Usually we wrap up the year with our fave event on the calendar; World Time Attack Challenge (WTAC), but this year we got a call from Havas Worldwide Australia, an agency which has EA Games – Asia Pacific as a client.
EA Games and Havas got wind that I had consulted on the game in Sweden earlier in the year (click here for my personal blog coverage), and with the immediate release of Need For Speed they had two projects they wanted to run past us.
1) Could we help them source a suitable car to display at the Need For Speed stand at EB EXPO over the weekend (where the game would be launched).
2) Could we build a car over a 4 week community build using the game to build the car (IE: all parts we use on the car must also be available in the game).
The build would be documented through weekly call to action (CTA) videos, which we, Ved from Selectnine and myself, would create and EA Games global would publish on the International Need For Speed Facebook page.
Urgency was through the roof due to the game’s imminent release, so we sourced a suitable car for EB EXPO (Van Dam’s 180SX) and a meeting was set the week after. I was well worn out post WTAC, so the agency guys were happy to come out to meet me at a cafe in my hood Maroubra Beach. My Golf was broken so I skated down to the cafe. I did a skid out the front in front of 2 guys outside the cafe, walked in and saw a guy in a suit, approached him but it turns out the 2 guys outside were the guys I was looking for!
Compromise: Working with agencies.
Whilst I can’t quite say that we never compromise with all things ZEN, the truth is we quite often have to, but if we do have to we like to compromise with a little “c”, not a capital “C”!
I’ve spent much of my professional career as a graphic designer working in and around agencies and I’ve never quite fit in to agency life (I much prefer to cut out the middle man). I’ve always found that the politics kill creativity. There are just so many people in agencies who do not want to rock the boat (and that’s kinda what we’re all about!), with huge salaries and mouths to feed you can begin to see why this is so. Generally speaking there’s just so much red tape when working with agencies, and I was well aware of the issues we could potentially face with taking on this job, but in reality, despite the fears, it was impossible for us to say no.
On paper, it’s the dream job; Zen building a car for Need For Speed. In reality, it’s a crazy loose job with on the fly planning, a tight deadline and a small budget of $25k for the build (inclusive of buying the car). The agency creates the concepts, the scripts and content for press releases, that’s a scary thing as you know your brand and community best, and you can’t expect an agency to understand the difference between an S15 or an S2000, let alone understand car culture, and the importance of all things related to our hearts and our brand. The hardest part about working with agency is that no one else gets to see what goes on behind the scenes, the compromises, the unavoidable executive decisions that have to be made.
Initially we aimed for an 86 as it stars on the cover of NFS, and it’s still the most customised car of the moment world wide, but the budget wasn’t even enough to buy a 2nd hand car, let alone customise it. We proposed loaning a car from the community, the owner could keep all the modifications post build, but concerns on legalities came into play. In the end we put a call out to the community to see which car they’d most like us to build. An S2000, a 350Z or an S15. The S15 and the S2000 got equally as many votes, the S15 came in way cheaper to buy at $13k (leaving us with $12k for the build) so we made the call to purchase one and the job was on.
The call was also made early on to not go wide body as we didn’t have the budget nor time to get the kit into the country let alone have it fitted. Again, it’s an executive call that had to be made quickly despite us knowing that there was bound to be kick back from the community.
Once we bought the car a HUGE weight was lifted, as Ved and I knew 100% for sure that the job was on! We started shooting immediately, at this stage we didn’t even have a clear outline of the job at hand but hey, if we’re in, we’re in!
Since we shut the Leichhardt garage down (such a shame as our garage actually looked like the garage in the game) we had to find a garage to shoot the Call To Action (CTA) videos in. Initially we wanted to build the car at JDMyard, but the agency was after something much cleaner and brighter, and TV Show like (again, why we’re not so sure as the garage in NFS is far from bright, clean and sterile).
We ended up reaching out to Hypertune who Ved knows through drift champ Beau Yates (who he’s shot for a few times). Hypertune’s workshop in Ingleburn is super clean, the mezzanine is amazing and there’s billet everywhere! The guys were cool to have us use their workshop (which we have so much gratitude for as they had to stop all work for hours at a time each time we shot there) so early week #1 we were at Hypertune to shoot CTA 1 with EA flying a 360 film crew in from Perth for the day.
I had a bunch of lines I had to belt out in the video; more energy, less energy, more chilled, more natural, more excitement! You forgot to say this, you need to say that… these videos had to be taken in one single take for the 360 to work and 20 takes in (because I’m a designer, not an actor!) we made the call to involve more Zen Crew in the video to share the lines/load. No time to rehearse, forget the complex script, let’s just be sure to say these things, we were winging everything! The first video went up in 2 different versions. A 360 version, and a non-360 version (which we like much more than the 360 version!). You can check them out below:
CTA 1 – 360.
CTA 1 – Non-360.
We uploaded this video direct to our Facebook Page and it did really well un-boosted with 233,617 people reached and a solid 28,268 views. At the same time, we did our own behind the scenes video, ZEN style, of CTA 1 being filmed. Check it out below:
CTA 1 – Behind the scenes.
This BTS video got our blood pumping. It’s got feels, it’s what we’re about. It’s so ZEN. We were so geed to share it but then the project took a turn which we didn’t expect. We were told that we could not share the video, at the same time we were also told that basically we could not do anything but the CTA videos. IE: We were not allowed to blog about the build, we had to delete our NFSZEN build thread on JDMST forums, we could not post facebook/instagram updates during the build. We couldn’t promote the people who were helping us out on the build, which is crazy as these guys have gone above and beyond with supplying goods at cost, and doing work for free so that we could meet budget.
But you don’t fuck with EA Games, or do you?
At this stage things were getting pear shaped, as the reality of a job that reads like a dream on paper, started to slip away from us at a rapid rate. We were starting to question why we were even invited to get involved on this project if they weren’t even going to use our strengths. Without going into too much detail, one early “red tape” issue was that the agency and EA didn’t even know if we could publicly call our car a “Nissan”, as we didn’t have legal rights to use the Nissan brand. Serious?! You can surely imagine all the other things we couldn’t do due to legal paranoia (cancer to creativity).
In fear of losing the job, we took our BTS video down and died a little. We decided to cave, and just do the 4 weekly CTA videos and call it a day, with the idea of releasing all our own un-compromised content after the project was over. The first video we made was about wheels. As expected, it was the hardest video to work on due to teething. We had technical sound issues (workshops have a lot of background noise!) which we eventually overcame, also game capture issues. We had 4 lots of changes to be made (one major one was that they didn’t like the music we chose for the video which hurt as music is pretty important to us), and this took ages as we would have to render and upload the video each time to agency, agency would then present our work to EA Australia, who would then show EA Global for approval. Time zones meant that feedback was usually around 2-3 days meaning we had to make these videos in one single day.
CTA 2 – Week 1.
Damage Control – Can we have a surfboard designer design the body kit?!
As soon as CTA 2 was out of the way we were a week behind. CTA 3 was all about choosing the body kit for the car, but the agency guys had another curve ball to throw at us; Hayden Cox. Hayden is a surfboard designer with a healthy following. The agency guys convinced us that this was going out there to not only people in our community, but other lifestyle channels like Pedestrian TV, etc. We couldn’t really say no, and besides, we like to collaborate with creatives from all fields as ZEN isn’t just about cars, but when the agency suggested we let Hayden design the entire body kit we had to take a stand.
At first we were super hesitant to let any other designers in on the project (hey the community was already going to be helping us design the car!), but as soon as we checked Hayden’s site out, we liked what we saw, especially his fin designs which gave us the inspiration to get him to do canards.
We developed the concept of comparing surfboard fins to canards, one slices through water, one through air. Canards are pretty small so they wouldn’t have a huge impact on the visual presentation on the car if it all went wrong, and Hayden does some really interesting things with layering carbon which we emulated in the final designs.
The agency once again developed the script for this film, but we liked that they suggested we get outside of the workshop and shoot in a cafe, as well as my house. My house is my comfort zone, so what went down when we first met Hayden is in the video, live. IE: Ved just shot around us whilst we brain stormed on the fin/canard development in real time.
Process is king, so we love the juicy bit in the middle of this video. We chose a track which added feels to the video and it was approved, this combined with complete creative freedom to shoot and edit how we liked was the ray of sunshine we needed to up morale. Feels, it’s what it’s about! We just had to sneak some feels in. Amazingly the agency and EA loved the video as is, and it was approved with no changes. We were starting to feel that there was some balance coming back into the job, but we were also doing long days, most which we worked through to midnight, we were so in it that we weren’t even sure how to feel. Keep in mind that as soon as the first video went up live we would already be almost done with the 2nd video for approval. Pretty surreal!
Hayden was super excited about the opportunity to design some canards for the car, he pretty much got going on the designs right away too. In the end it was an interesting collaboration between Zen Garage and Hayden Shapes which went down really well with the community. Watch CTA 3 below:
CTA 3 – Week 2.
It’s a wrap, well, not really.
At this stage, 2 weeks into a 4 week project, the car was still completely stock! We had to wait for community votes, we needed more time to think things through, but there was no time. We had to move on to making the next video for the final stage of the build; wrap design.
The main concept of this job was to use Need For Speed (the game) to modify a car in real life, so the wrap designs had to be designed in game, then created in real life. We were rolling so fast we had never quite locked in exactly what we were going to do for the wrap design stage of the build. Initially we thought we were going to design 3 different designs, and the community would choose a design to create on the car in real life, but the agency had other ideas. They wanted us to do one design, then another 2 artists to do the other two designs.
Time, it didn’t exist. In the end the agency called it, and they found DVATE, a Melbourne based street artist who was sent a playstation, the game and set loose on 3 designs which in the end would be presented to the community.
Wrap obviously plays a HUGE role in how the end product is going to look. Were we totally crushed about not being able to present 3 wrap designs of our own? Absolutely. This is Zen Garage building a car, right? In our style, no? In reality we really didn’t have the time to design 3 different designs on our own. We were almost finished with a concept (see below), but it wasn’t approved. In the end DVATE did damn well to push out 3 different designs in a couple of days.
The community voted on the design which we prayed they would vote for. DVATE calls this design “Concrete Heat”, our initial design was to make the car look white from the front, black from the rear. DVATE’s design splits the car laterally. The drivers side looks completely standard, the passenger side is full camo. Definitely our fave design of the 3. Watch CTA 4 below.
CTA 4 – Week 3.
3 weeks in, car is still stock. We had to make some big calls, very big calls. We had to fight to save the job.
We came to the realisation that the build was not going to happen until the last week. That’s right. We had a dead stock car and only one week to build it. We had to call huge favours from friends in the industry to make this build happen on time and within budget, and we were just so down about not being able to document the build and credit the people putting in the work needed to make this car a reality. We were upset that the entire job has come down the CTA videos and nothing else; no web features, no documenting and sharing of the build process on Instagram, JDMST Forums and Facebook, all of which is what we do best!
We had to make some big calls, very big calls. We had to fight to save the job.
Since one side of the car had no graphics we decided to paint the car, then wrap one side of it (as opposed to wrapping the whole car, then putting wrap on top of that). We felt it was the right thing to do. So in one day, the guys at Arise Auto Body stopped all shop work and had all staff on the S15. They went above and beyond, fixing up all 4 mangled guards and other body imperfections and painting the car a gorgeous dark gunmetal chocolate, a colour we chose because it’s almost black in the shade like the car in-game, but it has a nice gold tinge under direct sunlight. Against the flat grey camo wrap design the paint was going to pop!
At the same time, Andrew Spira at Designer Wraps suggested that we absolutely will run into trouble if we apply the 3M wrap on a freshly painted car. The solvents would not be dry and this would cause the wrap to bubble. Taking the wrap off would damage the paint too. We had to get Arise to bake the car twice. Leaving Danny at Concept Garage only 2 days to do the canards and the wrap. We were so on like Donkey Kong, it was nuts!
We decided to break contract.
We were at breaking point so we decided to break contract and start sharing content that we generate without the guidance and approval of agency and EA. From day #1 of the job we had been creating content our way, with the intention of releasing it after the project was over. We created the NFSZEN plates with myPlates.com.au, we filmed Chris at Heasman Steering raising the car and giving it a wheel alignment when we first got the car, and again for the final alignment once the kit was on. We’ve even been modifying the interior of the car and documenting that too. We shot photos at JDMyard whilst picking up the TE37SL’s. We filmed the Toyo tyres being fitted to the TE37SL’s. We filmed the body kit being put on by Peter at Bodyform Aero. We filmed the car being resprayed at Arise Auto.
We started doing our thing; sharing our videos, photos and words over the entire network. All over multiple Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, blogs, YouTube channels and we also re-opened our build thread on JDMST Forums. We gave credits and shout outs to all who have helped us along the way. We took control. The community got so much more involved, everything just started to feel right.
It was a HUGE gamble, one that we could even have been sued for, but we took the risk. A few days in, no messages from the agency, or EA to take our content down, nothing. It looked like our gamble had paid off! We were right.
Back to the Future.
We’ve gone back to normal time now, but during this job we were living in the future. As each video went out, our next video was being approved. Speaking to people in the community about the build was confusing, every single day, as we were one week ahead of the video they just watched.
We didn’t know when the videos were going up on the global Need For Speed Facebook page, we had a lot of people, from all different sub cultures, message us links to Zen features on various web sites; Gizmodo, IGN, Pedestrian TV, Car Sales just to name a few. People were sending in screen grabs of the CTA videos as advertisements on YouTube. We could see the agency was doing their job getting these videos out there through their channels, it’s a real shame that we only kicked in with this kind of media work over our network in the last week of the build.
One week of videos, daily.
Community involvement was up, we were in the zone doing what we do best. Having FUN and sharing the process with the community, daily. Below are all the videos and features we released during the last week of the build in the ramp up to the big reveal at End Of Year Festival.
Arise Auto Body.
Finale Video Teaser.
The big reveal at EOYF.
With Danny at Concept Garage only finishing up the wrap at midnight the night before, we revealed the car at End Of Year Festival on Saturday the 12th/December. Relief! We started this project with a 360 video, EA wanted to end with one too so they flew the 360 film crew in to do a wrap up video at the event, which turned out to be a day of filming for us.
Agency and EA wanted us to make a wrap up video too. We had all intentions to do our own wrap up video, in our way, with our own drone footage of the car in the city at night, but agency were after something more like the CTA’s so we locked in one last CTA style video; CTA 5 below.
CTA 5 – Week 4.
So what did people think of the car?
We were so in on this job that we couldn’t even see the car at the end of it, so it was nice to get a lot of thumbs up and praise at EOYF. We copped a bit of hate on Facebook for presenting wide body in the options (as the game only had the wide body Vertex kit) and not going wide body on the car in real life, this was to be expected and whilst we’re bummed about not being able to go wide, we’re also glad we didn’t kill another S15 as once you go wide you can’t easily go back to stock. We had issues with lowering the car further, which would have improved it overall appearance, but it’s a pretty functional set-up the way it is (and the height helps to keep the fragile fibreglass front bar from cracking on speed humps and driveways). The wrap design polarised a few people, but that was always going to happen with ANY wrap design.
In the end, we’re glad more of the community love it than hate it. We love the wheels and Toyo tyres, and we actually really do love the non-wide body kit. We also love the paint so much that we’d like to actually remove the wrap altogether!
Photos below of NFSZEN at EOYF by Sam Law of 300-CPO.
Taking on the job was risky for our image and brand (hey this case study is risky!) but we realise that agency and EA took just as huge of a risk to hire us for the job too. We went through the wars with agency and EA, but we’ve all come out good in the end. We learned a lot on the job, a luxury not often afforded to creative types, for that we’re grateful. We did it. We’re so proud that the two of us, Ved and I, we did this.
Thanks and praise.
Massive thanks to Ved from Selectnine first and foremost! He’s been my wingman throughout the entire job (we’ve practically lived together for the last month!). We both dropped everything for this job, it consumed us every single day of the job, it’s amazing how much two people can do when they gel like we do.
Mark, Jess, Aneeket from Havas and Jodie and Shawn from EA, thanks so much for the opportunity. To Hayden Cox, Danielle Cox and DVATE, thanks so much for genuinely being interested in our culture and working with ZEN.
Massive thanks to all who helped out on the build: JDMyard Pty Ltd, fifteen52 Australia, Autotechnik Tuning, Heasman Steering, JDM Concept, Designer Wraps, Bodyform Motorsports, Concept Garage, Toyo Tyres Australia, myPlates.com.au, Hypertune, Arise Auto Body.