Art of the Impossible

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Behind the scenes with David Beckham
Behind the scenes with David Beckham
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With a world-class quiver of athletes, we expect each new Adidas campaign to shed fresh light on its All Stars. Still, endeavoring to get them painting pictures about their tough times seems lofty, even for the megabrand. But the crew at 180Amsterdam/TBWA took the tagline "Impossible is Nothing" to heart, resulting in one of the most unique athlete campaigns in recent memory.
By now you should've seen the memorable spots, featuring the likes of footballers David Beckham and Lionel Messi, rugby icon Jonah Lomu and hoops star Gilbert Arenas telling their personal battles of "impossible" through drawings that were then animated by Passion Pictures. But there's also a number of accompanying mini-documentaries that chronicle the behind-the-scenes action. Far from aloof multi-millionaires droning on about nothing, these small portraits portray these larger than life athletes as real people with both everyday and extraordinary struggles like the rest of us.
We spoke with 180 Amsterdam creative directors Dean Maryon and Sean Thompson, who also directed the spots, about putting these extras together.

Behind the scenes with Gilbert Arenas
Behind the scenes with Gilbert Arenas
Were the mini-documentaries part of your original intention for the project or a by-product of excess spot footage?
Maryon: It was actually one of those weird situations where you present an idea with many ways of expressing it but often you only come away with one part of it. With this campaign we've been really lucky, in that all the different aspects of how this idea could roll out, we were able to do.
Thompson: It was our intention to do (the mini-docs) because we did feel there was loads of content to be had from something like this. Obviously the point was to get the athletes to draw and tell the story in their own way so we wanted to get them to paint and describe these stories the best way they knew how. We filmed everything we had, whether it was them painting or making sculpture, and it was great because the whole process brought out parts of their story that they had maybe forgotten or just hadn't included before.

Behind the scenes with Lionel Messi
Behind the scenes with Lionel Messi
Did the athletes know what stories they'd be talking about beforehand?
Maryon: We had conversations with just about all the athletes before the shoot to talk through the stories and talk about which ones we might want to tell or what they would want to say. From there we came up with a proposal for them as to which story we'd like to focus on. So we pretty much agreed on what story they would tell before (filming).
Thompson: Those conversations really helped. It was interesting because we really didn't know what was going to happen. We knew what story they'd tell but we didn't know how they were going to deliver it or how they would draw it. It was amazing how the athletes were really into the project and they saw it as an opportunity to put a little piece of them out there that said who they were.

Did it take the athletes time to warm up to the story-telling and the painting?
Thompson: For the most part, they all came in very relaxed and Dean and I worked very hard to get them to relax. Some were easier than others but everyone warmed up eventually and got into the drawing. It was incredible how people who don't know how to draw would get so into it, even though there were cameramen and others standing around watching them draw pictures they hadn't tried since they were in third grade. It was cool.
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