Buddy sells the Toyota Corolla
What's not to love? With the mouth, teeth and voice of South African comedian Chris Forrest, Buddy the Boxer sells the Toyota Corolla.

Andy Stead

He’s dog-ugly and cracks atrociously corny jokes, but few South Africans fail to smile when they catch a Toyota advert featuring Buddy, the hugely successful canine mascot of Automark.

The Buddy the Boxer campaign for Automark, Toyota’s used-vehicle brand, is another example of South Africa's creative ability to combine humour with special effects to create memorable advertising that appeals to a wide audience. The TV advertising is also supported by a print campaign.

The first Buddy ad premiered on TV on 25 March 2009, and the campaign proven its longevity in a number of different ads for Toyota products, with the latest launched in November 2010. The first commercial was for the Hilux and featured Buddy herding a flock of sheep. Two Buddy ads made the Millward Brown Adtrack Top 10 Most Liked list for 2009. Buddy’s speech and innovative animated human mouth and teeth were a instant hit.

The wise-cracking dog was originally developed by Draftfcb's group chief creative officer Brett Morris, Johannesburg executive creative director James Cloete and art director Ivor Forrester, with Rachael  Andreotti the designated agency producer and Boris Vossgatter of Bouffant Productions the production house producer.

“We have completed 11 television ads thus far,” says Andreotti. “These include Corolla-ball, Hilux-sheep, Fortuner-wild dog, Hilux-legend 40, Automark-tricks, Automark-web,  Corolla-sales assistance, AurisX-chi chi, Brand-Junior with puppydog eyes, Corolla-Blue Danube and Yaris Zen-Mr Miyagi.

“Buddy’s success in terms of objectives set out has far surpassed any of the team’s expectations – the public really love him. There is life in Buddy yet! We shot all the commercials on 35mm – apart from the last one, which was shot on HD – and have used Sinister Studio for the special effects with Tessa Ford as the editor. The audio was completed at Refinery.”

Watch the first Buddy ad:

The unusual aspect of the Buddy animation is the use of a human mouth and teeth and the dog’s wisecracking voice, all provided by local comedian Chris Forrest. “Chris's teeth were shot separately with a rig to hold his head in place,” says effects guru Christian van der Walt of Sinister Studio.

“We used the mouth footage as the foundation for a 3D mouth that suited Buddy¹s face shape. This was then projected and matched with the 3D and tracked onto the real dog’s face using PF Track. Because the dog’s head needed to rotate freely, we could not simply track on a 2D plane, as this would have flattened the mouth as it turned away from camera Within the process, our artists warped and manipulated the existing mouth, so that no plane sliding would occur.

“We were originally approached by Bouffant to do the effects for these commercials, and we have been involved in all the commercials in this campaign. We developed the look of the mouth on the dog together with the director Dean Blumberg and Boris Vossgatter during the pitching phase of the commercials. The concept was tested on Boris's dog, Mila – with hilarious results. We knew we had something special.

“We worked very hard to instil character into his performance. While most people only see the mouth, we were focusing on other elements that make him endearing such as eyes, cheeks, nose and ear twitches. All those elements were digitally enhanced or replaced, elevating his performance, making him seem more human. Most of the effects shots were made of multiple plates and often many different shots of Buddy.”

The human mouth has a far more dynamic range of movement and expression compared to a dog’s simple “open and close” motion; this added scope to the performance.

“Most people don't realise how much work goes into a project like this from a post point of view,” says Van der Walt. “Full credit goes to our team that worked on Buddy’s mouth – Sinister’s producer Henriette van der Walt, Novak Miller, Guy Schuleman and Ben van der Walt.”

Well-know local editor Tessa Ford started editing the commercials about three years ago. “The work came via Bouffant,” she says, “and was done against green screen so it involved a lot of layering. The lips go on as separate layers; it’s very different from a normal commercial edit.”

The public love buddy, and so does the client. “Having an icon in the making like Buddy allows us to cross over to the certified used vehicle portion of the business and to create synergies in the mind of the consumer,” says Len von Graevenitz, Automark’s vice president for vehicle sales and dealer network. “It provides a platform for instant recognition by the public of the fact that Automark vehicles are backed by Toyota and therefore, come with all the trustworthiness of a new car.”

National enthusiasm for Buddy means this campaign has long legs and will continue to run  for time to come. Proof again that good advertising not only sells product but also keep the public entertained.