Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Making of the 'Zoozoos'!!!

The first Vodafone ad, among the new set of ads that I watched was the Beauty Alerts ad... and was hooked!

Please read my blog: "Here comes the Zoozoos!!!" to know more about these adorable alien-like creatures currently invading our TV screens (and our lives) during the IPL matches.

It is said that in life 'timing' is everything... to be successful, that is. Therefore, the 'timing' of these ads... telecasted during the IPL season 2 cricket matches... is bang on!!!

The rising popularity of the Zoozoos can also be attributed to the platform provided by the IPL, which garnered two billion eyeballs in its inaugural season last year. Whew!!! The viewership should be close to that figure in the current season as well... the 'God of democracy' notwithstanding!! [Was he responsible for the dip in the percentage of voters this time around (?)... I don't know!!] "There's also the curiosity factor piquing viewers who wonder, who are the Zoozoos really? Are they alien?" says Prasanth Mohanachandran, Executive Director (digital) at OgilvyOne Worldwide.

The Strategy: Media spends and visibility for brands peak during the IPL, so Vodafone obviously wanted a piece of the pie... Whoever spoke of the 'recession' obviously haven't heard of the 'IPL'... QED!!! According to Harit Nagpal, Chief Marketing Officer, Vodafone India, the brand was in need of an idea that would work doubly hard, as it was planning to spend some four months' worth of marketing monies in one month. "So, we chose not to do just one or two ads, or viewers would get bored quickly, watching them over and over on the IPL," says Nagpal. "The more the merrier"... you see, "Variety is the spice of life!!!"

The Making of the 'Zoozoos': Prakash Varma, ad filmmaker, Nirvana Films, has directed the commercials, and reveals that the 'Zoozoos' were a big challenge to create. The practical aspects of how they will move, talk, gesticulate and emote were very important. Essentially, costume design and artwork were crucial elements. "It took me three weeks of pre-production to understand how it will work," says Varma. There were two fabrics that were considered for the body suits, and one was rejected for it had too many wrinkles and was shiny. The wrinkles would have shown when the characters moved, thereby shattering the illusion of animation. "So we chose the more practical, thicker fabric," Varma explains. Like "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"... a wrinkle will give the suspense away!! Ha Ha!

The production team divided the outfit into two parts: the body and the head. The body part of the outfit was stuffed with foam in some places, while the head was attached separately. To make it look bigger than a human head, a harder material called 'Perspex' was used, which in turn was stuffed with foam (with scope for ventilation of course... Phew!). Let me clarify, 'Perspex' is no relation to 'Perspiration'!!!

If one wishes to understand the size of this head, here's a fact: a human head would typically reach up to the mouth level of this (gentle) giant Zoozoo head. "We kept the hands and legs thin, which is why we cast women - and occasionally children - wearing the costumes," says Varma. The thin limbs, contrasted with big bellies and a bulbous head, all add to the illusion that these creatures are 'smaller' than humans... (you see, all good things in life come in small packages... including Zoozoos!!!) Sets were created to suit the size of the Zoozoos.

Cinematically, this 'size' was a trick: the creatures look smaller than they actually are on screen, to portray a different world of sorts. For this, the speed of shooting was altered: Nirvana shot it in a high-speed format to make them look the size that they do. Furthermore, simple sets/backdrops were created and spray painted with neutral Greys - a colour of choice so that attention isn't diverted from the main characters. For a supposedly 'outdoor' shot, even the 'shadow' of a Zoozoo was kept 'live' and not done in post production: it was 'painted' in a darker shade of grey on the ground. An even lighting was maintained throughout.

There was virtually no post production work done. Nagpal adds here that the production cost had to be minimal for unveiling such a large number of commercials. "Otherwise, our production costs would exceed media spends," he quips. And then, in two-and-a-half months, the agency (Ogilvy India) had to come up with the films, each of which is 20-30 seconds long. Time is precious and time is money!!!

"We had to shoot, edit and finish sound recording for 30 different television commercials in 10 days. The whole thing, pre-production included, took a little over a month and was shot completely in Cape Town, South Africa," says Rajiv Rao, Executive Creative Director, South Asia, Ogilvy India.

The Team with the 'Midas touch': The team that 'created' the 'Zoozoo' includes Rajiv Rao, along with Kiran Anthony, Elizabeth Dias, Rajesh Mani, Mehul Patil, Kumar Subramaniam, Kapil Arora, Debaleena Ghosh and Desmond Fernandes. I think they should henceforth be known as the "VoZoo team"... for being the team behind the 'Vodafone-Zoozoo' work... what did you think (??)... No African black magic allowed here... !!! "VoZoo" and "Voodoo" are miles apart... okay, alphabets apart... the former has only 5 alphabets, while the latter has 6... the former has one 'o' less and the letter 'Z' instead of the letter 'd'... Clear?!!

The faces behind these eggheads! The characters, all local theatre actors (sorry, no 'stars' and their starry tantraums and nakhras.. may be the producer and the director did not want to become bakras!), had to perform in costumes, which came with their own set of problems. Wearing an enlarged headpiece, for example, meant that all the actors were practically blind... umm "visually impaired"... remember the question I posed on my blog: 50/2 in 103!! (???)

"They couldn't see where they were going, so we had several funny instances where the actors would walk right out of the frame during shooting. Also, it was very difficult for them to breathe with those headpieces on, so the actors would take them off every few minutes for some air. But after the first few days, we got into the groove of things and managed just fine," says Prakash Varma, director at Nirvana Films. See, work is fun or is it fun @ work?!! Well, 'fun' is 'fun'!!!

All in 3 crores! Since the shooting schedule was punishing, the film-maker had to use adult actors - all slim-built women... (wo)menopoly (!!!) - as opposed to children, who would have been better suited to play the part of the Zoozoos. As a result, to make the characters look tiny, all the sets and props had to be larger than life. The expressions on the faces of the Zoozoos, deliberately simplistic and limited in number, were all made in rubber and pasted onto their heads. While the change in expression and the characters could have been animated, it would have taken several years to finish 30 television commercials and would have come at a huge cost to the advertiser. According to Nagpal, the entire shoot cost approximately Rs 3 crore. Hmmm... every penny counts!!! Thats what I call, being penny-wise and pound-wise too!!!

But, the end result is quite 'priceless'..... what say?!!

(Stay tuned)

Note: Information gathered courtesy: http://www.afaqs.com and Wikipedia.

Photographs: (in clockwise order)

1. Zoozoo wallpaper from the new Vodafone ad - Zoozoos having ice cream!

2. Zoozoo wallpaper from the new Vodafone ad - Zoozoos going for a drive!

3. A photograph of Rajiv Rao - Executive Creative Director, South Asia, Ogilvy India. He lead the team which 'created' the 'Zoozoo'.

4. A photograph of Prakash Varma - ad filmmaker, Nirvana Films. He has directed the 'Zoozoo' commercials.

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