Ken Pappanduros, SVP, Group Creative Director at Rubin Postaer & Associates (RPA) takes us through the making of the award-winning commercial
Honda plays in the highly crowded and competitive automotive category. Over the years, it had seen its leadership position slowly erode as relatively younger brands like Kia and Hyundai gained footing. People had come to expect superior dependability, quality and reliability from Honda. But as other brands began to improve their cars and younger consumers entered the market with no historical frame of reference between brands, there was a perception of product parity. Not to mention, quality, dependability and reliability aren’t all that sexy. The Honda brand needed to become bigger than the objective quality of its cars. Fortunately, Honda has never just made cars. They’ve always been driven to pursue mobility in all its forms. It’s given them an expansive product line and a rich history of milestones, innovation, and excitement on and off the track. This was a major differentiator. No other manufacturer could claim to be as successful or innovative across so many areas. The challenge was to bring this to life in a way that no other brand could.
The creative insight
At its heart, Honda is an engineering company. The entire company is driven by dreams and the determination to make them real. They imagine, experiment, tinker, try, fail and ultimately succeed. The big insight was that the work should feel like a feat of creative engineering. It needed to be reflective of the company that created it.
We approached the brief through this lens. Viewers needed to feel like the work came from a highly imaginative company. The engineers were the ones figuring out how to make this crazy thing work. “Paper” is just that. In some ways, CGI has taken the magic out of advertising films. There’s no “how on earth did they do that?” left. We wanted “Paper” to bring back some of that wonder and magic. You had to feel the meticulous craft of it.
Origin of the creative idea
We concepted this project for eight months. There were a lot of great ideas that we really loved, but Honda kept the bar high and pushed us through several rounds of work and a lot of late nights.
One of those nights, the creative trio of Josh Hepbern, Chris Bradford and Lucas Crigler came into my office to share an idea with me and my partner, Chuck Blackwell. It was this idea of showing the progression of Honda’s innovations from Soichiro Honda’s first motorized bicycle all the way to the Honda Jet. They saw each innovation as a link to the next…a one thing leads to another story.
In fact, the spot was originally named “Chain Reaction” as a nod to the progression of ideas leading to more ideas. They wanted to do it with an engineer’s earliest, most basic tool: paper. It’s where ideas are first sketched out, thrown away, tweaked and refined, and finally turned into blueprints and schematics that would be the basis for the final product. It’s the dreaming part of “The Power of Dreams.” The team had this idea to have the hands of engineers flip these paper illustrations of Honda products through Honda’s history. We got excited about it instantly and shared it with our ECD, Jason Sperling who also sparked the potential.
While we all loved and understood the idea, we wanted to make sure it was as clear to Honda as it was to us. So, the creative team built a large foam core board with individual drawings stuck to it, some of which could be hand flipped to simulate the action of the spot. There was even a crumpled paper mountain and a Honda Mower shredding through green graph paper. The board was too big to fit in anyone’s car, even Chuck’s Honda Element. So, we cut off a section that had to be reattached in our client’s meeting room. I was honoured to show the board to a room full of Honda executives. I did hand flips and made noises with my mouth as I went along. It was a little scrappy, but it worked. Honda loved the idea. (I still have the board in my office as a souvenir along with several of the actual drawings from the production
Once the idea was green-lit, our agency producer, Isadora Chesler, went to work and found a roster of production companies well-suited for the scale of this production. Everyone had great ideas on how to bring it to life, but we ultimately went with renowned animator, PES, mainly because of his short film background. His work felt less like a commercial and more like whimsical art. The man is a true artist and a genuinely nice person. We remain friends to this day.
We worked closely with PES for 4 months. We had working meetings with him to figure out the evolving paper textures, drawing styles, and new sequences. It was a blast. From there, PES and his massive crew drew all the illustrations we’d ultimately shoot. The entire journey was laid out on two enormous tables, each with a motion control camera stationed above it to capture each frame, one at a time. We were there with him every shoot day watching the meticulous process the animators went through to bring Honda’s history to life. As the production neared the end of its allotted shoot days there was still a lot of ground to cover. PES and his crew worked round the clock to get the job done. The skill and patience were extraordinary. I’m still in awe of what his team did. As intended, the production was an amazing feat of creative engineering.
Here is a collection of photographs taken at the making of the film:
A very special thanks to Ken Pappanduros for agreeing to contribute to this blog
For further reading –
An interview Ken did with PES about “Paper” back in 2015