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May 2, 2003

Mega-cool Honda ad
Posted by Teresa at 02:38 PM *

You can see the video here or (longer access time) here. It’s in the same vein as the 1987 high-geek-value short, The Way Things Go, which TechServe over on 23rd Street used to run on a continuous loop in their waiting area.

If you’re not familiar with the genre, it consists of a series of mechanical devices setting each other off in sequence, with great subtlety, variety, and inventiveness. IMO, the Honda ad is even better than The Way Things Go. It’s all done with Honda parts, starting with a rolling transmission ball bearing that sets off 84 other pieces of equipment. It ends by activating an assembled Honda’s electronic door locks—and the rear window, closing, alters the car’s balance just enough to roll it down off a ramp and onto the floor.

Watch for the tipped-over can of oil that simultaneously alters the balance and friction of a device, and the rig that’s set in motion by sound waves. Oh, and the traveling electric fan. Lovely stuff. (via Moshe Feder)

Comments on Mega-cool Honda ad:
#1 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2003, 04:06 PM:

This goes on my Hugo nomination ballot next year
(under Dramatic Presentation - Short Form). Seriously cool.

Neil's blog had a link to a story about this ad (would post here but my browser can't get to his blog right now). It was shot live (no camera tricks or post-processing), and took over 600 tries to get everything to work.

#2 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2003, 04:09 PM:

Not quite. There are two cheats.

1) The tire is weighted so that it will roll correctly.

2) This isn't one shot -- it's two, with the two shots merged with CGI.

#3 ::: Graham ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2003, 04:26 PM:

Ah, OK, Erik's just answered the question I was about to post on - the fact that those tyres rolling up the ramp around 25 seconds in seem to be behaving, erm, unusually. But apart from that, you can imagine Isaac Newton nodding contentedly throughout.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2003, 04:37 PM:

It was in the original press release. They're weighted with Honda parts.

#5 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2003, 04:55 PM:

I could've sworn I saw this linked in BoingBoing a while back, but can't find it.

Ah, that's where I saw it -- CJ Silverio's blog, April 15th.

#6 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2003, 05:14 PM:

I note that on the Honda site, they offer to send a free DVD. I'm guessing that they wouldn't be entirely happy to send one to a Usian, though. In fact, I'm not even sure how to fake out the web page so that it believes I'm real at all. I don't know phone number and postal code patterns.

Is there a Brit fan that would be willing to order it, and then ship it to me for postage + reasonable fee? The web versions are spectacular, but the focus isn't good enough. Moreover, I want my freeze frame, dammit. (Not to worry about the region code. It's covered.)

#7 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2003, 05:20 PM:


How is weighting the tyres a cheat? If this bit of applied physics is a cheat then so is the entire concept.

Actually, this seems like a nice bit of cleverness by the engineers: "look, by playing the regularity of the tyre shape against a displced center of gravity, we can get a seemingly counterintuitive result-the wheels will roll up the slope. Then, when they work out the dynamics, everyone will see how frightfully clever we are!"

(Graham, the weights are at the top. The impact is designed to push them slightly off balance in the upslope direction, The weight falls, causing the tyre to rotate clockwise. The tyre's friction with the slope's surface ensures that it rolls upward, even as it's center of mass is falling. Conservation of angular momentum does the rest. No cheating, Sir Isaac is still happy with the whole enterprise.)

Honda's engineers or PR hacks claim that no CG was used ( Do you have a solid reason to disbelieve them? Is there some visual cue in the video that indicates a CG segment or is there reliable testimony to this effect from someone directly involved? I find it hard to believe they would set this up so beautifully and then kludge the final cut .

#8 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2003, 05:52 PM:

Weighting the tires is cheating, in the sense that everything else that happens is visible and obvious -- whereas you have to have knowledge you cannot get from watching the advert (the title of which is Cog, by the way) to understand how the tires can roll uphill.

As to the CG. It's the muffler rolling across the floor -- the studio wasn't physically large enough to hold the entire setup, so it was shot in two parts, and the CG muffler connects the parts. The creators of the film
readily admit this.
You'll note that there is a moment when the only things on the screen is the muffler and the set itself.

Another myth -- It was shot in one take. It took 606 takes to get the entire film shot. It was, however, shot in real time -- and there's just two long shots in the film.

It is quite impressive.

#9 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2003, 06:30 PM:


It's interesting that you see it that way. My response to the sight of the wheels rolling upward was to think: hello, that doesn't look right--how would they do that. I watched again, and it was pretty obvious from the acceleration as the rotation progressed. I really can't see this as cheating, just cleverness. But I never saw the published rules to this thing, so I guess it could be cheating.

The connection I couldn't follow was the bit where the water on the glass causes the windshield-wiper walker to start scurrying away... I guessed that the water must be closing some circuit, but couldn't see where or how. Reading this (which, along with the Honda site, seems to contradict the source you've refrenced about the second of CG) I see that they were showing off a feature of the car: the wipers can be set to sense rain and start automatically. A very effective bit of marketing.

Thanks for the source on the CG. I'm not sure which to believe, but it seems plausible that they would have to split the sequence because of spatial limitions in the studio.

#10 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2003, 07:25 PM:

Lydy; yup, fer sure. We'll probably eyetrack it first, though, possibly several times. I've ordered it off the website, but they've said there's a delay with Accord brochures and the DVD. I'll let you know when we get it.

I read a lengthy 'making of' article which said that the studio they filmed it in was half the length of the shot, so it was filmed in two sections and stuck together. That's certainly consistent with the film (where there's a easy-to-spoof roll bang in the middle), and it's hardly violating the spirit of the endeavour.

#11 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 12:13 AM:

Another myth -- It was shot in one take. It took 606 takes to get the entire film shot. It was, however, shot in real time -- and there's just two long shots in the film.

Erik, there's a huge difference between "shot in one take" and "only took one take to make the shot." If I understand what I've read correctly, then the started the camera rolling 606 times, and 604 of those takes were discarded. What you see on film is a continuous take, not spliced together out of several endeavors.

Altman's The Player opens up with an enormously long shot (8 minutes, according to IMDB) in which the main character talks, among other things, about the longest single shot ever done, which I think he said was 4 minutes and a bit. Totally balls to the walls beginning. If I knew more about movies, I'd like the movie even better.

The opening shot was done in 15 takes, of which 5 were printed, and the third one shot was used. It was rehearsed for a day, and shot for half a day. It's remarkably cool, with the camera going into and out of buildings, following people through tight quarters and doing things that look as if they must surely be impossible. "Cog" is two minutes, and they took 606 takes. Clear proof that machines are less cooperative than people.

#12 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 12:15 AM:

Allison, put as many eye-tracks on it as you like. I'm not surprised that there's a delay in shipping them. I wonder how heavy the demand is. Such a gorgeous, gorgeous piece of work.

#13 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 01:30 AM:

I recall that -The Way Things Go- contains more than one dissolve, though at least one of those is just time-compression (things melting or boiling). I have TWTG on tape somewhere, but it's hiding at the moment. The Walker had an exhibit of the artists' static work, with the film running continuously in the background. I'm not sure how many of the visitors noticed that there was static work.

The two Really Long Opening Shots I recall are Welles's in TOUCH OF EVIL, which is an amazing piece of suspense (camera begins with a bomb being placed in a car trunk, and moves all over a Mexican border town while the viewer sweats (as Hitchcock noted, suspense is the audience knowing something the viewer doesn't), and Julien Temple's meander around Soho in ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS. The rest of the movie is not quite so brilliant (though I do like it) but that bit is a wonder.

The Altman opening is less pyrotechnic than either of these, being mainly a series of fragmentary conversations, but that doesn't mean it was easy to do. Just as GOSFORD PARK was a lot more carefully constructed than the reviewers who thought they were at CHARLIE CHAN IN LONDON noticed.

Uh, topic, topic. Beep beep?

#14 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 01:33 AM:

Erik, there's a huge difference between "shot in one take" and "only took one take to make the shot.

Of course there is -- but, in words, there's not much difference at all. I've seen this work described as a miracle of filmmaking. It's not. It was clever mechanical design and an almost incredible amount of labor, but, filming wise, this is a basic, boring shot.

606 times, the cameraman walked that floor, with the camera rolling. It appears that it was a Steadicam shot, not a tracked shot -- but the vertical change is small enough that you could do it on a track with a somewhat modern camera mount. Nothing, however, that any competent studio hasn't had the gear to do in the last 15 years. You might have to hire the Stedicam operator, but that'd be it. The rest is pure in-house.

This isn't a celebration of clever technology -- 606 tries is not clever, and event chains are not new. This isn't a celebration of clever filmmaking -- the techniques used were tried and true (and could be repeated 606 times -- in 1985, or 1935, if a track was used.)

The wonder here is the concept. "Can I make this thing work *just once*." They could. Thus, Cog.

Which is why I want the background details to be known. The filmmaking's basic, and pretty much anyone with a sense of mechanics and a steady hand could get that sequence to happen correctly after six hundred tries.

But how many people would have thought to even try? That's who to celebrate -- the person who thought the sequence up, and managed to sell the concept -- and who managed to get it filmed, despite 604 expensive mistakes.

And, of course, there was lots of tweaking. It must have taken hours to snub the fan's power cord just so, so that it would just kiss the bar, and trigger the muffler roll. Of course, after 200 tries, they probably had it nailed.

Does this make it any less wonderous? No. It may not be as technically wonderous as it looks -- things rarely are. But it is indeed wonderous.

#15 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 04:16 AM:

The record for longest single take has recently been magnificently shattered by the film 'Russian Ark', which is a single 90-minute shot, tracking through the Hermitage and covering hundreds of years of Russian history:

Does anyone else remember the Mission Impossible Sqirrel commercial for Carling Black Label?
This was a similar conceit, with a squirrel traversing a series of very complicated climbs and swings and so on to get some nuts. It was done by gradually adding new stunts to the chain, so the squirrel would ony have to learn one new trick at a time.

#16 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 05:27 AM:

"Okay, send in the stunt squirrel."

[Stunt squirrel puts down his copy of Budrys's ROGUE MOON, sighs, smooths cheek fur and hits mark.]

I did once crank a single tracking shot out to 261 pages, but that's another you-know-what.

#17 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 07:57 AM:

Neil Young's video for "Touch the Night" is similarly remarkable for being a continuous shot. Actually, it's two (I think that's all) with a subtle edit. Neil plays a small-town newsman in a red blazer, getting in the way at an accident scene. He bothers a witness until the police chase him off, then he turns to the camera and gives a verse of the song. There are flames and a choir, all doing their thing in real time.

I'll also put in a word for Rope, the Hitchcock tribute to the Loeb-Leopold case, which is (visually) all one shot. Due to limitations on how much film could go in a camera, there is a subtle once a reel (perhaps it's twice a reel, since I'm talking about a projectionist's reels, not a cameraman's) where the camera passes behind someone's back or whatever and a new piece of film is started. It's not really a continuous take, but it plays one on TV.

The opening shot of Touch of Evil is just super cool, though.

#18 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 10:54 AM:

On the Mission Impossible Squirrel; don't suggest that it was Carling who were brilliant here. It was originally a wildlife documentary (BBC?); Marianne Wilding investigated just exactly how much a squirrel would go through to get at the nuts in a 'squirrel-proof' bird feeder. I think they even set the final piece to the Mission Impossible music. All that Carling did was buy the footage, turn it into an ad, and pull back at the end to reveal two other creatures (owls, maybe) saying 'I bet he drinks Carling Black Label'. Still very, very funny.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 11:46 AM:

Drat! Mike, you beat me to it. I was about to observe that the longest single tracking shot I know of is Growing Up Weightless.

I have The Way Things Go right here to hand, and it does indeed contain a bunch of dissolves, some of them involving actual dissolves.

Erik, I'd say this is a celebration of stuff working exactly right, via mechanisms which are humorous, likeable, comprehensible to non-specialists; which use a limited set of components in such a way that the parts and assemblies are both recognizable to the viewers, and illustrate some feature of the car; and which are beautiful.

The Way Things Go is ingenious but grubby. In "Cog", the polished and perfectly balanced exhaust pipe, which chimes as it slowly pivots to tap the first of the three bolts laid out on the hood, is just plain pretty. So are the cascading semicircles of the rolling bolts, which echo the motion of the gearshaft that set off the exhaust pipe's spin. So is that airy Calder-esque mobile made from the windows.

A lot of the motion is funny, too: the skittering cog, the walking windshield-wiper assembly, the cheesy banner that drops when the car rolls down off the trailer. The sequence set off by the electric fan is like something out of a Warner cartoon: The juice goes on and the fan takes off across the floor -- which of course means it unplugs itself, rolling to a halt with just enough force to dislodge the threaded bit of hardware whose sliding fall sets the wire to hocking the muffler, until that too is dislodged and rolls erratically across the floor to trigger the catapult: plonk!

It's all images of mechanical precision that's somehow comprehensible and humanly likeable. Naturally, it's all selling Honda engineering and design. The travelling electric fan mimics the sound of a smoothly-starting engine. The weight that pulls down the seatbelt to trigger the windshield-wiper aerialist act also illustrates the operation of the seats.

Look at the sequence where the cylinder rolls through the window. At first it looks like the oak plank goes through the window (an illusion helped by the plank being a twin to the one seen in the opening sequence). It92s momentarily confusing, a dab of suspense. Then the rolling cylinder closes the circuit, the window goes down between what are now shown to be two perfectly aligned oak planks (while we92re given a good look at those fancy signal lights), the suspense is converted to Aha!, and the cylinder rolls forward to drop into what I think are parts of the clutch assembly.

It92s all just too cute. I92m willing to call it art.

By the way, the uphill-rolling tires don92t bother me. For one thing, there92s a precedent: the same device is used in The Way Things Go. For another, who doesn92t know that objects don92t roll uphill without help? I don92t think the weights are any less intuitively obvious than some of the other mechanisms, like the windshield sensor that triggers the walking wiper assembly, or the spring that92s dislodged by the vibrations from the sound system.

Like Lydy, I faunch for a DVD copy--hayrff Ylql unf n QIQ oheare, va juvpu pnfr vg fubhyqa92g or n ceboyrz.

#20 ::: marty ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 12:37 PM:

The longest tracking shot I have seen is the =entire- movie "Russian Arc". This shot goes thru the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburgh and various periods in history. I must admit I was dissapointed in the movie as I thought we would see more of the museum, but the costuming, etc, was pretty good.

#21 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 07:44 PM:

My 6-year-old has watched this, oh, about 80 times, and is, of course, busily trying to reconstruct as much as he can. He made quite an impressive milk-pouring device this morning, although it took about 1/2 gallon of mistakes before he got it tweaked just right. I'm somewhat frightened that I'll wake up one morning and find the Odyssey dismantled in the driveway, with him scrounging around trying to make the tires roll up!

#22 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 08:45 PM:

>...I'll wake up in the morning and find the
>Odyssey dismantled in the driveway...

"Telemachos, you are not going to give me that 'Argos ate it' excuse again. Full marks for cunning, though. Especially the bowstrings."

#23 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2003, 09:44 PM:

haha! I did wonder for a second whether I ought to specify that it was car parts and not pages I was worried about finding strewn about the driveway. But then I figured *you folks* would probably get sidetracked into a discussion of which Odyssey translation would be most appropriate for a six-year-old, which edition has the hardest-to-tear pages, ...

#24 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2003, 06:22 AM:

Note that the Cog advert is something that can be used worldwide. The only language-specific element is the one spoken line at the end.

It's back in the same territory of internationalism that the silent cinema lived in.

#25 ::: Edward Liu ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 10:58 AM:


Teresa, I think the cylinder rolls "through" the window onto 2 of the "S*it" handles found above all the windows except the driver's.

Dave Bell, the only aspect of the "Cog" advertisement that is NOT international is the model of the car (Honda doesn't sell an Accord wagon in the US) and the segment incorporating the radio, which shows the steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle.

-- Ed

#26 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 11:59 AM:

They don't sell an Accord wagon in the US - yet.

It's a new model. The film-makers disassembled two prototypes to make the ad, according to one of the articles I read.

#27 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 04:19 PM:

Well, when they get round to selling an Accord wagon in the U.S., they can just set the whole thing up again with a US-oriented steering column and...

-Linear Representations of Finite Groups

#28 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 04:34 PM:

Actually, I'd love to hear recommendations of Odyssey & Iliad translations for 6 & 8 year-olds.

My boys love Greek Myths, largely thanks to the Usburne edition, and watched the 'Helen' TV version last week. (Disney's Hercules may have helped).

I have Graves' book, but it is a bit too thorough. Suggestions please!

Don't worry about reading Age too much, as Andrew has read all of Rowling & most of Dahl, so is not intimidated by vocabualry of the story is well-told.

#29 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2003, 06:32 PM:

I think re-introducing the Accord wagon in the U.S. could be a good idea. A nice alternative to small SUVs.

I bet my sister would buy one. She loved her old Accord (died in a flood) and her Explorer is falling to bits.

'"S*it" handles'

We called 'em "J.C. handles" on Long Island. Because you scream "JESUS CHRIST!" while grabbing for them.

#30 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2003, 01:09 AM:

Does this mean I'm going to have to stop calling them ankle supports?

#31 ::: Mimsie Coen ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2003, 04:18 PM:

I don't care how it was done,cheat or no cheat, I loved the finished product! Congratulations to the Ad Maker!

Thought you all might like to know that Arron Brown showed the ad last night during his program on CNN. They picked it as The winner for the year for advertising. They prefaced the playing by saying that CNN would not run this to advertise for a car company, but this one had to be seen in the U.S.A.

Good going, Britain! Looks as if you do have a winner there.

#32 ::: Robert ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2003, 01:40 PM:

Hello Fellow Honda ad fans I also loved the ad and was wondering if someone living in the UK would be able to obtain a DVD for me here in Australia.
The other thing is Honda is not releasing this particular model in Australia so the ad is not even aired.

Thank you very much and for the link to "The Way Things Go" link I will definetly get that one.

#33 ::: eleanor rowe ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2003, 03:11 PM:

Hi. A little out of date here, but if anyone still wants the DVD I have a spare I could post (I am in the UK - does the region thing affect DVDs the same as videos?).

First person to e-mail me their address gets it - postage courtesy of my lovely employer. Yes folks, there is such a thing as a free lunch!

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