Mini Sheet Metal Shoot

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At first glance, you might think this recent campaign from Davidandgoliath was just the typical sheet metal glam, featuring gorgeous automobiles like a Porsche and a Corvette in fast and shiny glory. Those aren't clients of the agency, are they? No, but Mattel's Hot Wheels is, and a closer look reveals that the cars are actually the toys, looking as splendorous as their full-sized counterparts. In this latest evolution of the "Almost Too Real" campaign, careful examination reveals a large feline preying on a Corvette, an overturned coffee cup behind a skidding Porsche, and a desk lamp emanating the phosphorescent evening glow onto a Batmobile.

The initial execution of the campaign had featured the lilliputian vehicles in utterly real scenarios, like one ad in which a cop halts a toy with his radar gun, but this latest series emphasizes the concept in a more stealthy way. "In coming up with this campaign, we wanted to treat Hot Wheels as a real car company that made really small cars, rather than as a toy company that made toy cars," explains copywriter Keith Wisniewski. "These cars are so detailed that, photographically, it's really hard to tell them apart from the real thing." So, "We decided to shoot the ads to look like they were ads for the actual car companies," adds art director Keith Scott. "We took the scenarios from typical car photography - the power-slide shot, the open-road driving shot, and the rooftop parking lot shot - and put a little twist on them. We wanted to fool the eye into thinking it was the real environment, then you'd see the clues that give away the actual scale."

Ironically, the creatives turned not to a tabletop shooter but to veteran car photographer Bill Cash, who has shot highly decorated auto campaigns like Volkswagen's "Turbonium," as well as recent work for Hummer. "I had worked with Bill on a Kia project a while back," notes Scott. "After seeing how meticulous he was I thought he'd be perfect for this project. We also called in about 30 books and just kept going back to Bill. We chose him mainly because he knows how to shoot cars. He knows how to light the them and how to get their lines to look their best. He also knew how to do the little things like straightening the logos on the wheels for the product shots."

However, Cash, represented by Shelly Steichen, says that capturing cars at 1/18th the size wasn't exactly peanuts compared to shooting the real deal. The lighting principles are pretty much the same, but other logistics aren't. For example, the Porsche ad, which features the sports car doing a classic water-spraying skid, wasn't the typical scenario the photographer could, by now, do in his sleep. "Keith sent me a shot of a Ferrari skidding sideways and throwing up a big rooster tail of water," says Cash. "With a real car, it's pretty easy to do on location. You just fill a skid pad up with water, put up some sort of background and pan the shot, bring in lighting. It's a day of shooting and you've got it. But how do you do that with a Hot Wheel, get motion in there? We could have done it digitally, but it wouldn't look right." In the end, Cash created a mini rig, mounting monofilament on the car and creating tiny skid pads for the car to move on. But unlike real cars, Hot Wheels don't exactly go from 0 to 60 in seconds, so creating the wheel spin was one hurdle. "We ended up taking the car apart and the set guy actually put a motor to the wheels," he explains.

Problem solved, but then there was an even bigger obstacle to overcome - the water spray. "In a normal tire, you've got the big tire surface of soft rubber, kicking spray up, but we couldn't get these hard plastic tires to do that. We sanded the treads, we cut grooves in these little tires, everything we could to create water spray but it just didn't look natural. All we got was little drips. We figured it might be the water, so we added oil and all types of liquids to help the it stay together, but that didn't work. Then we added air and nitrogen bursts and mounted little air tubes under the car, but even that didn't pan out. We ended up drilling little holes in our background right underneath the car and injected water and air at the same time right underneath the tires, and that finally created the spray."

In the end, the final image was a composite of three different shots that combined a detailed static image, one with the water spray and moving wheels, and a third with motion blur. Looking back, Cash observes, vis-a-vis big-car shoots, "You put the same amount of energy into it and you solve all the little problems that come up. Each shot has its own fingerprint as far as difficulty, and shooting the miniatures is probably just as hard and time consuming."

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