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Breaking Down Guinness - Surfer

We have gone above and beyond this time to bring you a blend of history and analysis in our exploration of this ad - Guinness' Surfer. It's an ad that challenged Nike's "Just Do It" campaign to steal its top spot.

But before we get started, you know what to do first - watch the ad!

Overview: Released on the occasion of St. Patrick's Day, one viewing is simply not enough to fully grasp the depth of this ad. At first glance, it's evident that a group of surfers eagerly awaits a perfect wave, ready to conquer it. However, what takes you by surprise is the emergence of majestic horses from the water. Among the familiar faces introduced in the opening shot, only one person manages to ride the wave with remarkable skill, showcasing mastery. Just as you become engrossed in the spectacle, a momentary pause in the music near the video's end might momentarily confuse you. While we are not sure what the ad makers behind this ad intended to put cross, our interpretation suggests that it explores the profound inner peace experienced when encountering a life-changing moment. As you run the experience again in your head, you become momentarily detached from reality, engrossed in your own thoughts, replaying the events in your mind until regaining consciousness and reconnecting with your surroundings.

Given that this ad was released in 1999, we were curious to further figure out what all went into the making of this ad of this level. We were lucky enough to stumble upon one.

Watch here!

Background: A touch of history becomes crucial to amplify the existing sense of joy surrounding this ad. Guinness, an iconic Irish beer, carries a rich heritage that traces back to 1756. The beer derives its name from Arthur Guinness who brought it to life. What sets Guinness apart from other beers is its distinct darkness. While many of you would think it's black, it's actually not. If you look closely, its ruby red. That's too much information for this ad we believe, but a few facts hurts nobody! So, here's one more -

A perfect pint of Guinness requires a patient wait of 119.5 seconds. While it may appear lengthy, the brand itself embraces this concept, believing that "Good Things Come To Those Who... Wait."

But we won't make you wait any longer. Let's start.

The Director - Jonathan Glazer, based in London, UK, is a director who is known for making the toughest of challenge seem possible. Recently, at 76th edition of Cannes Film Festival, he was rewarded for his film The Zone of Interest (2023). He has showcased his passion for diverse range of projects - be it for feature films, short films, music videos or commercials. Some commercial projects he has taken up are for well-recognised brands like Audi, Apple, Nike, and Barclays to mention a few. But for today's ad, it's 'Guinness - Surfer' that we discuss.

Film Director: Jonathan Glazer

Location: The location that was chosen to film this ad was Hawaii and it features real Polynesian surfers. That holds the charm for this ad as it takes it away from a pretentious heroic portrayal and maintains a rather natural flow of catching a wave. The filming of this ad went on for nine days.

Visuals: We were gripped by the opening shot, where the man's eyes speak volumes, it created a sense of intrigue, leaving us curious about what situation he's in and what will unfold next.

Throughout the ad, there are visually stunning moments, particularly when the horses make their appearance. These scenes are bold, fierce, and exude a remarkable sense of power. It is said that the incorporation of the horses is inspired by the Walter Crane painting called The Horses of Neptune. Walter Crane, it is said, was himself inspired by the sight of surf during a trip to America in 1892.

Read more about the The Horses of Neptune by Walter Crane

Editing: As we read more, we discovered that there was an extensive exchange of ideas and collaboration among the various teams involved in creating this ad. Well, every artistic endeavour thrives on collective efforts. The craftsmanship behind this advertisement is evident in its seamless execution. Despite the numerous cuts showcased, there is a smooth flow that keeps us fully engaged. The acts are arranged in a well-structured sequence and are seamlessly connected through the transitions.

"The commercial was being cut while we were doing the effects and that’s always been a challenge for people, in visual effects, when you want a locked cut to then work on and you’re aware the editor is changing everything as you go in reaction to the temps they’ve been given. But that’s inevitable and the fact that it happened is I’m sure a large part of why it turned out so well. I think we would’ve done rough slap-togethers to hand over to the editor. They were trying different music and voiceovers, too."- Paddy Eason (VFX designer/VFX supervisor)

VFX: The VFX team provided valuable insights into the making of this ad. Although it presented its fair share of challenges, the team approached it with careful planning and structure. Instead of opting for a green screen, they creatively utilised a bluescreen during the horse sequences. Bluescreen, with its lower luminance, effectively prevents colour spillage around the actors' edges, ensuring a better colour integration. They employed high-end cameras, coupled with a combination of various techniques and software, to achieve the remarkable visual result we witness on screen.

A horse jump while two cameras roll. Says Paddy Eason: “One camera is directly in front of and below the horse, which explains the nervous body language of the guy on the right.” Image courtesy Paddy Eason.

Narration: The narration draws inspiration from the novel "Moby Dick" by Herman Melvilles. The line, "Ahab says, I don't care who you are, here's to your dream". We can infer that this ad is heavily inspired but not copied. These lines from the narration are not to be found on any page of the novel. So is true for the visual inspiration that draws from the painting.

"Some of that poetic feeling came from that Walter Crane painting called Neptune’s Horse, which was something we definitely occasionally would look at it for inspiration. But we departed away from that pretty early on. It was an inspiration for it, but it was not something that we were trying to copy. I think what Jon liked about it was the mythological nature to it. That it was almost iconic at that time. - Adrian de Wet (VFX Designer)"

Sound/Music: The advertisement's music was crafted by the British band Leftfield, and interestingly, this composition became the foundation for their renowned track "Phat Planet," featured on their 1999 album titled "Rhythm and Stealth. The music blends well with the moving imagery that adds to the impact!

Guinness's classic Surfer bagged multiple awards and is considered to be one of the best ads of all time. With number of awards under its name be it Cannes awards, Clio Awards or D&AD awards. The hype that this ad generated at the time of its release and also for it's craft it is counted as one of the best ads ever made.

Guinness's iconic Surfer ad has bagged numerous accolades and is widely regarded as one of the greatest advertisements of all time. It has earned awards including the renowned Cannes awards, Clio Awards, and D&AD awards. The ad generated significant hype upon its release, and its craftsmanship is a proof of its reputation in the advertising industry.

We highly recommend you to gather more insights from here. Trust us, this article (interview) is all you need to read to feel the energy that went behind in the actual making of the ad.


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