Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

Style drivers

Car advertising, with its sizeable budgets and persisting glamour, has generated striking, cinematic short films. Here are three from the last few years. By co-incidence, all are for German marques. Each also takes a very different view of the car: in construction, at rest and in motion.

Intelligently Combined – Audi A4 2.0 TDI

Director: Carl Erik Rinsch for Kempertrautmann

Designed to showcase a new fuel-efficient Audi, this mesmeric film takes the form of a constantly rotating puzzle box assembling the parts of the car’s engine and drive train as it moves. The crisp, jewel-like precision of the components falling into place against a pure white space evoking an operating theatre fit perfectly with Audi’s technological image. The portentous, almost remorseless, score by Steven Schwalbe and Tobias Wagner anticipates the completed product with its feelings of solidity and control.

Although produced by a German agency, the spot was directed by an American. The visuals were created by Digital Domain, the effects house co-founded by James Cameron. The parts were generated digitally. Each was fully rendered and then mapped into a 9 x 9 x 9 grid of glass boxes, 729 in all, forming a kind of super-Rubik’s Cube. Consideration was then given as to how each should come together in the final piece.

The advert won the Visual Effects Society's award for best visual effects in a commercial.

Pool – BMW 7 series

Director: Daniel Barber for WCRS

This breathtaking sequence undermines the viewer’s expectations with a jolt, as a diver breaks the waterline of an empty pool yet appears to swim normally thereafter. Her sinuous movements, seemingly in water yet with none visible, confound and amaze as she moves around a BMW sitting at the bottom of the pool.

The dive was achieved with a wire rig and the empty pool in Cape Town, South Africa, the rig being erased digitally. For the ‘underwater’ scenes, the swimmer was filmed conventionally in a flooded naval diving tank; crucially, every air bubble created was also removed, including from her hair and costume, producing a startling effect in the finished film. Shots in the tank with her looking into a mirror, with the camera pointed at that mirror, were extracted and dropped in to the rest of the film to create her reflection in the car. Post-production was done by The Mill in London using Flame.

The advert was nominated for a D&AD silver award.

(With thanks to Hugh Longland at WCRS)

Night Driving – VW Golf

Director: Noam Murro

This exquisite, impressionistic journey through LA's streets captures perfectly the liminal moments of isolation and observation such a drive enables. The visuals are complemented beautifully by the narration and music, respectively Richard Burton’s celebrated 1954 reading of Dylan Tomas’s Under Milk Wood and Cliff Martinez’s ambient Don't Blow It  from the soundtrack of the Steven Soderbergh version of Solaris. 

The director of photography for the project was Paul Cameron. He filmed Michael Mann's Collateral, and the similarities between the two are both clear and appropriate, beyond the shared location. Both penetrate the night and present slices of nocturnal imagery.

There are references to Edward Hopper in the depiction of aloneness., and yet the film is warm and inviting rather than alienating.

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