What if you had the power to change the course of events? This is the scenario Mercedes-Benz dives into for its Super Bowl 2019 campaign to promote its new A-Class model. Devised by Merkley + Partners and directed by Biscuit’s Noam Murro, the highly enjoyable 60-second spot, ‘Say the Word’, centres around a man who suddenly finds himself able to exert complete control over his world. NY-based visual effects studio, Blacksmith, brought the VFX-heavy spot to life, and ATK PLN completed character animation.
In the spot, a man realises that he has god-like powers of control when he vocalises his commands. He begins with relatively minor examples, such as making the pedestrian crossing lights change. However, it soon becomes clear that this is no coincidence as he progresses to more logic-defying feats such as making a parking ticket self-destruct and making a cash machine regurgitate hundreds of paper bills. Some highlights include Ludacris being summoned to replace an opera singer, Looney Tunes’ Wile E. Coyote breaking out from the TV screen, and the orca from ‘Free Willy’ escaping.
The concept of ‘Say the Word’ was developed from the insight that Mercedes-Benz’s new A-Class listens to users, anticipates their needs and fulfils your requests with natural voice recognition.
Blacksmith was brought on board from treatment onwards and provided on-set solutions. VFX Supervisor Iwan Zwarts, , comments: “We worked with Noam to advise how to execute these ideas. I’d say the style was comedic realism. The goal was to have the VFX to be embedded seamlessly into the real world. This was especially important for the Wile E. Coyote scenes and how we integrate the cartoon style animation into the real world. We helped production craft ways to do as much as possible practically where it was feasible, but obviously the only trained orca wasn’t available on the day!”
Revealing the extensive process behind creating ‘Willy’ the whale, Iwan says: “The whale sequence was obviously a big one. We had empty background plates to work with, which we built both the whale and the water interaction in CG. We started with pre-viz animation for the whale to get the placement and timing right during the edit, and once that was signed off, we moved into water sims and secondary animation. This sequence needed particular management as every time the whale animation was changed, it affected the water simulation so we had to be mindful of this as we worked through the scenes.”
Blacksmith crafted production and post solutions to convincingly integrating the 2D Wile E. Coyote into the live-action scenes. “We wanted real-world interaction to the cartoon elements so we had to plan those meticulously to line up later in post. We built a prop wall and smashed a ram device through it; when composited onto the plate, this became the crash you see when Wile E. Coyote bursts through the wall. We also set some curtains on fire which were composited into the hero plate. Additional live action elements were shot separately on green screen, and used in the hero shot to integrate the two worlds. Then items on the apartment set were rigged with fishing wire to be pulled down on cue, again to get all the interaction in-camera. Every scene that Wile E. Coyote featured in we had to keep in mind framing, composition, eyeline, interaction with real environment. This is why elements were captured separately to aid with the integration process.”
In addition to the more obvious elements, Blacksmith also completed head replacement,
car beauty, crowd tiling in the theatre, environment clean-up, and work on the skies. For the Ludacris transition, the team had to be very hands-on when shooting his scenes to make sure the faces lined up in the lighting correctly. One of the more unusual tasks resulted from the main talent blinking too much – meaning Blacksmith had to paint some of these out.
Mercedes’ ‘Say the Word’ campaign is just one of the commercials Blacksmith worked on for Super Bowl 2019. The visual effects studio also worked on Skittles’ ‘The Musical’ trailer, featuring Michael C. Hall and Olay’s Ringan-Ledwidge-directed commercial, ‘Killer Skin’, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar.