The making of the Toshiba Space Chair

With the creeping dawn of a new year comes both a new media campaign and ethos for the "leaders in innovation" Toshiba. Today sees the launch of the Space Chair advertisement in the UK - and soon in France and Germany - which will span TV, online and in-store media. We talked to the Toshiba UK marketing manager, Matt McDowell, to find out what a floating piece of £2500 furniture has to do with selling AV and computer hardware.

"We wanted to deliver new TVs and new laptops but not in a every day rational way, in a dry unique and innovative fashion instead", begins McDowell, addressing the initial mild online confusion over the footage the world has seen of an armchair seemingly floating with dramatic images of the Earth disappearing beneath it.

"We came up with the idea more than a year ago after the Time Sculpture campaign [video of a 360 matrix-type scene filmed with 200 cameras] and we were thinking how on Earth do we follow that?" The answer seems to be by not trying to follow it on Earth at all, and the footage of the balsa wood seat dragged up to the edge of space up and over the Black Rock Desert in Nevada by a Helium filled weather balloon is indeed absolutely staggering.

"We captured the footage at dawn because it's not just about the chair. We wanted it to look beautiful and amazing too. We wanted to capture the sunrise over the mountains and the hue of the colours. It also happened to be very hot during the day, so we wanted to get it done early. It was 100F by the the time the chair landed".

Like the Time Sculpture before it, the Space Chair breaks a record of its own, with eight HD cameras used to capture the film, it makes it the highest high-def advert ever shot. Starting at 8ft in diameter, the balloon lifted the armchair over 82 minutes to a height of 98,268ft (18.6 miles) by which time the low pressure meant the balloon had increased to 24ft before finally shattering like glass, which you see at the end of the ad, allowing the broken seat and cameras to fall back to Earth.

The biodegradable chair was only a model, as constructed by Artem at the hefty price. It meant that the entire apparatus could be kept below 4lbs in weight, after which the Toshiba team would have needed permission from the Federal Aviation Administration. The eight cameras were used to have as many different lens types as possible covering the one take action and were themselves apparently not chosen by Toshiba.

"The Cameras aren't consumer ones. They're not Camilieos or anything. You can't buy them. They're used for things like CCTV and they had to withstand -90C, survive the descent and impact back on Earth, but it was also really the quality they had as well.  It wasn't us that chose them. JP Aerospace specced and requested them and these were the ones they happened to ask for. They happened to be ours".

Although elements of the stunt were original, the Space Chair is in fact virtually identical to a work by UK artist Simon Faithfull, as commissioned by the Arts Catalyst in 2004, called Escape Vehicle No.6 - a film which was recently shown at the BFI Southbank. Thankfully, the original artist was involved in the project second time around.

"Simon was absolutely part of the team. We were obviously inspired by what he had done", answered McDowell when questioned about the 2004 recording, but how does a company which prides itself on innovation align its slogan with a project that is clearly a near copy of something done 5 years ago?

"We weren't saying that the innovation was sending the balloon up. No one had done it in HD before and not as an advert before. We didn't use a music sound track or any celebrity voices. That's the innovation. The fact that we created it as an advert".

Whatever the reasons and what it may stand for, the fact remains that it's some superb looking footage. The ad runs on TV from today during the ITN news for for 3 weeks this side of Christmas and then takes a break until February when it starts again as part of the whole campaign across TV, online and in-store. If you can't wait, and why should you, then you can see it below.

So then, exactly what does the Space Chair have to do with the serious business of selling consumer tech?

"The meaning is armchair viewing redesigned. Most people watch TV and consume content through their chairs. It's a visual metaphor taking something ordinary to the extraordinary", and it does. It also makes you wish you were watching the stunning scenery on a better TV - be that Toshiba's or anyone else's. And with two consecutive adverts and two consecutive records broken, how is Toshiba going to top it for next time?

"The next one will be a little different. We're going to build on what we've already done. What's important is that it reflects all the work we've done internally. We've harmonised our approach from two years ago when we were a company that was product led and sometimes externally we could look very different between say our TVs and our laptops. The most significant statements we want to make, though, are that we're investing in our brand and harmonising our approach".

Good signs for Toshiba, and with the Blu-ray nightmare finally put to rest this year, perhaps now truly, the only way is up.

 



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