"Cog"—the best commercial ever

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"Cog" was a dramatic television commercial for the Honda Accord, made (almost completely) without any Computer-generated imagery (CGI) or trick photography. It was created in 2003 by the London office of advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy.

The two-minute commercial appears as a single, long camera pan along a Rube Goldberg-like chain-reaction arrangement of parts from the car but is in fact two stitched together.*  The commercial took 606 different takes to complete, and only minuscule CGI was used, simply for fixing the lighting on the final car's window. The cars featured, one disassembled for the pieces and the other on the trailer, were two of the six hand-built pre-mass production Accords.

The sequence starts with a transmission bearing rolling into a synchro hub. This sets off a cascade of movement; windshield wipers "walk" across the floor, valves roll down a hood and carefully weighted tires roll uphill. The commercial ends when the power door lock on a complete Accord is triggered, causing the trunk to close, tipping the car off a balanced trailer and into a final pose in front of the camera. The voice of author Garrison Keillor queries "Isn't it nice... when things just... work?", while the song "Rapper's Delight" by The Sugarhill Gang plays in the background.

(the above from Wikipedia)

*The sequence of events in the advertisement is actually split into two shots—shooting the whole thing in one go would have been too expensive.  The join is at the moment where the muffler rolls across the floor (this can be seen by watching the floor pattern change).  "It was a damage limitation idea to snip it into two [parts]," says Rob Steiner, head of television at Wieden & Kennedy, the agency responsible for the advertisement.

Having said that, the shoot was still a major feat of technical planning. The two minute ad took six months to plan and almost a week to film. The production needed over 600 takes, 20 sets of alloy wheels, 10 bonnets, 15 pots of paint and two handmade pre-production models of the new Honda Accord. One was used for the final shot and the other was taken apart for the bits you see crashing into each other.

The idea is simple—a cog rolls along a table, hits an exhaust pipe, which rotates and hits piston rings, which roll into an engine block. So starts a chain of events until the new car is revealed. The agency describes their idea with the very touchy-feely phrase "warm engineering." What this actually means is anyone's guess but the ad is already being hailed as one of the greatest ever.

Setting up the chain reaction was extraordinarily frustrating. "Watching people's faces round the TV monitors during the shoot was like being at a football match," says Tony Davidson, creative director of Wieden & Kennedy. "When something went wrong, it was like your striker blasting a really great chance over the bar."

Once the car had been reduced to parts, the art directors drew sequences they thought would work. Technicians then calculated how to make the ideas real.

For example, the sequence where the tires roll up a slope looks particularly impressive but is very simple. Steiner says that there is a weight at the top of each tire, and when the tire is knocked, the weight is displaced and the tire rolls up the slope.

In another sequence some bolts skim across the surface of a table and drop on to a see-saw. The technicians had to ensure that there was exactly the right amount of oil on the surface. "It was trial and error as to how much oil was put there because it had to slow the pace down for them not to shoot off the edge," says Steiner.

The equipment was so precisely set up that the crew literally had to tip toe around the set for fear of disturbing things, which led to some unexpected problems. "As the day went on, the studio would get hotter," says Steiner. "It meant that wood would expand and the cog or exhaust that spins around would move slightly faster."  These tiny changes made big differences to the precision setup of the equipment.

(the above from Guardian Unlimited)