The Spot: Google’s Gyroscope

Venables Bell takes Google Maps on its own fanciful voyage from virtual 2-D interface to giant 3-D cube

GENESIS: Google Maps can do more than find a location or get you from A to B. The mobile app has bus maps, live traffic updates and GPS navigation. It can show your real-time movements at street level (whether or not you have GPS) and even find your friends and lead you to them. For their first project together, Google asked Venables Bell & Partners to show off these features in a video that would be, in classic Google ad style, not just informative but captivating. Since Google Maps is all about navigating the real world, the agency decided to bring the app out of the virtual realm as well. "We wanted to do something tactile, something practical and artful," said agency executive creative director Will McGinness. They thought of using magnets to have a blue ball (like the one in the app) move around a tiny handmade city or track. 1stAveMachine directors Aaron Duffy and Bob Partington expanded on that idea. They conceived and built a giant cube with a little New York City spread out on all sides, anchored it inside a gyroscope, and filmed themselves tilting it this way and that, sending the ball on a trip around town, where it eventually meets up with friends at a bowling alley.

COPYWRITING: The journey is the narrative, with smartphones acting as billboards, bus-shelter roofs, etc., advertising each Maps feature. "We didn't want it to just be a big effect. We wanted to weave a story into it," McGinness said. "Technology companies can get really cold and functional. Google always has that humanity." Duffy added: "Google in general doesn't really like to think that it's doing advertising. It wants to create entertainment for people who are interested in the communications happening in that entertainment." Copy at the end reads, "Start here," followed by the Maps logo and a URL.

ART DIRECTION: For the cube design, Partington and Duffy referenced a spherical toy called Perplexus. Conceptually, they were inspired by the famous wooden Brio labyrinth game, where you tilt the board to move a marble through a maze. "Google Maps is a singularly planar concept in a virtual 3-D world. The Brio game is the same within the real world," said Partington. "So, extruding that game into the cube concept was the actualization of the 3-D sculpture." Visually, the viewer is asked to parse macro and micro environments—to figure out just what the cube is, as well as what's happening on its surface. McGinness admits it's a lot to absorb, and considered not showing the whole cube until the end. "We played with a few different edits," he said. "We liked revealing the cube structure early. It piques your curiosity. You don't have to get what every feature is telling you. I think you get pieces of it. And hopefully people will rewatch it."

     The painted balsa-wood buildings have a rustic, unfinished look. Partington emulated the Dutch masters in applying underpaint and layering glazes on top. The yellows and blues come straight from the Maps palette. The background is white. The ball, as the hero of the piece, was painstakingly crafted over two weeks. Clear liquid urethane plastic was mixed with translucent blue pigments, including fluorescents, then injected into a rigid silicone mold (made using an aircraft-grade stainless-steel ball), cured for 24 hours in a pressure chamber and heated to toughen the plastic. It glows luminously, like its digital cousin.

     Duffy also directed Google's 2010 Super Bowl spot "Parisian Love," which was completely digital and told a story through a person typing into the Google search bar. This spot is the opposite—a handcrafted work. Duffy said Google prefers to work at these kinds of extremes. "There's a void in the middle, and a lot of advertising exists in that void," he said. "It doesn't exactly use the product like 'Parisian Love' does—that whole film was made just using the product—or it doesn't go the route of being a completely rustic, handcrafted thing. A lot of advertising is somewhere in the middle, where it has this polish but it's kind of avoiding the product in some ways. I really enjoy the fact that we can push the Google work in either direction. We don't normally get to do that."