CAMPAIGN CRAFT SECRETS: Animated Nike ad gives virtual stars the spotlight. The Nike ’Leo’ TV spot is designed to communicate with a computer literate audience. By Gavin Boyter

’Leo’, the new, fully animated Nike Cross Training spot, is a workout for the minds of its creators and its audience alike. Nike’s brief, in the words of the Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam copywriter, Boyd Coyner, was: ’To do one spot that illustrated the versatility of the shoe in a fresh, engaging way. And if we could work a few of their global athletes in there as well, we’d get extra points.’

’Leo’, the new, fully animated Nike Cross Training spot, is a

workout for the minds of its creators and its audience alike. Nike’s

brief, in the words of the Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam copywriter, Boyd

Coyner, was: ’To do one spot that illustrated the versatility of the

shoe in a fresh, engaging way. And if we could work a few of their

global athletes in there as well, we’d get extra points.’



However, squeezing Andre Agassi, Ronaldo, Pete Sampras and Michael

Jordan into a single spot - and showing versatility across many sporting

disciplines - seemed a tall order. Reality was quickly jettisoned in

favour of high-octane computer game animation. As Coyner points out:

’New games are so real it’s scary. They make you sweat and have

nightmares. And it’s a medium a lot of people, both young and old, are

familiar with and hold dear.’



The ad features Leo, a cross-training athlete who outperforms Nike’s

sporting heroes while being pursued by gun-wielding aliens and a T-Rex.

The pace is furious, which is why Coyner, the art director, Alvaro

Sotomayor, and the agency producers, Colleen Wellman and Samantha Cox,

needed a director with visual flair and control. They quickly identified

the music video legend, Michel Gondry, whose recent commercials work

included the kaleidoscopic Gap ’Christmas’ campaign and a serene spot

for Air France, ’le passage’.



’He has a strong vision and often sees things through the eyes of a

child,’ Coyner says.



The commercial’s strength is the way it slips fluidly from one game

scenario to another and the fact that the digital setting allows

liberties to be taken with the all-star cast. The Tomb Raider star, Lara

Croft, appears to have her breasts fondled while Pete Sampras has his

head bitten off.



Production duties fell to Partizan Midi Minuit, Paris, whose founder,

George Bermann, produced this spot as well as much of Gondry’s earlier

work.



Bermann was keen to work with the post-production house, Buf Compagnie,

to carry off the virtuoso animations required. The Parisian house was

responsible for recent jaw-dropping point-of-view shots in the movie,

Fight Club, as well as most of Gondry’s special-effects laden work.

Bermann rates the company for its innovative use of CGI.



Although rushed by animation standards, the commercial took a

painstaking six months to complete, beginning with the agency

storyboards in July 1999. Gondry then produced his own storyboards and

Buf made these into ’animatics’, sketched computer mock-ups of the

action, with characters appearing as simple blocks against basic

backgrounds. This allowed Gondry to focus on the timings and transitions

while Buf created the facial characteristics of Leo and the tricky

likenesses of the sportsmen.



What is surprising is that despite the rollercoaster action - blink and

you miss a scene - the spot wasn’t as hard to create as it seems. Buf’s

director of animation on ’Leo’, Joe Niquet, says: ’Technically, it

wasn’t very difficult. The most challenging aspect was the sheer number

of different things happening at once.’



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