The Attik gets twisted in its latest Web and cinema promotion for Toyota’s new Scion xD a ‘bad-ass’ car for a bad-ass generation.

“What we’re doing here is presenting the car as a little deviant, a little bad-ass,” say Simon Needham, group creative director of The Attik. “It’s a fable,” he says about the concept behind the creative work promoting the Toyota Scion xD.

“The whole principle is telling a story. And we figured that presenting a book of the Fable of the Deviants was a really nice way of delivering our message.”

And that message is that the Scion xD – “the toughest-looking car in its class” – it’s a “little bad-ass”. Log on to and you are plunged into a world populated by the Sheeples – boring, lifeless drones – and the Deviants – nine demon-like creatures whose role it is to catch and kill hapless Sheeples in any number of creative ways.

The site is part of the wider creative picture for the Scion xD. There are print ads (including pop-ups and scratch-and- sniffs that smell of ‘new car’) a cinema spot and guerrilla marketing elements. The look though, is seamless throughout.

“The overall concept had to be consistent,” says Needham, whose team designed the Web site and, working with production company Shilo Design, the cinema ad.

“We designed the spot specifically for cinemas – we really wanted it to look dramatic and cinematic.” It is. Watching it for the first time, the cinema ad, which features a street gang of Deviants herding a group of Sheeples down an alleyway before slashing their guts out and heads off, hits home.

“These,” intones the deep Hollywood horror voiceover, “are the Little Deviants.” A staggering, dazed Sheeple – people dressed like sheep – is stopped in his tracks by a gleaming, black-windowed Scion xD.

He stops, pauses for a second, and then a grinning Deviant leaps from the car, takes off the Sheeple’s head and roars off into the night, the severed head bouncing into place on the front of the car like a badge, eyes still blinking.

It’s very visceral. If you didn’t realize it was a car ad, you’d be waiting for the movie to come out rated 18.

“We wanted to bring out an animated film that was inspired by, but a little darker than, a lot of the [other animated] films,” says Needham. In that they succeeded.

So how did The Attik, set up in Huddersfield in 1986 by Needham and college friend, James Somerville, create this world? “The brief was essentially, ‘Here is our new xD, how are we going to sell it?’ We reviewed the car, and we felt that the model was very aggressive-looking,” he says.

So, he says, “We developed the idea of the car being a little deviant, and from there, the characters of the Deviants.” Having a young target market – The Attik’s speciality – helped.

“We’re very familiar with our target audience,” says Needham, “where they hang out, what they do and what they see. So the marketing campaign was based around a young trendleader and what they tend to be doing.”

That demographic, notes Attik’s vice president of interactive media, Justin Smith, is “extremely cynical”. They are “connoisseurs of media” he says, with “extremely high expectations”.

This means the team gets to push the boundaries socially as well as creatively and technically. There is a line after all between creating an “immersive and addictive brand experience” and making a Web site that is offensive.

“It’s not upsetting too many people,” says Needham. “Our focus was not to make it too aggressive or violent. The whole principal was that ideas would be conveyed humorously and in the spirit of fun.

“For example, even the characters that have lost their heads are still alive chasing them. It’s a light-hearted cartoon, but with enough attitude.” He adds: “The feedback we’re getting from individuals in our target audience is largely very positive … they appreciate the creativity.”

The creativity is exceptional – it’s like playing a DVD. The line-drawn characters are reminiscent of horror comics, the sets almost chilling in their authenticity. The storyline leads you through seven chapters of a book, which flips open like the best Disney-style fairytale.

At each chapter there is a game. By the time you get to chapter six, Slaughter Park, you are slashing away with Ripper-like glee. Elsewhere on the site you get to design your own car in the Chop Shop, upload your own photos and populate them with Deviants, and get to know the Deviants better.

Enter the Deviants

There are nine of them: Womp, Olar, Chomp, Snar, Clob, Konk, Scralp, Irk and Slog. They all have their own endearing character traits. Snar for example slashes his victims with the scythes he has in place of his hands, while Clob squeezes his to death.

“The character development was really down to coming up with enough characters to keep it interesting,” says Needham.

“Nine meant we could develop a variety of different looks and feels which, of course, is all about Scion’s brand positioning of differentiation, personalization and customization.

“The Sheeple were exactly the opposite: every Sheeple looks the same, they move around in herds as sheep do, they don’t want to do anything interesting, their favourite colour is grey, and they’re really dull.

And the Deviants, basically, want to take back the cities, and create colour and change and variety. That’s the story behind the Deviants versus the Sheeple.

As we developed the idea, it just kept ballooning out, and more and more ideas came to mind.” With ideas come challenges. “Technically, the pop-up book was quite a challenge,” says Needham.

“Creatively, it was retaining our creative integrity with the idea, and not watering it down too much, so that it maintained its edge.” Interactive design director Chris Ro agrees the book was one of the biggest challenges.

“We developed Photoshop compositions of each chapter’s set, and we used these comps to create the storyboards in Illustrator,” says Ro. “Maya was used for modelling and animating the sets based on our comps, using textures created in Photoshop. Each set was individually modelled as its own scene and merged to the page upon which it was unfolding.

“The characters moving in the scene are really floating, or in some cases barely touching the ground. That’s because it wouldn’t be possible to keep the forced perspective of the page while retaining the proper angle of the character to the camera.

"When the camera is pulled back from the set and moved into position, it appears as if the scene is playing out on a solid stage.”

Character design

Between each scene, the page flip segues were modelled and skinned as separate animated sequences and composited later with After Effects, says Ro.

The design of the Deviants themselves reflects the “stout, aggressive” look of the Scion xD, Ro says. As usual, initial ideas were sketched out before being modelled in Maya from the original drawings. They were then painted in Zbrush and Photoshop, “with custom toon shaders developed in Maya”.

“Displacement maps were used to represent the look needed for the Sheeple’s fur and Slog’s warty body,” says Ro. “Custom rigs were made for all characters. Models could be swapped in for the early proxy rigs, speeding up production by allowing modellers, TDs, texture artists and animators to work in tandem.”

The cars, which appear regularly driving around the site, “were modelled from actual CAD data of the real production cars and were textured, lit and animated in Maya. Custom paint jobs were also applied from original comps in Photoshop.”

Shadows, lighting and particle effects were rendered in separate passes from Maya, then composited into whole chapters and retouched in After Effects. For the game sequences, Ro says individual character animations from Maya were processed in Photoshop and brought into Flash for integration into the games.

“Video post-production was done in After Effects,” he says. “The completed video chapters and sound assets were stitched together and made interactive in Flash.”

Knowing the games would be in Flash, says Ro, “meant animations were trimmed to keyframes which kept asset weight down.” This, he explains, “allowed for responsive motion in the games while retaining the same overall look and personality of the characters … We created blood splashes, punches, swipes, kicks and throws as PNG sequences, which we then skinned to our Flash game prototypes and integrated into the chapters.”

The result is stunning. And the client likes it too, says Needham. “When you go to the site it’s like you’re standing in the same world that’s portrayed in the cinema spot. So we’re very pleased.”

The action takes place in the city (above) which is populated by Sheeples. Deviants want to rid the city of the boring Sheeples.

Gameplay starts when a new chapter opens (top) throwing up a new scenario. The Scion xD is one of the Deviants a nippy, aggressive car suited to inner-city nighttime driving. Deviant Features (below) allows users to accessorize their car with Sheeple body parts a new take on ‘leather trim’.

Chopping it up to add value

“As a reward for finishing the narrative we wanted to give the user something to take away from the site while still pushing this theme of customization in a fun way,” says creative director Simon Needham.

“We go beyond normal car configurators with the Chop Shop, which allows users to go crazy with paint and graphic tools. This concept is expanded with Vacation Photos, which allows users to upload photos and customize them to their heart’s content.”


Project: Client: Scion
The Attik,
People: Simon Needham, Wayne Hanson, Justin Smith, Charlie Adams, Andy Giles Software: After Effects, Flash, Photoshop, Maya, Zbrush