Backstage is most often spent sitting around and waiting, waiting, waiting. And with the exception of watching a pastry chef blowtorching the surface of a crème brulée, watching how your bistro food gets prepared is just plain scary.
Every then and now, however, a brief peek behind the curtain can be exhilarating.
Case in point: The story, location and intent behindBMW’s 30-second “Yet” commercial created to launch the new 2009 3 Series Sedan.
If you were to catch the spot on TV, you’d be instinctively mesmerized by the drama: Here’s the new 3 whipping its way flawlessly through an endless series of curves, bends, straightaways and whoops.
But the road the BMW is on isn’t a road at all – it’s a transparent ribbon of glass that allows the camera to track the sport sedan from above and below, exposing 360-degree views and angles of the 3 as it works over every twist and tangle in its path. Everything, even the car’s undercarriage, gets scrutinized by the lens. “We searched. Everywhere. Then we found this stunning place and knew it was perfect for our task of filming the new 3 Series.”
BMW National Marketing Manager Helen Limpitlaw is speaking to us from within the belly of a mammoth World War II blimp hangar, a structure as unique and unmatched in scope as the 3 Series itself. “The 3 has built a legend, winning comparison tests year after year. And now the new 3 Series breaks through and leaves everyone else in its wake.
At every level. Again.” That’s the spirit of “Yet.” A visual celebration of a new 3 Series that is, as the voiceover says, a sports car… yet a sedan. Powerful… yet fuel efficient. It’s the most advanced 3 Series. “Yet.” “It is iconic,” affirms Robert Lin, Associate Creative Director and art director at GSD&M Idea City, the Austin, Texas, creative agency that dreamed up the idea for “Yet.” Lin’s “icon” reference relates to both the 3 Series itself and the playground of twisting glass road in a “white room” that the new 3 is frolicking in.
Limpitlaw, Lin and a host of creatives – film crews, directors, writers, producers – are gathered for a film shoot in one of the coolest makeshift sound stages in existence: Blimp Hangar 1 at the Tustin Marine Corps Air Base in Southern California. Built in 1942 as a docking station for blimps patrolling the California coastline during World War II, the 17-story high blimp hangar (one of two built on the property at the Santa Ana Naval Air Station, as it was called back then) was the largest unsupported wooden structure in the world. And how big is large?
The hangar is 1,088 feet long and 297 feet wide. That’s enough floor space to contain more than seven football fields. During wartime, Blimp Hangar 1 could house six full-size blimps at once, and was so echoingly massive when empty, that it sometimes generated its own weather systems from inside. Walking into the massive, empty blimp hangar, you get the sense of intimidating awe that great cathedrals were built to inspire.
The scope and quietude are a little unworldly. There are no structural crossmembers to deflect your view, so your eyes travel a fifth of a mile from the south end of the hangar to the north end, an open distance most golfers can’t match off the tee with a driver and the wind to their backs. And there are no interior walls to bounce your voice off of, so every word you speak seems to disappear into silence just a few inches out of your mouth. And we haven’t even started to tell you about the gigantic white bubble. Ah yes, that gigantic white bubble.
To distill the essence of the 3 Series sports sedan and to best capture the car as it traversed along “the helix of its own DNA” (as Idea City Group Creative Director Jay Russell put it), the creative team stripped the visuals down to “the car in a white room with no distractions. Simple. This is the 3.” This follows BMW’s philosophy in all its communications, across all media: the car is the star.
The purity of a simple white background is all a BMW needs, because, ultimately, it speaks for itself. “We thought this idea was very innovative, striking and very authentic,” BMW’s Claudia Mueller, Launch Communication and Advertising Manager BMW 3 Series, told us. “It would be difficult to show a competitive make like this and make it seem authentic, due to the 3 Series’ being the sports sedan benchmark.”
Cue the gigantic white bubble. If your creative needs include a pure white photographic environment, there’s actually a company that does photobubbles for a living: The Photobubble Company. In essence, the company will create an enormous, inflatable, translucent vinyl softbox for you that is illuminated from the outside.
This effect cuts down on the reflections – especially beneficial for car shoots – and allows for seamless 360-degree photography. For the “Yet” shoot, BMW required a 40-foot-tall bubble that was 220 feet long and 100 feet wide, or about the size of an Olympic skating rink. Blimp Hangar 1 housed the bubble with a yawn. Once inside the hangar, the bubble took two days to build and just 20 minutes to inflate.
Large fans blowing into the 1,300-lb. bubble kept it inflated with a mere 0.03 psi of air pressure. The cement floor of the hangar was painted bright white to match the bubble. The effect was akin to being trapped inside a massive light bulb. So everything was ready, and here’s the setup: Inside a Leviathan wooden structure, there sat a gigantic white vinyl bubble, lit from the outside by huge movie lights. The stage floor was marked with blocking tape and the bubble had an opening at each end just big enough for a BMW and a camera car to enter and exit.
The monitors and camera car were set. Then it was time to call in the star: a new Blue Water Metallic BMW 335i Sedan. With wind-defying lines and a newly chiseled exterior, it’s in motion even when it’s in park. Even at rest, this 300-hp, twinturbocharged sports sedan looked eager to run. The stage was set. The cameras were rolling. Directors Chris Staves and Laurent Ledru from the Psyop production company called “Action.”
And the 3 Series began to move. It was shadowed by the camera car (clad in white to minimize reflections), with the camera attached to a small crane arm. The 3 Series/camera car train rolled into the giant white bubble, the new 3 looking like a rock star, drilling into the scene and tracking its marks flawlessly. “Perfect. Let’s do it again.” Then it was time for the low-end front shot. “Perfect. Let’s do it again.” Then the low-end rear shot. “Perfect. Do it again.”
Then the wheel shot. “Perfect. And again.” Then the hood shot. “Perfect. Again.” The highlight was watching a 3 Series “stunt” car inside the bubble (with cables anchored to the engine bay and trunk) being hoisted by a crane so that cameras could caress every immaculate detail. The car hung there patiently, silently, suspended several feet above the floor of the white bubble dome as the camera darted beneath it like a hummingbird, picking up every suspension piece, every wind-cheating ground effect of the floorplan.
As I watched every inch of the new 3 Series being deliberately scrutinized during filming, I couldn’t help but wonder how this incredible slow-motion ballet could ever be turned into a slam dance of high-performance driving. In post-production, with the real footage married to computer graphics, the results would be killer. But I had to ask: A blimp hangar? A gigantic bubble? A full film crew? With caterers? Wouldn’t it have been easier just to do the whole thing on a computer? “Absolutely,” responds Russell. “It would be easy in CG (Computer Graphics), but it would be lacking the BMW dust. Marrying filmed images to CG is five times harder, but this is the 3. It’s all about authenticity.” Meaning, it’s all about capturing the icon.
Source: BMW Magazine