PETA’s Incredibly Lifelike CGI Ape Begs You Never to Use Real Ones in Ads Again

BBDO, The Mill, Adrien Brody deliver stunning spot

IDEA: PETA's new ad manages an uncanny trick. It frames a harrowing problem, and at the same time literally embodies the solution.

The problem is the use of chimpanzees and other apes in ads and movies. "You're always assured that no animals were harmed, so you feel good about it," said Toygar Bazarkaya, executive creative director at BBDO New York. "The thing you don't know is these animals are beaten and punched and tortured to do what they do. They have a window where they look cute to us, around 4 or 5 years old. But by 6 to 8, they become too strong and too dangerous, and they're discarded. The back story gives you chills."

The solution is to raise awareness and get people to stop using apes in entertainment. BBDO's new PETA spot achieves both elements of that. It compels the viewer to empathize with an ape on the verge of suicide (he is, after all, 98 percent human). And it offers a new path through its own example—the ape in the spot is completely CGI yet utterly convincing, a stunning example of how future ads and movies can include apes without using (or abusing) a single living creature at all.

COPYWRITING: The spot shows a chimp moving around a near-empty white room. Adrien Brody says in voiceover: "The great ape. He's been forced to perform on television and in motion pictures for decades. Stolen from his mother at birth. Beaten and abused behind the scenes. He'll end up discarded in a roadside zoo. Could you live this life?"

The ape picks up a gun, aims it under his chin, draws a breath and prepares to shoot. The ad cuts to black, with the PETA logo and web address GreatApePledge.org, followed by a line of white type: "No real apes were used in this commercial."

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: The spot was shot in a grubby room with a two-way mirror inside an old hospital in New Jersey. "We wanted to keep it stark, in a way beautiful, but reductionist, almost like a stage play," said Bazarkaya.

The script was kicking around two years ago, but BBDO and The Mill put the project on hold when Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out. They wanted their chimp to be even more realistic than those used in the movie, indistinguishable from the real thing. In the end, rather than using motion capture to simulate physical movements, they filmed a human actor and focused on his facial emotions, then animated an ape's features over it in exquisite detail—highly defined muscles rippling through the skin, animating a canvas of fur.

"We went as far as giving each hair follicle its own unique pore," said director Angus Kneale. The result is astonishing, and The Mill now has a system it can use to replicate virtual chimps for future projects. "That's the beauty, solving this issue for all jobs from here on out," said Bazarkaya.

TALENT: Brody worked pro bono. His delivery is "not preachy," Bazarkaya said. "It's not trying to shock and make it sound awful. But there's a lot of emotion in there too." Brody told Adweek in a statement: "The bottom line is that we no longer can excuse the exploitation that exists in this world. Great apes are no exception. They are extremely sensitive, intelligent and emotional beings. It's sad that they're still commonly used in television and film, especially when we know how much they suffer behind the scenes. Acting should be left to actors—and that means human beings who have a choice in the matter."

SOUND: The creatives tried using music, but it "forced the audience into feeling something they already felt and fought with the observational quality of the piece," said Kneale. The narrative is enhanced through sound design—a rumble of thunder, the buzz of neon lights, the clank of the gun and the chimp's quiet, despairing yelp and quickly drawn breath.

MEDIA: Running in cinemas and online, the spot is seeking donated TV time.

THE SPOT:

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