Close-Up: Grey hits fresh heights with its latest Toshiba ad

They had to enlist JP Aerospace - America's other space programme - to do it, but Toshiba's new ad comes from outer space.

It's a year since Toshiba surprised the advertising industry with its "timesculpture" ad. We were surprised because it was a brilliant ad from an agency not often previously associated with brilliant ads: Grey. And it surprised by using a ground-breaking 3-D rotation of moving images.

Twelve months on, and Grey and Toshiba are out to surprise again. This time by sending a chair into outer space.

In the ad, a specially created balloon and a full-sized chair made of super-light balsa wood float up from the Nevada desert to a staggering height of 98,000ft above the earth. Here the team at Grey explain how ... and why.

Nils Leonard - creative director

It's the rarest pressure. When you do distinctive work on a brand, it only adds to the level of expectation when the new brief comes around. The success of "timesculpture" meant that this was an important brief for the agency.

Andy Amadeo and I spent many an evening staring at scripts, treatments and each other measuring concepts against a rising bar. Our approach with Toshiba has always been to make the marketing as innovative as the brand.

To that end, we try to set a first with each project and do it using Toshiba products. This allows us to create inspiring content for TV commercials and much more. Last year, we used its domestic camcorders to create a mould-breaking film. This year, its scientific cameras would help us film the highest HD commercial in the world.

We learnt of a sub-culture of scientists and artists, who sent things to the edge of space using weather balloons. They were our inspiration for the product script. We worked with a wide array of incredibly talented people, including the space expert John Powell, the acclaimed cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, the artist Simon Faithfull, and the leading camera expert Steffan Hewitt, to make it possible.

The Regza TV's picture quality turns what we see from the ordinary into the extraordinary. The chair in space became an analogy for this thought. Sending up an armchair (something we've all watched TV from) seemed a good way to symbolise and evoke that feeling. The chair also makes a great statement about how we live our lives. We stop searching, stop seeing as much as we can, and relax. This is where Toshiba shows us the benefits of relentless innovation.

Andy Amadeo - creative director

With the idea in hand, all we had to do now was shoot it. Enter JP Aerospace, America's other space programme. It had built four rigs for us, each carrying two cameras and two hard drives.

The first three rigs would cover the variety of footage needed; the fourth was our emergency spare.Federal Aviation Administration weight restrictions meant no video playback. Having volunteered to direct, I soon developed sphincter issues. Thank God Hungryman was my production company.

So, off we went to the Sacramento headquarters of JP Aerospace and as JP talked us through the rig, constructed using only the most advanced Sellotape and polyboard known to man, we knew we were in safe hands.

From there, we went to the desert and set up base in a remote town called Gerlach, the kind of place that's used as a backdrop for teen horror films. We assumed everyone who lived there must have been on a witness protection programme.There seemed no other sane reason to settle there.

The next morning, there was a real buzz around the first launch. But the rig collapsed on take-off. Now I had no spare. The pressure was on. Over the next two days we launched the other rigs, prayed they would be found and the footage survived. Thankfully, it did.

James Covill - content producer

The most obvious place for me to start was to call Haris Zambarloukos - the acclaimed cinematographer on Enduring Love. He was thoroughly engaged with what we were trying to achieve and recommended also working with the specialist camera company Polecam.

Polecam confirmed that the only camera small, light and robust enough to use and still shoot at full 1080i HD was the Toshiba IK-HR1S. Primarily used for military and medical purposes, each camera had to be customised and stripped of any unnecessary weight (due to Federal Aviation Administration restrictions the whole rig had to weigh no more than 4kg).

In the absence of negative and public liability insurance, I then had to find a way to launch everything into space and allow us to safely recover the footage. Short of contacting Nasa, I started developing the idea with JP Aerospace, which spent six weeks designing a custom rig.

Then with all plans in place we travelled to Gerlach to finally the meet the entire team. After a recce at the chosen launch site, we all sat down to dinner at base HQ - also known as Bruno's Diner - before a very early 3:30am call time.

After the final checks to all equipment, the signal was given to pull the ripcord, which in turn released a huge white helium-filled balloon, taking with it the rig and red chair. Within minutes, the massive balloon was just a tiny white speck in the deep blue sky.

We tracked the progress as it passed through -90 degC at 60,000ft and then onwards to an ultimate altitude above 99,268ft, where the balloon burst due to extremely low pressure. The rig fell back to earth at nearly the speed of sound until it hit the atmosphere, causing the thin air to lift a parachute out of what can only be described as a perforated polystyrene shoebox.

We now had to locate the rig - with no idea what condition it would be in - and see whether the cameras had worked under such extreme conditions and, indeed, if there was any footage we could use. After two hours of roaming the desert in 35 degC heat, I spotted the broken remains. Thankfully, the cameras and flash drives were completely intact. This still didn't guarantee we had footage.

Once back at Bruno's we slowly transferred 512GB of data on to a laptop revealing the most breathtaking HD aerial footage from space. Mission accomplished.


The shots were taken at 98,268ft using Toshiba's own cameras.

To reach the altitude required and to conform with Federal Aviation Administration regulations, the weight of the rig had to be managed to be no more than 4kg.

Tied to the rig was a specially created full-sized model chair made of biodegradable balsa wood. The chair was made by a company called Artem and cost about £2,500.

Launch co-ordinates of the rig were: 119 degrees, 14 minutes by 40 degrees, 48 minutes (12 miles North-East of Gerlach, Nevada).

The temperature dropped to -90 degC when the chair reached 52,037ft.

The chair took 83 minutes to reach an altitude of 98,268ft, where it broke and took just 24 minutes to fall back down to earth with the rig.

The quality of the footage from the Toshiba IK-HR1S cameras was: 1920x1080 pixel count; 1080i @ 50hz; 100mbps.


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