The spot tells the story of Hu Jia, a real Chinese diver who must overcome huge obstacles to break his run of silver medals and win the gold. Animated in a style that combines live action with an unusual, pencil-drawn aesthetic, the spot has a dreamlike, allegorical feel.
The spot's directors, Marie Hyon and Marco Spier, said: "The brief from the agency [TBWA China] was to create a poetic, sophisticated, and awe-inspiring Olympics campaign that embraces the idea that, 'impossible is nothing' for the people of China."
They commented that the spot's dreamy feel was wholly intentional: "The aesthetic we were going for was to create something really epic. Not in the loud, over the top kind of way, but something understated, intimate, but big at the same time. This is why we’ve wanted to create the world of live action mixed with pencil... But with this mixture of techniques, we faced many challenges.
"First off, we spend weeks preparing for our shoot in Beijing by previsualizing all the spots... We then flew to Beijing to shoot the athletes over the course of six weeks... The clients felt the emotions and facial expressions were very important to them so we wanted the look not to distract from the human emotion and the story. By having too much activity of hand drawn lines, we were losing focus. The delicate balance of all of these things was our greatest challenge."
After much experimentation with their collaborators, Barcelona-based Boolab, the team hit on a method that incorporated composite techniques with hand-drawn cell animation.
The technical aspects were handled using XSI, Maya, Massive, After Effects, and Flame. "We had about 65 people working on the spots—from 3D to roto to compositing, to tracking — you name it, we used it," said Marie Hyron.
Working with world-class athletes also provided different pressures. "We had to be very considerate of Hu Jia's time and any risks involved. Even though he does hundreds of jumps a day, the jump featured in the spot has an extremely high level of difficulty. Only a few people in the world can even execute this jump, and Hu Jia limits himself to only one of those per practice session," said Marco Spier. "As you can imagine, that put a lot of pressure on our team. We shot this jump with four cameras at a time, all in high speed. One camera was underwater, with a team that we flew in from Australia.
Hu Jia was such a perfectionist that he ended up executing the jump an unprecedented second time, which we captured from a 5th camera angle. The day was incredibly memorable."
Spier continued: "It was an amazing process for us, and we learned a lot. Working with TBWA China, we were given the opportunity to make an Olympic ad unlike any other. We all wanted to create the most awesome spot ever. We hope it shows."