It's not jeep related but still good to watch.
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.
On 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
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
The slightest tremor of an ill-judged hand could have
undone hours of work.
Utter 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.
If 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 commercial.
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 regional
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.
One of the more striking moments in the film is when a
lone windscreen wiper blade helicopters through the
air, suspended from a line of metal twine. "That was
the first and last time it worked properly," recalls
Tony Davidson, of the London-based advertising agency
Wieden & Kennedy. "I wanted it to look like ballet."
After that, a few yards and several ingenious
connections down the assembly line, another pair of
windscreen wiper blades is squirted by an activated
washer jet. Because Honda wipers have automatic
sensors that can detect water, they start a crablike
crawl across the floor. It is as though they have
come to life.
As take 300 led to 400 which led to 500, a certain
madness settled on the crew. Rob Steiner, the agency
producer, started talking about "our friends, the
parts", but in the slightly menacing tone of a primary
school teacher discussing her charges at the end of a
trying day. Some workers on the film went whole days
without sleep and had to be asked to stay away from
the more delicate parts of the assembly. Others
started to have bad dreams about throttle activator
shafts and bonnet release cables.
When things were going wrong - a tyre that kept
trundling off to the left, or a rocker shaft that kept
toppling over like a tipsy cyclist - the production
lads on the shoot would start grumbling that "the
parts are being very moody today".
Commercial makers are often accustomed to working with
human prima donnas but no Hollywood starlet, no
footballing prodigy or showbiz celeb, was ever as
troublesome and unpredictable as the con rods and
pulley wheels and solenoids that Davidson, Steiner and
Co had to work with.
Towards the end of the production, Olivier Coulhon,
the first assistant director, had spent so many hours
in the darkened studio that his skin had turned a
luminous green and his eyes had sunk deep into his
Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, the commercial's director,
kept puffing out his cheeks and whinneying, a note of
deranged despair twitching at the corners of his
mouth. Asked how long he had been working on the
commercial, he gave a high-pitched giggle and replied:
"Five years? Or is it eight?"
It felt that long.
Two hand-made pre-production Accords - there were only
six in existence in the entire world - were needed for
the exercise, one of them being ripped apart and
cannibalised to the considerable distress of Honda
engineers. By the end of the months-long production,
the film had used so many spare parts that two
articulated lorries were required to take them away.
The idea for the advert derived partly from the old
children's game Mouse Trap, and from the wacky
engineering of Caractacus Potts's breakfast-making
machine in the Sixties film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The corporate suits at Honda liked the idea
immediately, despite the high costs of production and
the fact that it was more than twice as long, and
therefore twice as pricey, as normal car ads.
The two-minute version of the ad ran for the first
time last Sunday during the Brazilian Grand Prix, and
brought pubgoers across the nation to a wide-eyed
speechlessness after the Manchester United v Real
Madrid game on Tuesday night.
"It was a painstaking process, a tough experience,"
says Honda's communications manager Matt Coombe,
recalling the making of Cog. Some of the original
ideas, such as one stunt involving an airbag, had to
be dropped owing to a shortage of new Accord parts or
simply because they were too hard to set up. And on
some takes the process would go perfectly until
agonisingly close to the end.
"It was like watching a brilliant footballer weaving
his way the whole way through a defending team's
players, and then shooting wide right at the end,"
says Tony Davidson.
The crew resorted to placing bets on which part of the
sequence would go wrong. Invariably it was the
When the final, 606th take eventually succeeded, there
was a stunned silence around the Paris studio.
Then, like shipwrecked mariners finally realising that
their ordeal was at an end, the team broke into a
careworn chorus of increasingly defiant cheers and
Champagne bottles popped. The cylinder liner had
brushed its nose affectionately against the rocker
shaft and the gear wheel cog for the last time. The
interior grab handles and the suspension spring coils
had done their bit. A classic was complete. Cog was
in the can.
98 TJ SE