Tim Kent: The Art of Car Advertising
Whether it’s to sell the ultimate toy or the latest family run-around, the hugely competitive motor industry relies heavily on clever ideas and great imagery to persuade us to part with our cash for the relentlessly evolving motorcar. I have worked extensively on both sides of the Atlantic and across Europe on countless campaigns for a host of manufactures – here are some of my favourite experiences:
Hummer tries the not so subtle approach with this, in your face, heroic campaign, unashamedly glorifying this gas-guzzling icon of American 4WD. A fab client to work for as they pretty much let the photographer and agency come up with all the ideas. A lengthy conference call – brainstorming with Modernista Creative Director Tim Vacarino – led directly to the flying Hummer series. The Boston based agency chose me because of a flying Jaguar picture in my portfolio.
The high budget shoot took place at a huge film studio in California, and all effects were realized in camera with the help of amazing special effects technician Bruce Sharfenberg.
The enormous water vapour machine for one of the shots made an amazing sound like something from Jurassic park. The car was up on jacks, the engine ticking over to get the wheels spinning, and what with the cars lamps all on, and shooting in near darkness, except for the intermittent blasts of strobe, the whole set made quite a spectacle. As it was a hot and humid in the studio, and I didn’t want the camera to get fogged up, I asked Will my assistant to open the large access doors to the hallway. Within seconds it seems, word got round the studio complex that the doors to studio 4 were wide open. When I finally had got the captures I needed and called cut, to my surprise an enormous crowd made up of the cast and crew from the set of a feature film in adjacent studio had gathered in the hallway to enjoy our matinee performance.
Nissan X Jenny Jones:
What could be more wholesome than getting a top athlete or sports personality to endorse your brand? This summer I traveled to Switzerland with Olympic snowboarder Jenny Jones to create these dynamic alpine yet urban images for Nissan Juke.
The print campaign was the brainchild of Dan Querlioli and Darren Rosenberg, a young creative team at TBWA London, and at first glance of the layouts I knew it was going to be a great campaign.
It took forever to find a location that would let us colour the snow, or indeed find a place that at that time of year would even have any snow. Finally the client settled on Verbier in Switzerland. The shoot came complete with all the usual location photography nightmares: there was barely any snow, it rained day and night for the entire trip, there was no access to the mountain peak due to severe fog, on top of that we were shooting on the back of a TV commercial.
But with perseverance we got what we went for and the results speak for themselves. The Nissan ‘high command’ are apparently delighted with the campaign!
Then there are the car ads without a car in the ad. Hyundai fingers – shot as part of the ‘Get Ready For Happy’ campaign for Innocean London. For these ads I shot the backgrounds on location in a south London Mews Street. By chance the street had just hosted an event and had been festooned with bunting, which offered up nice little colour splashes, great for our purpose. I used an 85mm f1.2 lens, shot wide open at f1.2, to give a soft, shallow focus. I then shot the fingers high resolution on the Hasselblad in the studio with strong backlight to match the outdoor sunshine. We used three different ‘hand models’, brilliant prosthetic make up artist Bill Turpin made light work of drawing on the faces – the result was a great set of ads and a very successful campaign for Hyundai. Sometimes the simplest things work the best!
KIA Wraparound people:
This project was tailor made for me, as I like things a bit warped! These ads were the brainchild of Innocean Art Director Dom Sweeney; the ads are all about the vehicle’s inbuilt ‘lateral thinking’ software that believe it or not helps the car go round corners more easily. Dom had the idea of taking scenes from street corners and rolling them flat. We looked at a host of characters one might find on a street corner including policemen, street entertainers, drug dealers etc. before settling for a busker, a prostitute, and an Evening Standard seller. I did most of the production myself, including finding the character models. I shot the back plates at various locations in Soho, and the character models at my studio. The locations were pretty simple to fold out, – simply shoot the corners straight on from each side, and Photoshop together. The people were a bit harder – I lit them with the same soft light we had worked with for the location plates, and got the models to gradually rotate 360 degrees. Justin Shill from the agency did the post and made a good job of something quite tricky.
We picked up ad of the week on several industry websites on both sides of the Atlantic. The only slight snag came from my friend Jane who played the prostitute. She to say the least was not happy with the end result, and quite a lot of careful placating, dinners and chocolates had to be offered up as the pictures swept across the internet!
CGI Car / Real Background – Hyundai spec ads:
I worked with top CGI specialists Recom Farmhouse on this brief from Innocean London. Andy Wyton was the Creative Director on the project, and I was one of two photographers asked to give the Hyundai brand a sexier new ‘look and feel’. It was great to work again with Christoph Bolton and the highly creative team at Recom, as I had previously worked with them on a project for Lexus USA. The car in the image is 100% CGI with the lighting directed by myself and steered in the CGI software – in this case Autodesk Maya – by Christian Turner. The background, including road and water, was shot in camera in London’s docklands and enhanced and retouched by Recom team, including matt painting by Pepe Alram. CGI in general is on the increase and its true there are certain advantages in using CGI. However, most of us purist photographers still like the challenge of doing it for real.
Real Car / CGI Background: Mini WRC:
Sometimes CGI can be put to good use in creating effects that would be very hard to capture at high resolution in real life. Here we have an example of an image that would have been quite hard to make in billboard quality resolution and still retain all the creative precision of an oil painting. This set of ads was commissioned by MINI / BMW AG Europe, to mark MINI’s return to the World Rally Championships. The layout for the ad invited the bidding photographers to choose their own approach to the project. Upon winning the pitch I set out to create the image firstly by shooting the two cars in the studio. We spent a day lighting the cars real time as if they were lit by moody daylight, or trackside, nighttime lighting. The skies I already had from my own archive library so it was just a matter of choosing the right image and adjusting it to fit. What really makes the image work and jump off the page is the incredibly detailed environment of mud and dirt and the way the foreground elements harmonise with the cars and sky to create the sense of movement and action. On this project I worked with my own in house team of CGI operators (Darius Makowski) and retouchers (Stuart Fisher).