Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Behind the Work: Bringing ŠKODA’s Robot Brothers To Life

Music & Sound
London, UK
Designing humanoids and exploring duality with Academy Films, Fallon London, Jungle Studios and Freefolk
Billed as the most important model ever introduced in ŠKODA’s 126-year history, the all-electric Enyaq iV SUV fuses dynamic design with eco-consciousness, marking a bold new era for the Czech car company.

To tell the story of how this exciting new model came to be, ŠKODA has released an animated 60-second TV ad in which a human family adopts two young baby robots - Purr and Grrr - who we follow on their search to find their place in the world. 

From the very first scenes, it becomes clear that Purr and Grrr are distinctly different. Purr is gentle and thoughtful, while Grrr is boisterous and bold. The story unfolds to reveal how the robot brothers bring attributes of their two sides together in order to craft their greatest work, the Enyaq iV SUV.

To find out how this enchanting story was brought to life, LBB interviews the talent behind the work. Creative director Graham Lakeland and senior creative Gareth Butters from Fallon London (a creative agency that sits within Leo Burnett), join Academy Films director Frederic Planchon; Freefolk post house’s animator Rory Marchant and generalist Jansen McCord; and sound design / audio facility Jungle Studios’ creative director Ben Leeves. 

LBB> The new ŠKODA SUV signifies a bold new era for the brand. How does it feel to have been involved in such a pivotal moment for the brand?

Frederic Planchon, Academy Films> Always very grateful that people trust me for an important launch. And that was the case with Fallon and ŠKODA. I’m also happy on a personal level to see the world changing for electric cars. 

Jansen McCord, Freefolk> We're honoured to have been chosen by Fallon and Frederic Planchon to bring these robots to life.

Graham Lakeland, Fallon> ŠKODA has an amazing history, but it’s very much forward-looking. Right now is an incredibly exciting time to be a part of the brand. A car like the Enyaq iV is a real gift for any creative and hats off to Kirsten, and the team at ŠKODA for encouraging us to really push the boat out.

LBB> The spot follows the story of a family that adopts two young robots. What was your process in bringing this story to life?

Frederic, Academy Films> I thought there was an opportunity for a unique tone - a tale, a bit poetic and playful - quite rare in car advertising. There are a lot of films with robots around but I was drawn to this story because they’re siblings (with opposite personalities) and with a human journey from babies to adults. I also liked the fact that the robots were struggling to find their place in this world but they finally did (that’s true for a lot of people…usually the best ones)!

Rory Marchant, Freefolk> The inspiration was based on some of our most beloved characters throughout film history. We wanted to focus on iconic individual personalities such as R2D2 (Starwars), Jonny 5 (Short Circuit 2) and Weebo (Flubber). The challenge was to give two brothers a difference in personality whilst having them be essentially the same make of robot. There was a lot of focus on the eye and the colour of the iris as well as small changes to mechanical parts on the body to distinguish the characters. 

The brothers had to feel conscious and hyper-intelligent but move similar to a bipedal humanoid so we started by studying references of how robots move in a factory setting and grabbed any interesting subtle details that could be added in as we see the robot's skills progress throughout the story. 

Jansen, Freefolk> Design-wise, the size of the head played an important part in selling the aging process of the robots. The model was built up dynamically so that the size of the eye could be changed for each stage but remain compatible with the rest of the pipeline, which allowed us to maximise the cute factor of the toddler and child-stage without additional risk.

Graham, Fallon> Lots of coffee and lots of Zoom. We were only a few days into the initial lockdown, so we were all still trying to get used to that, let alone launching ŠKODA’s most important car for years. Crucially, we allowed ourselves time. We didn’t rush to an answer. So we’d already explored quite a lot when Gareth presented Purr and Grrr, but then straight away we knew we had something special. Not that they were called Purr and Grrr to begin with; that again was something that came with time.

Ben Leeves, Jungle Studios> Sound-wise, we needed to create two completely different audio characters. We were working with the animators from the start, even before any animation actually started, to build up a sound palette for them. We went down two routes, one was Purr’s very calm and in-control tone, and the other was Grrr’s playful and boisterous tone. 

The opening shot of them playing with their bricks is a very key moment in sound - you can hear that one is very gentle and that is burst by Grrr coming in. Grrr’s sounds were made from jamming paper into a shredder, whereas Purr’s sounds were made from classic servo motors. We went through a lot of different ways to try to get the distinction between the two and the sound grows as the robots grow in age, from smaller, gentle sounds to much more powerful, heavier sounds later on. We also tweaked the pitch as they age too. 

LBB> The robots signify the duality of the car’s two distinct sides - eco-conscious and dynamic design. How was this portrayed on screen?

Gareth Butters, Fallon> I am one of three siblings and we are totally different - and that’s not just because I have a beard and the other two are women. We wanted to reflect that sibling dynamic by creating two robots that looked the same, were punched from the same sheet metal, but through subtle looks and mannerisms behave differently in a given scenario. 

We also wanted the differences to be nuanced. I always think of Bart and Lisa; for the most part Lisa is caring and Bart is the tearaway, but Lisa can also be badass and Bart can be a softie too.

Frederic, Academy Films> The scenes were especially designed to make their behaviors quite different. We worked with the creative team and later with Freefolk in order to finesse the two different body languages.

Jansen, Freefolk> From the very start we knew that, despite sharing the same design as Purr, Grrr would be covered in scrapes and smudges to show a more adventurous nature, with the other sibling representing the more pristine and well-maintained original model. 

With the final concept, we were presented with the additional challenge of creating areas in Grrr’s arms which had been optimised via removed panels, showing the complex inner mechanisms. Our modelling team designed these inner assemblies to great detail, fitting into both Purr’s and Grrr’s designs.

Rory, Freefolk> We wanted the robots to feel as if they had been brought up and raised by humans. So it was important for them to have child-like characteristics and curiosity for life. This enabled us to show the difference in each character with Grrr’s bold attitude trying to run before he can walk, and Purr’s more systematic approach of self-discovery. We decided that Grrr would be moving much faster, bounding and jumping around exploding with energy, and Purr would be more stationary watching, learning and developing his compassion and intellect.

LBB> Who do you personally relate more to, Purr or Grrr, and why?

Ben, Jungle Studios> Watching myself in any home video where I'm crashing into the scenes proves that I’m much more like Grrr. In fact, there’s a funny video of my sisters posing with their Wendy house when I almost stumble into the frame, and you just see one of my parent’s hands come out and push me away by the forehead. I channel Grrr’s energy.

Graham, Fallon> Very much Purr, but desperately trying to live out my Grrr side through my kids.

Gareth, Fallon> I mean I would love to be able to say that I am out-and-out Grrr… but the fact of the matter is karma has a tight grip on me. For instance, if I see snails on pavements I pick them up and pop them into bushes so that they don’t get trampled. That’s pretty Purr I guess. Plus a little insane. 

Frederic, Academy Films> PGURRR. No reason to choose between supporting ecology and liking design! I stopped owning a petrol car 15 years ago. 

LBB> This was a highly ambitious campaign, what were some of the biggest challenges and how did you tackle them?

Graham, Fallon> That little thing called Covid. Shooting with a car so new that it barely existed. Creating believable, lovable robots that felt fresh.

As ever, we tackled every challenge by surrounding ourselves with incredibly talented and passionate people. With so many people all striving to make the best film possible, and willing to go above-and-beyond to do so, there was always an answer somewhere, eventually.

Frederic, Academy Films> As a director, having main characters done in CGI is not the most gratifying to shoot, but it’s an interesting thing to be out of your comfort zone. Also to carry a sense of humanity in technological devices without being cartoony and cheesy. Nevertheless I wanted the audience to engage with them, so the danger of feeling cold and heartless was always there. 

But the biggest challenge on this commercial was screen time. The story is so rich that we could have easily made it a 90 sec film at least. We had such a hard time trying to find the balance between the two characters, the story, and the presence of the car at the end in less than 60 seconds.

Ben, Jungle Studios> The biggest challenge in sound was to make sure that the viewer gets an idea of a distinction between the two robots from the beginning. After that, the challenge was making sure that robot sounds are real to the environment that they are in on screen. You don't want it to sound like a load of noises that have just been dumped on top. It needed to be in balance with the music too which plays a very vital part.

Jansen, Freefolk> On the CG side, our final robot models were made up of over 3000 individual objects. The creation of such detailed characters meant each of our modellers worked with one another to divide up each section, whilst ensuring that everyone stuck to a consistent style throughout.

LBB> What are you most proud of from working on this project?

Gareth, Fallon> I am proud of actually getting it done considering the challenges we’ve all experienced over the last year or so. Without sounding overly dramatic (after all, compared to nurses we have ridiculous jobs), there were times when the limitations of what we could do remotely or within budget made it seem almost impossible. It was an incredible team from agency to production that got us through it.

Ben, Jungle Studios> The feedback I’ve received from peers - everyone instantly wants to know how we created the sounds and the characters. As a sound man I know a project like this is not easy to do - it's a lot of trial and error, a huge amount. So it’s great to hear that it paid off.

Rory, Freefolk> The talent, dedication and energy that the team poured into the project to make it the beautiful film that it is. 

Frederic, Academy Films> Proud to be surrounded by talented people. The agency team was supportive and the exchange was easy. I’ve been lucky to work with Jake Lunt Davies who designed the robots. Plus my producer Lucy Gossage and the DOP Ben Fordesman made the very short shoot possible in extreme cold and on the shorter days of the year. 

LBB> What was your reaction to the final spot and what is your favorite scene and why?

Rory, Freefolk> Thank god that's done! Anyone in post will tell you, after pouring over the minutest details over and over for a few months, you're glad to see the finish line... and excited to see the reactions.

Ben, Jungle Studios> I’m really really pleased. I especially loved the baby steps scene because of how well it establishes the two characters. Lots of the sound was based on that scene, so that basically helped develop the rest of the whole film.

Frederic, Academy Films> I like the Moebius strip of trolleys that Grrr is creating. I would have loved to build this installation for real!

Graham, Fallon> That’s like asking me to choose between my kids! Clearly they’re all dear to me, but it’s hard not to love the toddler scene at the start, it’s just so very beautiful. Don’t tell the other scenes though.

Gareth, Fallon> It’s hard to say what my reaction was to the final spot. Relief maybe? But in all seriousness, we’d watched the film progress slowly since it had actors playing the robots, then early block CG, then renders. So we had kind of already seen behind the great and powerful Oz’s curtain. Having said that, Freefolk really knocked it out of the park. When I saw the first render of Purr in the classroom, that’s when I remember saying to myself ‘Christ…this is going to look good’ and it’s still my favourite scene for that reason.