Directed by Anonymous' Joseph Kosinski in collaboration with David Fincher and Digital Domain, the spot follows Marcus Fenix, thegame's warrior protagonist, through a post-apocalyptic urban landscape as he evades menacing creatures emerging from underground. When Fenix takes a wrong turn he winds up in the lair of an enormous spider-like beast, and despite his heavy firepower his future looks grim. All the while, the plaintive "Mad World," a Tears for Fears song covered by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews is perfectly in line with the bleakness of the digital environment.
"The game is about destroyed beauty," says Scott Duchon, who along with Geoff Edwards is a CD on Xbox at McCann. Duchon and Edwards wanted to "try and bring emotion to an emotionless character, a big badass hero who has the weight of the world on his shoulders." That this idea was communicated so effectively is a testament to the ability of the teams to manipulate elements from the game in a manner that would make them cinematic, and, ultimately, capable of harnessing the viewer's empathy. Kosinski, using story elements created alongside the agency creatives, Fincher and Microsoft, storyboarded the spot, worked out the action and choreography in a pre-visualization, a technique Fincher used previously in feature film enabling a sketch of the world-to-be to become a pre-production template. Then, the motion capture session detailed the movements of the character, right down to his detailed finger movements in the early part of the spot when he picks up a destroyed piece of sculpture. Then, using the assets supplied by the developers and creating the location (comprised of elements Kosinski found on a digital scout within the game), "Mad World" took shape. While none of the footage is actual game footage, it was all created using the game's Unreal 3 engine, which allowed the team to move through already-completed levels and pick their objects. "We were able to go around and say 'these are the cars we want burning,'" Duchon says. "The camera can move anywhere in this game, you just move the camera around everywhere and go 'this is where we can make it happen.' It's really free and really cool." Duchon says the reason the project was so successful was all parties were enormously enthusiastic. "[Digital Domain] went above and beyond. Time was up and they were still tweaking things in the super hi-def monitor that are way far in the background."
Just as stunning as the look of the spot is the sound, which goes miles to set the spot apart from standard American ad break fare. "Way back early when they were concepting we were talking about music," says Duchon. "I'd always loved that song and [the creative team of copywriter Mat Bunnell and art director Nate Able] knew I loved that song, so I bet they thought 'Hey, if I do a spot with "Mad World" Scott will buy it.'" Duchon says when they presented the spot, they just played the song to start off. "The head client said 'I think I want to kill myself.' Everybody tries to put on a happy face, out-clever somebody or outwit somebody. You never see melancholy, you never see somber. Watching and hearing what's happening on YouTube and Google, and the album is in the top ten in iTunes—that does a lot."