How to make a live 12-hour car commercial.

5 min readMay 18, 2017

By Sean Pruen, Experiential Creative Director, UNIT9.

Today we’re all walking around carrying devices capable of broadcasting live entertainment. It’s no surprise that brands are going bigger and bolder with live spots these days.

The setting for our 12 hour film commercial for Mercedes.

There is a very bright future for live broadcast entertainment for brands and a whole world of broadcast possibilities differing from TV tradition.

Recently we created our own kind of live broadcast entertainment project with Virtue Worldwide — to represent how Mercedes’ vision for the electric car is available right now.

Mercedes NOW: a case study review.

Project-wise it was a massive step for us, marrying up live performance with multiple analog and digital physical components. Oh, and it was broadcast live for 12-hours.

Many Live Parts, One Vision.

The experience was made up of many different parts, all in one cohesive vision. Using multiple live cameras and data feeds, we edited them on the fly into a single stream on YouTube. A vision mix looping 720 times within the 12 hour stint.

One large team, with one challenging goal

Every time the film looped, it evolved from its previous versions. This meant the audience never saw the same advert twice.

With so many components and performers, bringing a project like this together needed a really solid shared vision. The potential for misunderstanding and uncertainty — given this was a live event — was huge. So preparation was key.

Previs vs final output film

We had to ensure everyone in the team knew what the finished product was going to look like. But before we started. So ahead of the real event, the team created a pre-visualised commercial — in 3D software — that was used as a reference for all the teams involved in the project.

So the staging team knew what they were building. The DOP knew what the lighting should be. The live stream team knew the camera moves. The vision mix team could accurately cut with the music. The client was happy that this is going to do exactly what we say it is going to, when we go live.

Hourglasses, Pendulums and Live Data Feeds.

The team designed and built a vast installation that housed a variety of analog and digital representations of “now” — all operating in tandem.

A space fit for a 12 hour live installation

White sand fell from a huge hourglass for the entire duration, while a pendulum gently swung below, drawing spirals. A spherical screen displayed the realtime sunlight cast on the earth. A live feed showing people going about their business — that we effected using realtime WebGL shaders to hide their identities. Real time statistics presented insights about our world — generated from online data sources. Popular hashtag geo locations were plotted on a world map. A projected feed of the London skyline showed the passing of the day. Musicians played live and dancer Resi Bender performed all day.

Twelve Hours of Dancing.

Resi Bender, our dancer who performed for 12 hours straight.

Choreographed by artist Darren Johnston, our dancer Resi performed for 12 hours straight. The concept was to represent a day from morning through to night, in a dance performance. So during the event, Resi woke up, did some yoga, ate breakfast and went out into the world. Her performance started slow and steady but eventually became incredibly physically demanding.

Twelve Hours of Music.

It would have been easy to mix a 60 second track and loop it again and again but that would have been pretty boring. Not to mention it would have driven the crew insane. So we took a different, more creative approach.

A base music track was produced by sound designer Simon Little, with each stem of the music placed on different tracks in live music performance software. These were easily adjustable on the fly.

Nothing says live like a performance

As each musician performed in turn, we were able to record them and then loop it back in the mix. So, the trumpeter from the morning could be mixed with the drummer in the afternoon for example. This flexibility gave a lots of variation to the base track, providing an ever changing musical score throughout the 12 hours.

The Art of Live Potential.

Brands have been looking to the art world for inspiration for many years. Often I find the marrying of the two can feel forced. I was happy that the idea kept artistic integrity at its heart, and that it felt right for a brand like Mercedes.

Remember, the world is watching…

All things considered this project was a huge challenge but at the same time incredibly fun. It required so many solutions and new collaborations between specialists and different creative teams. It’s incredibly satisfying to create a project that is not only a time-based art installation, and at the same time a commercial for an automotive brand.

The important thing is that the audience responded very positively to what he had created and they really understood the creative idea. People watched it loop again and again — so we knew we had done a good job.

Looking back to many of the live TV broadcasts of the 80s and 90s, there was often an edgy, ‘anything can happen’ feel that has somewhat been lost with the ushering in of the pre-recorded era. There is something still very rewarding about the idea of collective viewing. Particularly with the ease of reaching a global audience.

I see the future of ‘live’ in the commercial space as a really exciting one. It’s no doubt full of creative possibilities that have previously not been possible with traditional TV broadcast.

The world record for the longest commercial is thirteen hours five minutes and eleven seconds. Next time we’ll beat that.