13 April 2010 ~ 1 Comment

EXCLUSIVE: Behind the scenes at the Polo ‘Expect Big Things’ TV commercial

Here’s some exclusive content for you on PoloDriver. Back in February we posted about the fifth-generation Polo’s ‘Expect Big Things’ TV commercial. Shot over three days in Cape Town in January for the car’s South African market launch, the typically hot and humid city was covered in snow, possibly for the first time. It was no ordinary snow, though; a fleet of five red Polos were towing snow-making machines, instantly covering everything with a dusting of the white stuff. The cars all end up on the top floor of a tall building, where the ‘Expect Big Things. New Polo.’ banner is unfurled.

A short time ago, we caught up with Matt Poolman, who works with MXFX Special Effects, the company that turned Cape Town into a winter paradise. Matt answered a few questions for us and explained what goes on behind the scenes at the shooting of a Polo TV commercial.

PoloDriver: Why was MXFX chosen for the job?
Matt Poolman: MXFX Special Effects was started and is headed by Max Poolman, a qualified pyrotechnician (see pyromaniac!) who’s been leading the company for 27 years. We have a steady track record for providing the highest quality physical effects, be it rain, wind, snow or fire. If it needs to be bigger, or more reliable than nature, we can build it.

Whether it’s the slightest rain on a boxing ring, or cladding a city block in snow, to the jaw dropping effects in District 9, or even the wide range of strange (sometimes comical) necessities for commercials, we provide the highest quality work, and while bigger-better-faster-more is our standing motto, safety is our number one priority. I feel it’s this that sets us ahead of the pack on the international circuit, and why clients from all locales request us by name again and again.

PD: How much fake snow did MXFX get through and what was it made of?
MP: Ah… Now that’s pretty tricky, we went through a LOT! We used various different types of snow, from various different sources. Two types came directly from the UK, the first of which were these fine paper-type materials; we probably used about one metric ton of it. The second was a type of foam, which we would project out of machines we call ‘Snow Boys’. This gave us our light airborne snow, floating between the buildings. Of this we used about 2500 to 3000 litres.

We also used a dense, heavy polymer material, which comes in powder form, but on contact with water swells up to 10/20 times its size (it’s often used for fertilising roses). It’s fun to work with, but not in the sun – it gets incredibly slippery and sludgy. We were constantly making more and more of this stuff, and we had a refrigerated truck packed with it which would be topped up daily. All in all, we used tons, many tons of material over the course of the three days. We also made about 2000 snowballs, which, while fun for the first day or so, got very frustrating after another two days, trying to store them, keeping them from breaking, and finding the perfect mix of materials to make the ‘perfect’ snowball!

PD: What was the size of the shoot?
MP: It was actually quite small in hindsight. We were granted the use of one city block, but in the end we ended up edging out into about a two-block radius. The way we used our 500/600 square metres was impressive, albeit tiring. We very often found ourselves inside large law firms and such, racing with all our equipment to the top of a building, and then back down after an hour to shoot in a small street, or from the inside of apartment buildings that were still being renovated.

We shot in the center of Cape Town CBD (central business district… not sure if you call it something else over by you) on a Friday, which caused a bit of commotion as the roads aren’t allowed to be closed on weekdays. This meant we’d have traffic passing through our scenes regularly, and lots of baffled onlookers. The Polos looked amazing on the snow though, more amazing, perhaps than in the actual commercial, especially that slow slide they do at 00:34.

PD: Do you know what other ideas got rejected, and is there a follow-up planned?
MP: The original idea was for all of this to be filmed as live-action. The Polos driving through the city, bringing with them a flurry of snow, and to capture the locals sincere reactions to what was happening in front of them – very much like the concept of a flash-mob. While the idea was unique, I think most of the people would just have had a look I can only describe as WTF!

I’ve never seen real snow, neither have most other Capetonians, so for a job like this to air locally (most car ads we do are for Europe) was quite interesting, the whole idea of ‘Polos are so cool and fresh, they’ll make it snow in Cape Town on the hottest day of summer’ was really cool, if you’ll pardon the pun.

PD: What models were the cars?
MP: They were 1.4-litre Trendlines (the most basic trim level in South Africa). Power and comfort weren’t really neccessary. There weren’t any interior shots involved, and we were fitting a technician and a very large 60kg nitrogen cylinder inside (I was surprised at how well they fit with the back seats down actually!).

PD: Can you give us any further insights?
MP: Its quite an interesting thing to see how the magic is created in these ads, such as how each car (there were five in total) is wiped down by a team after each take, and polished, and all the snow is cleaned from the grille… I wish I had a team like that waiting for me at home!

Thanks to Matt Poolman and MXFX Special Effects. For an extended gallery of Matt’s Polo shoot click here and to check out his general photo portfolio here. All images shown on this page are © Mathew Poolman and are reproduced here with kind permission.

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