FEATURE: The Making of Honda 'Cog'

Did it really take 606 takes? We quiz the team behind the ad that's already become a legend.

It is no wonder that the new Honda 'Cog' commercial is causing such a press frenzy around the world.

A dazzling display of intricacy and precision, it grips you from the outset and refuses to let you go until the final frame, 120 seconds later. Like a sophisticated game of dominoes, it features 85 car parts in a chain reaction, culminating in a grand finale which makes you want to leap off the sofa and burst into applause.

The ad is also becoming the stuff of legend. The number 606 (the supposed number of takes it took) has become a magical figure, written and spoken with such incredulity and solemn respect, it may as well be 666.

Then there are those who only grudgingly acknowledge the ad's accomplishment, and even those who deride it, questioning its supposed single take and its 'obvious' use of CGI. They also point to an uncannily similar film, the 1987 30-minute indie Der Lauf der Dinge ( The Way Things Go) made by Peter Fischli and David Weiss.

The creative team behind the Honda masterpiece, Ben Walker and Matt Gooden at Wieden & Kennedy, London, laugh off the attention - good and bad. Not the type to gloat or bask in the glory, the pair are quietly proud yet down-to-earth. "We've never even been nominated at Cannes before, so it would be great if something happened - but we certainly don't expect it," asserts Walker.

The idea behind the ad came from the need to express Honda's attention to detail and passion for engineering. As well as the conceptual film, inspiration for the chain reaction also came from a variety of sources - from the kids' favourite, the Mouse Trap game, to Caractacus Pott's breakfast-making machine in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The pre-production process was painstaking, involving a month's script approval and three months rigorous testing. The sequence was tested using parts from an old Honda with a team of experts, encompassing engineers, sculptors and artists, advising every step of the way.

"It was important for the ad to be aesthetically beautiful as well as clever," explains Gooden.

Once the tests were complete, the ad had to be shot with the new Honda Accord, with everyone crossing their fingers in the hope that the new parts would work like the old. A lot of them didn't but added to that was the fact that the client insisted on certain elements being demonstrated, such as the windscreen wipers which switch on automatically in rain.

Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, the ad's director, enjoyed the testing process. "I like being able to smash up the cars - that part was great," he jokes.

Bardou-Jacquet is responsible for some impressive and intricate 3D work, including Alex Gopher's 'The Child' music video and the Vodafone ad that uses the same typographical technique. It is for his meticulous approach that he was chosen over other directors.

So the question on everyone's lips - is this really all shot for real? - is answered with giggles by all concerned. Eventually, we get the truth. The ad was shot in two takes with each part composited by Barnsley at The Mill. The reason was pure lack of space, according to the team, who were unable to find a studio big enough to lay the sequence out and film it end to end with the huge four-manned techno-crane.

Similarly, although the sequence works by itself in one take, with no trickery or CGI necessary, for ease of filming, one or two sections involved slight 'cheats' such as nylon threads to pull the objects. The team insist that this was minimal, however.

And those 606 takes?

"That was just us messing around in the 'making of' video. We put 606 on the clapper board as a joke and everyone in the press picked up on it and thought it was for real. In reality, it was probably 20 or so takes each day for the five-day shoot."

Campaign Screen is proud to reveal the truth, at last.

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