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9th March 2017
A leg up
Title of film: Honda, Up
Director: Pedro Martin-Calero
Production Company: Colonel Blimp
We thought Pedro Martin-Calero was a director of slow-moving, architectural pieces and now he's come up with this cliff-hanging tour de force for Honda. We talk with the Colonel Blimp director about the making of his first commercial (see the making of film too).

How did you find the transition from making short films and music videos to creating a multi-layered, post-production-heavy commercial?

On the one hand it was a natural process because, whatever the format, you are telling a story and a concept with images and sounds in a creative way. On the other hand it was something quite new for me because it’s the first time I’ve worked with a client and agency. Luckily both were incredibly good to work with and the agency wanted to hear things from my point of view. I did, however, keep forgetting we had to get everything approved, but I’m now used to that!

We take our hats off to the W+K creative team for embracing directors who haven’t a track record in directing commercials – is this really your first ad?  What was the original brief and how did you adapt that to what you felt was achievable?

It’s crazy, isn’t it? I’m so thankful to them. Before this commercial I’d made music videos and a couple of shorts with limited budgets but they took a risk and bet on me. I think it’s the result after so much hard work with Colonel Blimp over the last three years. Wieden’s really appreciate talent and creativity but they also demand hard work – they also work so hard themselves – that’s why they are so good.

The brief was really tricky and I remember when writing the treatment finding it a real challenge to visualise the idea clearly. But in essence it was similar to what you see on the screen. They wanted to find someone who took their idea and visualised it in a way that felt new, I was able to put my personal execution of that idea into practice and I think I put my stamp on it.

First of all, how did you construct the “perception” of the mountain –  feels a bit too real for being solely a green screen.

The mountain is not real but the climbing is, that was key. The challenge was to make something that doesn’t exist feel real. A mountain made of a material similar to clay with parts of the car on it. But the girl is real and the climbing had to be real otherwise the viewer would never trust the film.

It was a hard thing to visualise when we started and we knew we had to build something real or it would never start to take shape. So we built some parts of the mountain – Marco Puig, the production designer made an amazing job – with a texture and a tone that resembled the clay in order to have an actual wall to climb. In fact we built three huge walls, one being particularly high. It was really impressive to see Imogen, the climber, ascending that false mountain.

We worked with MPC from the early stages constantly making maps of what we wanted the mountain to be then changing them after speaking with Imogen and the climbing team and then changing them again and again… it was a really complicated process but a great challenge. After that MPC modified the walls creating the mountain with the car parts on it.
How did you work out the perspectives and the angles to film – was there close collaboration with the post production team to map out the storyboard before hand?

We made quite a precise animatic as we had to understand how the whole mountain was going to look before we built anything. The animatics also helped me to see what angles worked better and how much time some camera movements needed and how many meters we had to move it.

I wanted to keep a bit of freedom during the shoot and I worked with the DP Eric Gautier to really push the crane and camera to do something unexpected. I always planned that the camera would really make us feel the height.
How did you find the balance between surreal and real?

That was tough because there are no huge mountains made of clay with car parts on it. We did a lot of sketches and tried different things till we felt the scales and textures were working, after that the process was easier. At times this was the hardest part, but we kept coming back to that the cars are sculpted out of clay when they are being prototyped and that we wanted to link to that. The surface and the texture and that balance between surreal and real was being constantly worked on right up until the last minute in post. 
Who is the mega-fit gorgeous girl, how did you cast her? Undoubtedly it was more gruelling for her than directing her (ha)?

She is Imogen! She looks like one of Hitchcock’s muses but she is an actual climber. In fact she is a pretty good climber, one of the best of her age in the UK. We cast a lot of real climbers with casting director Kharmel Cochrane and then she appeared. I never thought we would find someone as perfect for the role. She worked so hard on set and as a non actor really gave a memorable performance, you see so much is going on behind her eyes. She climbed for hours for the three day shoot. We had deliberately made some parts of the wall very hard for her so we got the sense she was exhausted but she was such a professional she never really showed it!

And now what?

I’m finishing a music video for The Weeknd that I shot with Colonel Blimp a few weeks ago and should be released soon and I’m working on my first feature.