little off the wall, wanting to explore a series of unexpected interiors that eventually relate directly to the practical capabilities of the car. The script came to us as a giant puzzle. Most of the pieces were in place, it was just a matter of choreographing our journey through them, while bearing in mind the client’s desire to show the beauty of the car.”
Smith & Foulkes’ solution was to take the audience on a visual trip that ended with the car, but on the way revealed the insides of several objects, including a golf ball, camera, suitcase and chest of drawers. “We always wanted a single journey that took us directly from A to Z but could explore a huge range of visual sensations along the way,” they say. “Inspired by the 70s prog rock covers of our youth, we imagined our objects floating through a vastly beautiful exterior space. Each time we travel through an object we momentarily travel to another world, before we are once again thrown out into the desert. We wanted to capture the contrast between dynamism and calm, the disorientation of diving into a tunnel and then suddenly being thrown back out onto the open road.”
The finished ad is a mix of stop frame animation and CGI. “We wanted a visually spectacular thrill ride of discovery,” continue Smith & Foulkes. “So it was really important to base everything in reality even if ultimately we did not physically create every cut-through. To that end we needed to understand the process of how we would travel through each object, and to discover what lay within. So we started to cut things up and explore. Then we could decide how best to shoot each one, so some elements were shot for real, some model built and some CGI. Licence was used in some objects in order to enhance the visual experience inside, such as the golf ball centre and snow globe.”
London-based special effects company Time Based Arts joined the project at the initial build stage. The team there created a 3D animatic that was used to design the basic structure of the film. “This initial R&D work formed the blueprint for the next stage of the process,” says Mike Skrgatic, project lead at TBA. “It determined what would be built in 3D and what would be made by the modelmakers and then shot as a series of stills. It also defined the amount of slices or parts that were needed in each pass through. This had to be precise so that what was shot would fit into the allocated duration.”
One of the biggest decisions was about the objects to be included – each one had to be interesting on the outside with an interesting interior, and all had to fit together at the end within the boot of the car. “Eventually the list was whittled down as pomegranates, cuckoo clocks and saxophones were thrown out,” says Smith & Foulkes. Once this list was decided, the next challenge was how to accurately represent what was inside each object. “In the case of the camera, robot, amp and accordion, we had to sacrifice real objects and cut them up to look inside,” says Skrgatic. “We researched how they worked and gained an understanding of how you might pass through each section while maintaining a visual interest and beauty in the image.”
The team shot the car footage in Spain over two days. The stop-frame animation elements were shot at Clapham Road Studios in south London over three days. Once those were completed, it was then over to post-production, which was an eight-week process, involving a crew of over 20 people at Time Based Arts in Shoreditch.
A major obstacle at this stage was the combination of 3D with stop frame imagery, the former being much ‘cleaner’ than the latter. “The 3D was put under close scrutiny given the macro nature of the journey through each object,” says Skrgatic. The post team therefore used various techniques, including ‘lens aberration’, ‘light leak’, randomising clean edges and subtly animating the placing of the objects on each frame to mimic the stop frame look in the 3D elements.
These issues are invisible in the finished film, which is a striking one-minute visual trip. While this complex shoot came together perfectly, the process was not without casualties, however, with Smith and Foulkes admitting that “ten pairs of very expensive men’s brogues were harmed during the making of this film”.
Agency: Wieden + Kennedy London
Creative director: Scott Dungate. ECDs: Tony Davidson, Kim Papworth.
Production company: Nexus. Directors: Smith & Foulkes. VFX: Time Based Arts. VFX supervisor: Mike Skrgatic. Editorial: Trim. Editor: Paul Hardcastle. Music: Factory. Sound designers: Anthony Moore, Tom Joyce