Volkswagen welcomed in the new decade with a moving ode to its most iconic vehicle, the Beetle, which will be discontinued this year after 81 years of production. The event marked an intriguing challenge for Johannes Leonardo, VW's USA agency since winning the account in 2019. The team had to build a campaign around a product that wouldn't be purchasable anymore, tapping into the iconic nature of the Beetle and the role it has played in pivotal moments throughout history.
This challenge also proved particularly appealing for Fx Goby, the Nexus Studios director that Johannes Leonardo enlisted to helm the campaign's central film. To bring this special story to life he opted to use Rotoscope, an intriguing method of animation that involves shooting the film in live action before drawing over every image, giving the final film an unpredictable warmth. LBB's Addison Capper spoke with him to find out more.
LBB> What was it about this project that made you interested to get involved in it?
Fx> I like the commissions that are unusual. I had never done a commercial that isn’t selling something. This brief was different. It was about celebrating a cultural icon. This was instantly exciting. I am not a materialistic person, but I understand the strong bond we can have with a car like the Beetle. The design is iconic, so gorgeous and smart, and it has marked generations of people, become a cultural landmark, starred in films and lots more...
LBB> What were your initial thoughts with regards to how you could bring the story to life?
Fx> It was clear to me that we needed a very intimate angle to tell this story. We needed to move away from the usual car commercials with extravagant camera movements and sleek lighting. I thought, if I can make this story personal, then it can be relatable and universal. And this is exactly how I structured the film.
LBB> What were your main aims and ambitions with regards to the overall aesthetics of the film?
Fx> I wanted a film that felt textured, tactile and approachable. The Beetle is the most popular car ever, it was even called ‘the people’s car’, so it was imperative to make an emotional film, with genuine feelings without being saccharine.
LBB> You decided to animate the film in live action - can you explain why you took that approach and what animating in that way does to the final film?
Fx> Haha! Yes! It probably looks silly to do the film twice! This technique is called Rotoscope and it consists of drawing over the live action frame by frame, which means we had to shoot our film first to then draw over every image. I chose this technique as it brings more realism to the scenes; it conveys some of the subtleties of the acting that we would probably accentuate in traditional animation. It also brings craft and allows for a strong art direction with pure colour blocks and textures, creating a very illustrative feel. I see this film as a nostalgic postcard, glimpses of life where the car was always at the right place. This illustrative feel really completes the essential warmth for the story to feel right.
LBB> What were the main challenges of this approach and how does it impact the final film?
Fx> What is great with this technique is that you know exactly where you are going because you have a working approved edit. What is hard is that it is a bit counter-intuitive. You might think the average animator can handle it because it is basically tracing over the live action. Well, it actually requires extremely talented animators to have the accuracy and the taste to compensate for the little accidents we see in live action. It is a tedious task that needs precision and we made sure to have a kickass team!
LBB> You used a colour palette inspired by different VW model colours - how did you find this challenge as a director? Did it impact your approach much?
Fx> True! You are well informed! We started using only colours created for the VW beetle in the ‘60s, and my intention was to stick to that rule throughout. But quickly we realised we were missing some essential warm tones to balance for the mostly cold pastel palette. So we worked with complimentary warm tones to the original cool tones in order to have a more balanced film. I love creating constraints or working within limits, it always produces stronger work and I am very happy with the palette that Fanny Hagdahl Sorebo, one of the designers, created for the film.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Fx> I went in a Beetle for the first time on the shoot. This one was from 1963, the iconic era. And I was blown away by every single item of design and the thinking behind it. I wish we could still see more of these wonderful designs in our everyday objects! Crafting the farewell to the Beetle was definitely a huge treat.