When the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was opened to vehicular traffic on May 28, 1937, it was built straight as an arrow from hillside to hillside - nary a curve or bend in the 90-foot-wide bridge.
In non-rush hour, you can drive across the bridge in a little more than a minute and the view is terrific. The bridge itself also is a remarkable sight. It doesn't matter what time of day you see it.
So how did the staffers in the Detroit office of FCB Worldwide make it look even more terrific? They used digital special effects to twist one of America's favorite landmarks into a gigantic steel pretzel. The project was done to create a commercial for Chrysler's 2001 Sebring sedan, coupe and convertible.
The special effects in the commercial are more than incredible; they are believable, lifelike, realistic - stunning. There's a real purpose and reason, not to mention strategy, I believe, behind the commercial. It's to show how the new Sebrings handle the road in a smart, eye-catching manner.
Sure, the cars drive slowly through the curves, and there's not much sheet metal shown, but it's the best use of digital effects I've ever seen in a car commercial.
Daniel Kleinman, the director of the commercial and a veteran of three James Bond film title sequences, traveled from London to San Francisco to shoot bridge footage from land, sea and air using tripod, boat and helicopter. The cinematography and angles are exceptional. The three cars were shot on an airstrip in the Nevada desert. All the film was taken back to the United Kingdom, where the real work began.
While it took several years to build the bridge, the digital reconfiguration, shaping, and bending of the 45 shots used in the commercial were done in just nine weeks. And you'd better believe the working conditions for the commercial must have been stressful, arduous and intense.
In the commercial, the viewer sees and hears (great sound effects, too) the bridge being pulled and winched into its new 'S' curve shape by a fleet of tugboats. Three of the boats are real, the others digitally created in 3-D. The steel moans and groans while the tugs tug. Cables strain, then snap. The tugs strain and moan. Things fall. Pop. Crash. Then, finally, in an aerial view, the bridge is bent and the three cars begin their journey over the new curving road bed of the bridge.
The effect is so seamless, so well done, that even real bridge signs, art deco barriers and shadows from the suspension cables and towers appear as the cars move slowly into and out of the curves at various camera angles.
The voiceover at the end was a little weak, but then, when this was produced, the strike was on and there was not that much copy anyway. No big deal.
FCB and Chrysler have set new and very high digital effects standards for their respective competitors to emulate or originate. Do I think it's a great car commercial? No, but it is a very good car commercial that has been made very good by a spectacular use of digital effects. Others have tried. FCB, its production and post-production partners and Chrysler were very successful.
Will the spot sell the cars? We'll know soon if the old axiom, 'share of mind equals share of market' works for Chrysler's new 2001 Sebrings.
You can contact Marty Bernstein by e-mail at martyb [email protected]
Editor's note: Since the Golden Gate Bridge commercial was created, BBDO Worldwide in Detroit was named the sole ad agency for the Chrysler group, beating out FCB Worldwide. FCB had handled creative work for the Chrysler group corporate and the Jeep and Chrysler brands globally since 1979.