’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
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.’