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Thor Saevarsson, known simply and heroically as Thor, is from Iceland, the least populated of all European countries, with four-fifths of its land uninhabitable. So maybe it's no surprise that his work consistently shows a deep appreciation for human beings. Or maybe it's a big surprise. Who knows with an Icelander? At any rate, "In character-driven commercials, the challenge is connecting with the audience as soon as the spot starts," says the 24-year-old Thor, who is repped by Stink, London. "You have to have believable characters right from the get-go. It's very important that I work with the actors before the shoot just to get them into character."

In that vein, Thor owes his Silver and Audience Awards at the 2002 Nike Young Directors Awards to a spot called "Autograph," which, without a single word of dialogue and with great pathos, shows us the inner life of an obsessed autograph seeker. The fan, after being snubbed by a famous runner, begins training for the day when he can go stride for stride with the pro. In the end, the protagonist goes from poseur to real athlete, and he trades the autograph for the respect of his idol. Making it look easy, Thor convincingly takes us through that transformation in 60 seconds.

Thor's five-year education was earned over the course of 50 commercials production jobs in Iceland, as he worked his way up the PA ladder. And since Iceland is not the cheapest place to shoot, he worked with some of the top American and European directors and DPs. "So many car commercials are shot in Iceland," says Thor, "so I feel like I grew up on them. One of my next goals is to shoot one myself." Thor, who names Bryan Buckley and David Fincher as influences, is unusual in that he claims he has no aspirations to be a features director. "I enjoy the attention to detail and precise storytelling that commercials demand," he says. "And I enjoy making characters that people can relate to. From the moment you receive the script from the agency, that creative process begins and it is what I love to do." And, no, he doesn't carry a hammer.