Hyundai is on the road to two millions cars in Australia. Overnight, Innocean had what was initially a digital and social-first brief transform into a major campaign, set to go live on the biggest sporting weekend of the year - and only three weeks to turn it around.
The agency loved the concept of being able to showcase Hyundai’s history by taking a literal drive down memory lane, but the team also knew there was no way they could collect enough TV-ready assets on time to create the captivating stop-motion time lapse effect it was after the old-fashioned way, Hannah Melanson, digital creative director at Innocean, told AdNews.
That’s when one of Innocean’s art directors, Ash Myburgh, shared an AI-generated reference that got the agency’s wheels turning, said Melanson.
“It wasn’t long before we discovered our copywriter on the job, Brodie Evans, was a not-so-secret AI experimenter in his spare time,” she said.
It didn’t take much convincing for creative director Dave Varney and Melanson (pictured right) to be curious enough to dive in.
“Luckily, our enthusiasm was instantly matched by the team at Heckler, who filled our inboxes with test stills of HyundAIs within an hour of our first conversation,” she said.
“From there, we were off and racing.”
In many ways, notes Melanson, the traditional creative process stayed the same - from landing the concept and crafting the scripts to refining the visual direction.
“When we got into production is where we entered unfamiliar territory - and where the wheels started to fall off,” she said.
“Ironically, a little bit like creatives, AI is only as good as its references. And, as it turns out, producing hundreds of specific brand and model-specific car photos as far back as the 1980’s from language prompts alone is an immense challenge in and of itself.”
Not to mention the amount of refining, re-prompting and retouching required for each individual frame, said Melanson.
“And that’s before you even start to consider how it all gets stitched together to create a sense of movement and visual interest that will translate well to television. All while taking an (admittedly brave) client along for the ride,” she said.
For the team, every day was an experiment, a pivot, a learning and ultimately, a triumph, said Melanson. It was a crash test in the importance of team collaboration, client trust and choosing the right production partner.
“We were so fortunate to have the talented, patient and steady-handed humans at Heckler and Heckler Sound join us at the wheel for this project. The entire process epitomised team spirit - including the addition of our new creative production team member, Midjourney,” said Melanson.
The creative agency never anticipated generating near perfect approximations of real cars using AI would be easy, but it may have slightly underestimated just how hard it would be, she said.
“And how much human craft would still be required. The sophistication and realism we’re already able to achieve using generative AI is beyond impressive, but it’s still a far cry from the real thing,” said Melanson.
Innocean set the expectation with Hyundai that it would be able to produce 90% accuracy with every individual model, which meant that from more than 4,000 images rendered overall, the agency was only able to use 400.
Melanson said these were painstakingly analysed frame by frame in the edit suite. And even then, virtually all of those selects had to have additional composition or retouching work done to them.
“Hundreds of hours worth, as it turns out,” she said.
“All of this was underpinned by working at an extreme pace, solving problems on the spot, and setting and resetting the client’s expectations of AI - as well as our own.”
The recent surge of AI has meant, like many creative and creators, the Innocean team has too been a little dubious about the capabilities and limitations of AI, said Melanson.
She feels that platforms like ChatGPT can be incredible sparring partners for copywriters, helping to pressure test different tones, streamlining structuring and formatting and finding tip-of-your-tongue synonyms.
“But when it comes to pure ideation or punchy lines, there’s no comparison to human creativity. Similarly, for our art directors and designers, using PS (Beta) and Generative Fill can be a great way to save time by extending or adding elements to images, but none of these tools are in the business of elevating the output autonomously. At least not yet,” said Melanson.
Put simply, she notes, the agency collectively treat AI-driven tools like new pseudo-members of its creative team.
“But that comes with an important caveat: they’re still learning. And, as creatives who have spent years honing our craft, technical ability and taste, it’s our job to provide the direction they need to unlock their full potential and deliver the best work (humanly) possible,” said Melanson.
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