It happened to be a cannon with a fuse that eventually discharges a projectile amid a puff of smoke. Yes, it was crude and repetitive, but this was almost five decades back, before toys were invented.
Yet to this day, the effect of primitive animation still holds a fascination. We recently saw one example at the University of Michigan by a graduating art student named Karen Hoenke. It was a scene of a room with a wall clock. The only things that move when you flip it are the clock's hands. The piece, we seem to recall, was titled "Killing Time," and we stood in the Ann Arbor gallery transfixed, killing quite a lot of it.
Why? Because in a digital world that produces endless, seamless effects, there is still something fetching about optical illusions. That's why it's still cool to look at a zoetrope, or a nickelodeon or an Escher print or a 3-D postcard. The very simplicity of the illusion is the root of its appeal. You can simultaneously experience it and understand how it works.
That's one of the two elements of genius behind a spot for the Canon Rebel XSi digital SLR camera from Grey Group, New York.
It's the story of a football game -- or, actually, many games dissolved into one another to suggest continuous action. It starts with a family in the backyard, on to teenagers romping with a ball in the surf, to a Peewee game, to an all-girl flag football match, to a high-school game, to an inner-city street game and finally to the NFL and a dramatic dive over the pylon to the end zone.
But it's all done in flipbook fashion with a succession of still photos, all shot with a Rebel XSi. To make the static images even more dynamic, they are mortised and overlaid on the screen, something like "The Boston Strangler" or "The Thomas Crown Affair," but not out of stylistic gimmickry. This enhances the sense of movement and also accentuates the transparency. It says: "Remember, these are stills."
That gets to the other ingenious thing about this spot: its unique credibility. Hitherto in camera and film commercials, photos ostensibly for the advertised product tended to be single frames of 35mm movie film frozen to simulate still photography. That explains the teensy-weensy type at the bottom of the screen with disclaimers along the lines of "Simulated image, stupid. Do you think we maaaaaagically found a still that perfectly matched with the moving picture?"
So when you see these images in the Canon spot, for the first time maybe ever, you are seeing a demonstration of the product's actual abilities. Furthermore, because the ad is shot in HD, you are also seeing the samples in a degree of resolution approximating physical reality.
Pretty impressive, we'd say.
Not perfect, however. The spot is slightly compromised at the end with a blathering voiceover ("Photography is a journey. How will you remember the trip? The all-new Rebel XSi. Inspired by Canon." Zzzzzz.) and a flurry of logos and taglines in about 870 different typefaces. That's annoying. This is about simplicity, is it not?
Just focus on the Canon.
CORRECTIONS: In last week's column, because we are ignorant, we called a soccer "free kick" a "penalty kick." And because we are careless, we misidentified the director of a Gatorade spot starring Derek Jeter and Harvey Keitel as Martin Scorsese. Scorsese was not involved, and we apologize to all.