Six hundred and six takes it took, and if they had
been forced to do a 607th it is probable, if not downright certain,
that one of the film crew would have snapped and gone mad.
the first 605 occasions something small, usually infuriatingly
minute, went just slightly awry and the whole delicate arrangement
was wrecked. A drop too much oil there, or here maybe one
ball-bearing too many giving a fraction too much impetus to the
movement. Whirr, creak, crash, the entire, card-house of
consequences was a write-off and they had to start again.
Honda's latest television advertisement, a two-minute film
called "Cog", is like a fine-lubricated line of dominoes.
It begins with a transmission bearing which rolls into a synchro hub
which in turn rolls into a gear wheel cog and plummets off a table
on to a camshaft and pulley wheel. All the parts are from the new
Honda Accord - £16,495 to you, guv'nor, or £6 million if you
want to pay for the advertising campaign. And what an amazing ad
campaign it is, too.
Back on Cog, things are still moving, in
a what-happened-next manner redolent of "there was an old woman
who swallowed a fly". With a ting and a ding of metal on metal,
a thud of contact and the occasional thwock, plop and extended
scraping sound, the viewer watches as individual, stripped-down
parts of car roll into one another and set off more reactions.
Three valve stems roll down a sloped bonnet. An exhaust box is
pushed with just enough energy into a rear suspension link which
nudges a transmission selector arm which releases the brake pedal
loaded with a small rubber brake grommit. Catapult! Boing! On goes
the beautiful dance, everything intricately balanced and poised.
Nothing must be even a sixteenth of an inch off course or the
momentum will be lost.
At one point three tyres, amazingly,
roll uphill. They do so because inside they have been weighted with
bolts and screws which have been positioned with fingertip care so
that the slightest kiss of kinetic energy pushes them over, onward
and, yes, upward. During the pre-shoot set-ups, film assistants had
to tiptoe round the set so as not to disturb the feather-sensitive
superstructure of the arranged metalwork. The slightest tremor of an
ill-judged hand could have undone hours of work.
silence, a check that the lighting is just right, and
"action!". Scores of grown men hold their breath as the
cameras roll. An oil can is tipped and glugs just enough of its
contents on to a shelf that has been weighted with a Honda flywheel.
Some valve springs roll into the oil and are slowed to a pace
perfect to make them drop into a cylinder head assembly.
all these technical names are confusing, that is partly the point.
The advertisement was designed to show motorists all the fiddly
little bits of engineering that go into the modern Honda. The
result, in this film at least, is something approaching mechanical
perfection and a bewitching aesthetic. As car adverts go, it
certainly beats the "Nicole! Papa!" school of
If nothing else, Cog is a welcome departure from
the generality of car advertisements that feature winding-road
landcapes, empty highways and clear blue skies. The absence of
people from the commercial at least saved Honda having to make any
It will be able to be shown everywhere from Japan to South
America, Finland to the Maldives, without any more alteration than
perhaps a change of the closing voiceover, currently delivered by
laid-back Garrison Keillor, the American author, who announces:
"Isn't it nice when things just work?"
Cog looks certain to become an advertising legend and part of
its allure is the seemingly effortless way the relay of parts slide
and touch and roll with such apparent ease. The reality of the
film's production was slightly different. It was, by most
measures of human patience, a nightmare.
Filming was done
over four near-sleepless days in a Paris studio, after one month of
script approval, two months of concept drawings and a further four
months of development and testing. One of the more surprising things
about the ad is that it was not a cheat. Although it would have been
much easier to fiddle the chain of events by using computer
graphics, the seesaw and shunt of events really did happen, and in
one, clean take.
The bigshots at Honda's world headquarters in Japan, when
shown Cog for the first time, replied that yes, it was very clever,
and how impressive trick photography was these days. When told that
it was all real, they were astonished.