The Spot: Refueling BMW

5 Series shows off its fuel economy with help from a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker

GENESIS: BMW is renowned for performance—raw speed and power. Now, it wants to highlight its innovation, too, in areas like technology, connectivity, and fuel efficiency. The 5 Series excels in the latter, getting 32 miles per gallon highway. To call attention to that, Grey created an aggressive, sweeping, but ultimately witty spot, heavy on the special effects. In it, a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker airplane swoops in, apparently to refuel a speeding BMW—but ends up refilling the driver's coffee mug instead. The viewer is meant to feel the car's visceral power but take away a message of efficiency—that 5 Series drivers will need a top off before their cars will.

ART DIRECTION: "It needed to feel very premium, very cinematic," says Grey executive creative director Jack Fund. "We wanted to bring some Hollywood magic to it." To get that epic look, they hired an all-star team of CG experts, including Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski (who also shot the much-admired "Mad World" ad for the videogame Gears of War) and Oscar-winning effects master Eric Barba and his team at Digital Domain. Everything about the ad is grandiose—the pacing, the camera movements, the CG aircraft. The spot was also letterboxed to make it feel like a movie.

COPYWRITING: "With up to 32 miles per gallon, chances are you'll need refueling before it will," says the single line of voiceover copy. The 36-year-old tagline, "The ultimate driving machine," is back after being sidelined in recent years.

FILMING: Kosinski saw a chance to do a muscular ad like the ones he used to love—in particular, Ridley Scott's 1990 dream-sequence Super Bowl ad for the Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo (which aired only once). Kosinski closed down five miles of two-lane blacktop north of Palmdale, Calif., for the two-day shoot and used a camera car and a helicopter to get the shots. "There was no speed ramping. We were really moving," he says. "We had to work at high speeds to have any semblance of reality, given the speed of the jet." Kosinski often test-drives new equipment in his ads before using it in features. For this spot, he used two Red Epic cameras, a new arm called the Pursuit Crane for the camera car, a 10-millimeter superwide-angle zoom lens from Germany, and something called an Eclipse Ball, which is a gyro-stabilized camera mount for the helicopter that captured exceptionally steady aerial shots. The coffee shot was done in-camera, with an exact replica of a KC-135 fuel nozzle built and modified to pour coffee at high pressure, with dry-ice tablets causing it to steam.

EFFECTS: Barba and the Digital Domain team surveyed a KC-135 in a museum, learned its movements through YouTube footage, then recreated it digitally. "The tricky part is fitting it into the environment," says Barba. They slaved over the details—lighting, shading, heat distortion from the engines, contrails spiraling off into the distance, dust kicking up behind the turbulence. "All those subtle touches are what make this thing feel real," says Kosinski.

TALENT: The driver has a "cool factor" and an "aspirational, Bond-like quality," says Fund, but he's really a bit player—almost a prop—in service to the plane and car, which are the stars. The voiceover is Chris Pine, who plays Kirk in the new Star Trek movies. "He's got a new energy for BMW that makes them a little more modern," says Fund.

SOUND: "We talked about music in the beginning, but then we decided to go with sound design only, to get that visceral and dynamic energy," Fund says. Oscar-nominee Ren Klyce handled the sound. The car sounds were recorded on location at speed.

MEDIA: The spot is running on TV but not, oddly enough, in cinemas. All involved say they'd like to see it on the big screen, but there are no plans for that at present.

WATCH THE SPOT HERE:

CREDITS:
Client: BMW of North America
Agency: Grey West, San Francisco
Spot: "Refuel"
Executive Creative Director: Jack Fund
Creative Director: Michael Wilde
Producer: Florence Babbitt
Account Director: Duccio Brandonisio
Production Company: Anonymous Content
Director: Joe Kosinski
Executive Producer: Jeff Baron
Head of Production: SueEllen Clair
Producer: Julien Lemaitre
Production Supervisor: Jeff Michael
Director of Photography: Alwin Küchler
Animation & Visual Effects by: Digital Domain
President of commercial Division: Ed Ubrich
Executive Producer: Tanya Cohen
VFX Supervisor: Eric Barba
CG Supervisor: Tim Jones
VFX Producer: Kait Boehm
VFX Coordinator: Cedric Williams
Digital Artist: Hnedel Maximore
Digital Artist: Brian Creasey
Digital Artist: Derek Crosby
Flame Artist: Lisa Tomei
Compositor: Kym Olsen
Compositor: Dan Cobbett
Tracking: Michael Lori
On Set Tracking: Marco Maldonado
Editing By: Union Editorial
President/Executive Producer: Michael Raimondi
Editor: Jim Haygood
Assistant Editor: Dylan Firshein
Sound Design by: Mit Out Sound
Sound Designer: Ren Klyce
Sound Design Producer: Misa Kageyama
Sound Mixing by: Lime Studios
Mixer: Loren Silber
Assistant Mixer: Lindsey Alvarez