The Spot: Company of Heroes

Deutsch brings 15 years of Sony PlayStation characters to life in a live-action tribute to the hard-core gamer

GENESIS: Gaming has become a family affair in recent years, mostly thanks to motion control. But PlayStation wanted to reconnect with the hardcore gamer. Deutsch proposed a grand spot that would bring 15 years of game characters together and celebrate their exploits—feats accomplished, of course, by the gamer who controls them. The two-minute live-action ad shows 25 characters, many rendered in the flesh for the first time, gathered in an all-species-welcome saloon like an upscale Star Wars cantina. They reverently relate stories of their darkest hour, when a mysterious "Michael" came to their aid. "To Michael!" they all shout at the end, as the innkeeper makes the big reveal—a framed photo of a kid with a PS3 controller. It's a more emotional appeal than the past two years of PS3 ads, which focused on product features with the line "It only does everything." "We wanted to do a spot that was really big and spoke to gamers in their own language," says Deutsch group creative director Jason Elm. "About once a decade, somebody nails that. We wanted to do that for the PS3."

COPYWRITING: A World War II soldier (a composite from dozens of WWII shooter games) arrives at the bar, checks his weapon and settles in. Hearing the other characters' stories, he rises and gives the main speech, about how Michael saved him on Omaha Beach. "My approach to this all along was that the spot needed a less iconic character to carry us through, to be the central spine of the piece, to bring us into the bar as an observer who might never have been there before," says director Simon McQuoid, whose Xbox Halo 3 spots won the Film Grand Prix at Cannes in 2008. "I expanded his role from the original script to be the viewer's eyes. We gave him some weariness, some wariness, and a story to tell—one he might not have been so willing to recount outside the confidence of his fellow characters." All of the stories are true to the games, but aren't so specific as to be cryptic to those who haven't played them. "It's the story of the gaming world as told from the other side of the TV screen," says Elm. The writers chose the name Michael, because it's believable as both a man's name in the war stories and a kid's name in the reveal. On screen at the end is the brand's new tagline: "Long live play."

ART DIRECTION: The characters include Nathan Drake from Uncharted 3, Athena from God of War 2, Cole MacGrath from Infamous, Ezio from Assassin's Creed, Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid, Kratos from God of War 3, Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal, Little Sister from Bioshock, and the tiny Sackboy from Little Big Planet. The publishers had to approve each character's look all the way through postproduction—a huge project. "People gave us an ice cube's chance in hell when we started," Elm says. Almost all of the characters are actors, with prosthetic, makeup, and CGI enhancements—like Sweet Tooth's flaming hair and Little Sister's glowing eyes. (Chimera from Resistance is all CGI; Sackboy is a puppet.) The tavern was envisioned as a smoky, boozy place, but was cleaned up, since so many gamers are kids. McQuoid says he wanted "a slightly otherworldly sense to it, but I wanted to avoid fantasy and science fiction—the characters each already brought so much of that with them. As we kept saying on the shoot—it can't feel like a Halloween party. So, we wound up grounding the characters in a bit of a dirty medieval tavern in the forest." He adds: "Visually, I wanted a shallow depth of field so we could both draw attention to the foreground character, and simultaneously bury elements in the background. We wanted layers of discovery for the hardcore gamers."

FILMING: McQuoid filmed the ad over three days in an old castle in Prague, the Czech Republic. "I shot it using anamorphic lenses, on film, which oddly seems somewhat nostalgic at this point, but helped to bring about the darker, shallower depth of field that we were after," he says. The WWII soldier's speech was filmed first, which set a "tone of reverence," says Elm, and inspired the other actors to match his performance.

TALENT: The actors had to look quite like the characters. In most cases, they sound like them too, as Deutsch recorded many of the actual voice actors used in the games (dubbing in their lines with automated dialogue replacement, or ADR). The YouTube comments are glowing in this regard. "It takes the viewer that last 10 percent into realism," Elm says. All of the people in the picture frames at the end are PS3 gamers who sent in photos to PlayStation. The boy who depicts Michael isn't actually a Michael, though it is his middle name.

SOUND: Tense music gives way to a quiet piano when the WWII soldier tells his story, then rises in a crescendo at the end. Many of the alien characters glow with a supernatural crackle or hum.

MEDIA: The two-minute spot got 9 million views on YouTube in its first week and aired Friday during Spike TV's GameTrailers TV. A 60-second cutdown broke last week on ESPN's Monday Night Football.


Client: Sony PlayStation
Spot: "To Michael"

Agency: Deutsch, Los Angeles
Mark Hunter: Partner, Chief Creative Officer
Jason Elm: EVP, Group Creative Director, Copywriter
Shannon McGlothin: EVP, Group Creative Director, Art Director
Mike Bryce: EVP, Group Creative Director, Art Director
Sam Bergen: VP, Associate Creative Director, Copywriter
Josh Fell: Associate Creative Director, Copywriter
Ryan Dickey: Sr. Art Director
Marisa Wasser: Sr. Producer/Music Supervisor
Victoria Guenier: SVP/Director of Broadcast Production
Vic Palumbo: EVP/Director of Integrated Production

Scott Steinberg: VP, Product Marketing
John Koller: Director, Hardware Marketing
Kim Nguyen: Brand Manager, PS3
Ami Sheth: Associate Brand Manager

Production Company: Imperial Woodpecker, Los Angeles
Simon McQuoid: Director
Jan Velicky: Director of Photography
Doug Halbert: Executive Producer
Anita Wetterstedt: Line Producer (US)
Jitka Fridrichova: Line Producer (CZ)
Patrick Cadell: 1st AD

Editorial: Cut + Run, Los Angeles
Steve Gandolfi: Editor
Isaac Chen: Assistant Editor
Michelle Burke: Managing Director, EP
Christie Price: Senior Producer

Post Facility: The Mill, Los Angeles
Adam Scott Colorist

Visual Effects Company: The Mill, Los Angeles
John Leonti: 3D Supervisor
Phil Crowe: 2D Supervisor
Pete Hodsman: Compositor
Yam Sundar: Compositor
Andy Wheater: Matte Painter
Stephen Venning: Executive Producer
Adam Reeb: Producer
CG Artists: Jamie O'Hara, Jacob Bergman, Josh Hatton, Alex Moaveni, Nobuartu Sasagawa, Matthew Vogan, Kyle Moore, Andre De Souza, David Hackett, Martin Rivera, Sam Kao

Music/Licensed Music Tracks: Stimmung, Santa Monica, Calif.
Robert MillerL Composer
Kristina Iwankiw: Producer

Sound Company: 740 Sound Design & Mix, Los Angeles
Andrew Tracey: Sound designer
Eddie Kim: Sound designer
Rommel Molina: Sound designer
Scott Ganary: Executive Producer

Audio Post Company: Lime, Santa Monica, Calif.
Mark Meyuhas: Mixer

End Tag Animation/Graphics Company: Laundry