Celebrating 100 years in business, Africa’s largest mutual assurance society, AVBOB, is flighting an awe-inspiring all-CGI television and cinema commercial. The 60-second spot tells, through the skillful use of computer-generated imagery, the story of an iconic baobab tree growing through changing seasons to become a shelter and home to a range of living creatures.
This Family Tree is a visual metaphor for AVBOB, the financial services company that has matured and developed over a century, overcoming many challenges to provide for South Africa’s large and diverse population in their times of pain and need.
Conceptualised and commissioned by integrated marketing communications agency the et al GROUP, the minute-long visual wonder was realised by Luma Animation over a period of six months. Paul Meyer, co-owner and executive creative director of Luma, describes it as “technically and artistically the finest work we’ve produced to date”. Importantly, he adds, “We were given the time to execute this bold vision at the highest level.”
The advert depicts a seed being planted, and growing over time into a majestic mature baobab. Its flowers open and an iridescent sunbird feeds on the nectar. The giant tree, located on a wild escarpment, stands strong through rain and snow, offering shelter to the sunbird. Other wild creatures – a squirrel, a chameleon, a tortoise – also make their homes in and under the baobab: as the voiceover says, “I am a Family Tree, the sum total of many.”
The script is narrated as a beautiful poem, and takes inspiration from the AVBOB Poetry Project. It was developed and written by et al’s Christo van der Westhuizen. The visual narrative was brainstormed collaboratively and directed by Luma’s Paul Meyer. Post-production was delivered through Production et al, with an original musical score specially commissioned from composer James Bassingthwaighte.
Towards the end of the ad, the jewel-like sunbird is seen feeding her chicks as the voiceover notes AVBOB’s “commitment to this generation and the next”. The ad closes on the key visual of the AVBOB Family Tree, with the accompanying voiceover stating: “Because family comes first, always. I am the AVBOB Family Tree. A hundred years strong. AVBOB: we’re here for you.”
The baobab is the perfect symbol for the AVBOB Family Tree, bringing life and shelter where it grows. Indigenous, deciduous, iconic and strong, its growth over time communicates a sense of dynamism and metamorphosis, demonstrating how AVBOB has adapted to endure many years of ever-changing circumstances. In its seasonal cycles, too, the tree embodies the idea of death and resurrection, bereavement and consolation, hope and redemption, and new life.
Et al’s creative rationale confirms that “in all historical narratives, trees are always represented as sources of strength and endurance, of being able to withstand the vicissitudes of time, just as AVBOB has held sure for its stakeholders over the past hundred years”.
The team set about researching and designing the hero tree – a timeless South African icon – to be used as the campaign key visual, before presenting the final version to the client.
“The script was not prescriptive in terms of the visual content, and it really allowed for theatre of the mind,” says Meyer. “It allowed my imagination to take flight, and that’s what Brand et al asked us to bring to the project: they wanted something fundamentally different from the norm, new and unique, a bold vision realised through an epic visual narrative, using a medium suited to the content.”
The challenge of creating the intricate animated detail, and infusing it with emotion, required a combination of artistic craftsmanship, time and technological innovation. With approval for both the concept and the key visual of the tree, Luma set out to create the entire world of the story in CGI, building procedural nature-creation tools in order to design and cover the landscape in various grasses, flowers and rocks. “For instance, the flora you see around the tortoise consists of the same plants you see in the wider shots – the tools we built to simulate that natural growth obviated the need for an artist to place each blade of grass by hand, which would have been an unnecessary amount of work,” Meyer explains.
All the imagery in the final product, from the human hand in the soil, to the seed germinating and the sunbird feeding its chicks in its nest, had to be meticulously designed and animated. The sunbird’s individual feathers, for example, had to be modeled to a physically accurate level of detail, so research was conducted to understand how the feather structure produced the bird’s characteristic iridescence. Then painstaking time was spent using Luma’s proprietary feather system to ensure the feathers were correctly placed, were of the right colour and length, and accurately represented many other characteristics (such as fluffiness) and, most of all, that they behaved correctly when in motion.
A rig was then built to move the model of the bird, allowing the animators to position it and create its performance. The animators spent months digitally posing and puppeteering the creatures that star in the ad, along with every other moving natural phenomenon that appears on screen, such as snow and rain, ultimately completing the illusion that bursts into life in the final product.
“It’s not photo-realistic, but rather stylised realism,” Meyer says. “We weren’t trying to make it look as if it was filmed in live action; it’s an artistic take on realism, the goal of which is to communicate the message and to entertain, to enhance the narrative and turn up the pathos.” The tortoise, for instance, is seen blinking through the rain and its walk seems like a struggle – but, as Meyer points out, in reality tortoises don’t show emotion. “Our old guy does emote – not enough to break the fourth wall, not enough to destroy the illusion that this is a plausible version of reality, but enough for it to move from clinical realism to entertainment.”
Meyer was appreciative of the vision and trust shown by AVBOB and et al: “Going this route was a bold choice, which clearly required huge levels of trust, so all credit to AVBOB and et al for having that vision, seeing the potential and entrusting us with the responsibility of realising it. Once you have buy-in on such a macro level, you can proceed with confidence to break new creative ground. However, with that trust, the onus was on Luma to deliver, and hopefully we’ve produced an epic and timeless centenary ad that will be remembered for generations to come.”
In closing, Meyer says, “I am inspired daily by the formidable capability and talent of our team. Seeing our ad in glorious IMAX 3D and sharing the screen with Disney, Pixar and Marvel films, is an experience we will cherish.”
Flighted across all major broadcasters and channels, the ad will run for three months. View the full ad here.