’It was like a day out.’ Not the words you’d expect to hear
describing a long day squeezed into a tiny space with three other men
and enough metal rods for a small campsite. Yet the opportunity to
revive the classic 70s Smash martians campaign was too good to miss for
the agency, Willox Ambler Rodford Law, and Annex Films.
The challenge was to stay faithful to John Webster’s original,
maintaining the charm and silliness that had epitomised Boase Massimi
Pollitt’s deliberately tin-can approach. Along with the chess pawns and
woks, most of the original martian’s body had long been relegated to the
props graveyard. So the 90s martian equivalent, fondly coined Trevor
MashDonald, was constructed out of an unorthodox assortment of metal
rods, acrylic, fibreglass and high-impact polystyrene by the original
model-makers, Pennicot Payne.
Its head was made from plastic domes, its body from a concertina-like
styrene sheet and its arms from rubber tubing. It took over two weeks to
achieve the authentic martian look. As the art director, Tommy Adkins,
explains: ’It was a bit like making a cover version of a popular
The sound was recorded first. Again to ensure authenticity, the original
team was used. The voiceover was by Joss Ackland and recorded again by
Nick Angel. After speeding up a staccato voice and putting it through
echo programs, the match was made.
The commercial opens on MashDonald sitting at a newsdesk, lit by an
inbuilt lightbox to mimic the starkness of the original set. An image of
Earth behind the reader was transposed in post-production.
The director, Ken Turner, wanted to keep the nuances of the earlier
To animate the newsreader correctly, four people were squashed under the
desk. New contortionist skills were learned as they balanced under the
lightbox and controlled body movements with pieces of thick wire out of
eyeshot. To give them some idea of how their actions looked from above,
a hidden monitor was installed. Their moves were made even more
uncomfortable by the heat from the lightbox.
In the ad, the martian tells ’earthlings’ they can swap their Smash for
cash if not happy, and picks up a coin and swallows it. This was shot
separately using a coin glued to a hand on a different rod. As the
producer, Fred Robinson, explains: ’I had a split second to control the
rod and pass the pack.’
In the end shot, MashDonald falls off his chair in hysterics. Turner was
keen to leave the leg-waving antics in the film: ’The history reel
always had the legs up in the air. It was one of the silly, charming
moments that epitomised the Smash martian.’ To enable the 4ft model to
fall backwards in real time meant some pretty nifty shuffling by the
team under the desk.
Poles and corrugated hosing were wiggled furiously.
Enthusiasm on the shoot was high, Adkins recalls: ’To see the
transformation when the model came alive was fantastic.’ Despite the
challenges, Turner adds, it was something he would love to do again: ’We
put as much old-fashioned fun into it as we possibly could - but it
would be nice to take it even further.’ If the Smash martian revival
proves as enjoyable for viewers as it was for the film-makers on the
set, it could happen.
Edited by Lisa Campbell. Tel: 0181-267 4894 E-mail: