Bajaj DTSi: Bringing the Bots to life

By Abhishek Chanda , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | May 06, 2009
After out-of-the-box films such as Pulsarmania and Twisted Sisters, Bajaj is back with yet another radical film. Here's the story behind the making of the film

A month ago, afaqs! had explored a story that showed how bike advertisements have got boxed into a handful of clichťs - be it female pillion riders, stunts or sheer speed - and kept on relying on these to churn out me-too ads. However, of late, a fresh breath of air seems to have been blowing over the category. The result - some good commercials such as the Hero Honda Passion Pro ad that actually tells a relevant story, or the Bajaj DTSi ad, titled BajajBots, which cuts through clutter with cutting edge execution.

The ad has been cracked by Leo Burnett, Mumbai which handles the entire scooters portfolio for the brand, as well as all communication related to the DTSi technology platform. The agency had created an ad (a much subdued version though) on the same DTSi platform about six years ago.

Bots in action

The film features three Bajaj bikes that are part of the DTSi platform - Pulsar 220, Discover and XCD 135 - which also are the three characters or the 'Bots' in this ad. The word Bot has been derived from the word robot. However, Bots these days generally connote virtual software agents. It opens in what looks like a huge garage, where three of these bikes are parked. Suddenly, the bikes start transforming into complex Bots with a life of their own, powered by their DTSi engines. The execution is reminiscent of the 2007 Hollywood movie, 'Transformers' - a live-action film adaptation of the Transformers franchise - directed by Michael Bay and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

The Bots chance upon a brilliant idea and start playing basketball in acrobatic extremes. Just when one of the Bots is taking a breather and is busy doing a moonwalk, the only human character of the entire film - a guard - steps in. The Bots quickly transform back to the bikes they were and that's where the film ends with a super which claims that Bajaj is 'The world leader in twin spark technology'.

The ad has been penned by KB Vinod, executive creative director, Leo Burnett and produced by Stratum India and @Radical Media, UK, while the post production and all kinds of special effects and computer graphics have been executed by Glassworks, London. It has been directed by Tarsem Singh, best known for directing the award winning music video, 'Losing My Religion' (R.E.M), a psychodrama starring Jennifer Lopez called 'The Cell' (2000) and ad films for Coca-Cola and Nike. The sound has been designed in Mumbai by Ram Sampath.

The brief for the Bots

Bajaj has been quite lavish and has put in big money in some of its recent ads, one of the examples being Pulsarmania - yet another elaborate film. So, what drove it to indulge in yet another film that has all the potential of turning out to be an expensive one, especially when the slowdown has infected the automobile industry and Bajaj itself is not having the best of times?

Explains Amit Nandi, general manager, marketing, Bajaj Auto, "Bajaj is a technology centred brand where DTSi is its essence. The brand characters have always revolved around sporty and youthful. We consciously briefed the agency to portray the brand as an object of immense aspiration, symbolising advanced technology. We wanted to demonstrate performance."

Vinod from Leo Burnett seconds that and says, "We wanted people to sit-up and take notice, rather than creating just another ad. If the commercial doesn't answer all the questions, people will surely get hooked on and be curious about it. For this film, the execution is the idea!"

As far as the slowdown blues are concerned, Nandi states quite confidently that technology being the biggest differentiator, it doesn't need a specific time or place to be announced.

Though Bajaj refused to divulge the specifics of the ad budget, it is learnt that the ad actually ended up costing lesser than a typical high profile celebrity ad. By international standards, maintains Tarsem Singh, the ad is one of the low-budget ones that he has shot till now.

It took more than a year for the TVC to take shape, right from the script till the complete ad. In fact, Nandi says from the brief till the approval of the script, it took them only seven days, the remaining time was spent in fleshing out the ad.

As of now, Bajaj is going ahead with a single TVC. When asked, officials refused to comment whether the campaign will be spread out in other media. The ad was aired on the first day of the IPL and will be aired throughout the tournament.

Bringing the Bots to life

As far as this TVC is concerned, the execution bit surely takes the cake. If not the first of its kind, the ad and its execution are relatively new for the Indian market and the audience.

Says Vinod, "While the briefing session was on in Bajaj's R&D centre in Pune, I thought - wouldn't it be cool if the engines just came to life and walked away or did something. When I developed this thought, the engine got married to the bike and the bike assumed a character of its own, and so the film was created in my mind."

To begin with, after the execution bit was frozen, the characters were decided upon. A Hollywood based designer then fleshed out the look and feel of the characters (the Bots), which also fine-tuned to the bike in question. Vinod says, "The funny thing was that none of the bikes were flown out of the country for the project. A team from Glassworks came down to Pune and scanned the bikes to capture the minute details. Then they re-built it on the computer."

After detailing the characters in 2D, they were taken to the next level, 3D. Glassworks worked out a pre-visualisation to understand how the film will run and a moving storyboard was then created. The next step was putting the Bots in a walkdemo - a preliminary stage of animation - to understand the movement of the characters and explore the possible camera angles.

The next step was to get into the motion capture process. This stage, which took place in Pinewood Studios, UK, involved shooting men with sensors attached to them, moving like the Bots were supposed to do. For this, both professional basketball players and acrobats were used.

Singh adds, "Our biggest challenge out here was that the characters shouldn't move around like lame machines. So, I had to design the shots and the moves accordingly." Though he hasn't had a brush with a fully computer generated film, saving a quasi-graphical experience in his own movie 'The Fall', Singh maintains that this was quite an experience for him.

Finally, all that had been captured, detailed and created was married with motion capture to give shape to the TVC. Other kinds of detailing such as colours, textures, background, effects, camera movement and shakes was also done to finalise the film.

Every frame, every character and detail of this TVC is computer generated, saving the final shot of the guard opening the door, which involves a human being.

Inspiration? Or pure perspiration!

It may be one of its kind for the Indian audience and an indigenous product such as Bajaj. But the industry is already talking about the stark resemblance of the ad with that of French automobile manufacturer CitroŽn's campaign launched by Euro RSCG, London way back in November 2004. The ad featured a CitroŽn C4 Coupe transforming into a Bot and then doing a jig to the grooves of "Jacques Your Body" by Les Rythmes Digitales (Jacques Lu Cont).

In fact, this was done even before Transformers (the movie) was released. So much so that CitroŽn officials even maintained in their press statement that they wanted to portray the car as "the most technologically advanced car in its class." Talk about dťjŗ vu!

When asked about this, both Vinod and Singh are of the view that they by no means are claiming the ownership of the whole transforming style of execution. "Transformation of objects is not a patented thing. This phenomenon has been there for some decades and can be traced back to Japan, where it became more like a sub-culture. It was visible in comics, and toys," states Vinod.

Abroad, apart from cars, other products such as cell phones have also had a brush with a similar style of execution, he adds. "More of our shots had to do with robotics rather than transforming," says Vinod.

However, the big question still remains whether Bajaj will be able to cash on this single TVC to generate sales and spread awareness or whether the ad ends up being simply eye-candy.

© 2009 afaqs!