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The Ingenious Design Behind Apple’s Viral HomePod Ad

A new behind-the-scenes video reveals the intensive set design and complex real-world effects that went into the ad.

The Ingenious Design Behind Apple’s Viral HomePod Ad

All good films are the result of careful design and the synchronized talents of many people. But sometimes, telling a well-crafted story is so difficult that not only is the final product a masterpiece–the execution behind it is, as well. That’s the case with Spike Jonze’s HomePod ad, as AdWeek‘s creative editor Tim Nudd reports.

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Before we go on, watch the ad itself below. Even if you’ve already seen it, it’s worth a second look:

A woman, played by FKA Twigs, arrives home after a crappy day and discovers that her tiny apartment–probably in Brooklyn–expands thanks to the power of music. Obviously, the message here is that Apple’s HomePod can “re-architect” the acoustics of your room to create a perfect high-fidelity sound experience–a claim that, according to our testing, is true. Yet there’s a lot more to this than an advertising message. Jonze–who also directed Christopher Walken dancing to Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice and Margaret Qualley grooving to Mutant Brain by Ape Drums in a Kenzo perfume ad–shows how the music we love allows us to create new realities just by laying on a sofa, closing our eyes, and using our imagination.

The ad’s interpretation of that idea apparently required more than digital imagery. Jonze and his team produced every aspect of the commercial with practical, real-world effects. FKA Twigs’s dingy–definitely Brooklyn–apartment had to be re-architected in real life and in real time, not through CGI. To make matters more complicated, everything had to happen following the exact rhythm of Anderson .Paak’s song ‘Til It’s Over.

Thus, the apartment itself became an element of the choreography–every part deforming to the moves of FKA Twigs. Each piece of furniture that morphs, each wall that reacts to Twigs’s movements, and ever flickering light fixture—even a hanging bike–had to be a mechanical contraption, moved by pulls, levers, and off-camera dancers moving the individual apartment pieces in sync with the music. Every element involved a physical trick of stagecraft except for the moment where FKA Twigs dances with herself, which obviously required post-production.

The behind-the-scenes video also delves into the design of the choreography itself, which had to be precisely timed to the apartment’s deformations and the computer-controlled lighting effects. Hand-made architectural models, and a staging area where the individual mechanisms could be mocked-up to scale, helped the team develop the commercial’s final sequences.

Production designer Christopher Glass calls the ad “one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever worked on, but also one of the most creative.” It shows.

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Like the rest of society, I’m used to special effects, both practical and CGI. Very few things can impress me anymore. But this was truly an awesome piece of work, from the perfect planning and execution to the overall aesthetic design. In fact, as one production person says in the video, the final deformed apartment looks like a place I wouldn’t mind calling home.

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About the author

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce and a contributing writer at Fast Company.

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