Cartier Conjures Animal Magic

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Cartier's latest commercial, Odyssee de Cartier, is making headlines in the brand's native France. The spot, Cartier's first in a decade, premiered on French TV network TF1 on Sunday night during the movie Asterix et Obelix. According to Le Figaro, an audience of eight million viewers watched its three and half minute run without switching channels during the ad break.

Odyssee, made by Publicis agency Marcel, is an epic production - an allegory of Cartier's history, made for the brand's 165th anniversary, involving a mythical journey around the world by a panther (Cartier's longstanding emblem) brought to life. Shot on a four million euro budget, it boasts depictions of iconic locations (St Petersburg, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal among them), spectacular visual effects, a sumptuous original score (played by an 84 piece orchestra) and priceless Cartier jewellery not usually on display to mere mortals. What is more, the starring role is played not by an actor, but a live panther.

Cartier decided early on that it wanted the film to be cinematic in scale. "The idea of doing the film on an epic scale is linked to how we craft a Cartier jewel with the same attention to detail," states Emmanuel Perrin, president and CEO of Cartier North America. "We hope to encourage the viewers to explore or rediscover Cartier's creative wealth and our sources of inspiration over the years."

"It was clear that Cartier wanted something very big," says director Bruno Aveillan, who rose to the challenge with some even more ambitious ideas. The central motif of the panther was part of the original script, but Aveillan insisted from the start that he wanted to work with real (rather than CGI) panthers--although, he adds, "I may have been a little bit crazy."

Aveillan (who is represented by Quad Productions in France and Believe Media in the U.S.) explains he was concerned that if all the creatures in the film were computer-generated (like the dragon, for example) "it would almost be like a trailer for a video game, and that's not what I was aiming for. I wanted something much more cinematic that would touch people emotionally, and using a real panther was necessary for that."

In fact, not one but three panthers were used for the shoot (the team engaged renowned animal trainer Thierry Le Portier to handle and look after them). Like actors, they had their own individual star qualities, says Aveillan. One was "confident," one was "dynamic" and one was "very photogenic." But using real animals posed challenges, particularly when locations included snowy mountains and the desert. The crew 'crossed our fingers', says Aveillan, when the panthers were placed in snow for the first time in their lives, not knowing how they would react. (In fact, he says, they loved it.) More challenging for the big cats was the Place Vendome in Paris,where the final scene of the film was shot. Panthers dislike wide open spaces, preferring to hide in the shadows, explains Aveillan. The secret to working with them, he says, is to realize that the"camera has to adapt itself to the animal and not the other way around. I didn't try to get them to do too many precise things."

The panthers also meant that the crew was restricted in terms of location, as many countries don't allow the animals in. Although the film needed to depict exotic locations such as China, Russia and India, in fact all the filming took place in Europe, with shoots in Italy, France, Spain and Belgium. Shooting took place in just two weeks, followed by five months in post-production (although the entire project took two years to come to fruition, from initial conception).

Complex visual effects were also involved in the production. One particularly challenging aspect was the Indian palace scene, says Aveillan, which involved bringing to life rare Cartier jewellery, such as its jeweled crocodile. "We had to reproduce the jewellery in CGI, and because these are priceless real jewels, Cartier was very precise about how it had to appear."

Aveillan is no stranger to luxury brands nor indeed exotic landscapes and animals; as well as shooting for the likes of Louis Vuitton, he helmed a spot for Shangri LaHotels and Resorts featuring wolves, for O&M Hong Kong. He is currently shooting for Chanel in the French Alps.

"People need to be amazed," he says, by luxury brand advertising. "Today, it's not just about communicating a product, but the heritage and philosophy of the brand, particularly for the younger generation, who might just recognize the logo. So it's more important than ever for a luxury brand to communicate where it has come from."

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