In New Ad, Chair Floats To Space

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A new TV ad features an unassuming orange armchair making a trip to the edge of space. The video of the chair's ascent while tethered to a balloon has gone viral, popping up in e-mail inboxes around the world. Andy Amadeo, the director of the spot, discusses the ad.

ROBERT SMITH, host:

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith.

This is the year of the balloon spectacle; the animated movie "Up" with a house carried aloft by balloons´┐Ż

(Soundbite of movie, "Up")

Mr. ED ASNER (Actor): (as Carl Fredricksen) So long, boys. I'll send you a postcard from Paradise Falls.

SMITH: That drama in the skies over Colorado, the balloon boy who was not.

Unidentified Woman: A six-year-old boy, we are being told, is actually inside what is being called an experimental aircraft.

SMITH: And now this.

(Soundbite of commercial ad, Space Air Project)

SMITH: An orange armchair sits on a patch of a Nevada desert tethered to a large balloon. A bunch of little home video cameras are along for the ride. A team of filmmakers in white T-shirts release the balloon and that plain orange chair floats up on a trip to the edge of space. It's amazing. You can actually see the curvature of the Earth.

The whole thing was shot for a new commercial, promoting a series of Toshiba video cameras. The director of the Space Chair project is Andy Amadeo from the advertising firm Grey London. And he joins me from our studios in London.

Hello.

Mr. ANDY AMADEO (Director, Space Air Project): Hi there. How you doing?

SMITH: You know, I expect commercials to be fake. Did you really have to send the armchair into space or couldn't you just gin this up on a computer somewhere?

Mr. AMADEO: Because of the world we live in, you know, it's full of see CGI this, see CGI that, but for us, it was really important. It had to be real. It had to demonstrate how good the products were and that they could deliver.

SMITH: For people who haven't seen this ad, I mean, the images are really stunning, this average chair heading towards space, describe the different stages of this chair going up into the atmosphere.

Mr. AMADEO: Okay. So we shot it at dawn to get the early light and you get the kind of the haze. And then as you get higher, you begin to see the early stages of the curvature of Earth and you also note that the sky is starting to get a little bit darker above the horizon line. And then the last two shots are actually at the highest point, which is just shy of 100,000 feet, which I believe is about 20 miles up. And there, you're actually at the edge of space.

SMITH: Now, I've never seen anything like this ad before, but a lot of people on the Internet said that it did look kind of familiar to them and they specifically referenced a piece from the artist Simon Faithfull. I guess a few years ago, he sent up a chair, a blue chair, into space with a balloon in camera. Was he working with you?

Mr. AMADEO: Yes. He actually approached us. And as soon as we saw it, we knew that it fitted the bill in terms of the messaging for selling the (unintelligible) TVs. I mean, I just think it's quite funny that it's opened up this debate online when actually he was part of the team, really.

SMITH: You shot this in Nevada and I would imagine that the FAA and NASA are a little bit touchy about launching things into space, even if it is out at the desert. What did you have to do in order to make this happen?

Mr. AMADEO: Yeah. Although the desert seems remote, you are still in that civil airspace. And so, they have a weight restriction, which is four pounds. And that, in our case, had to include the chairs, rig and the balloon because, apparently, that is the weight that an airliner, engine or any jet engine can take without causing any damage or disruption. And what that meant was that the chair had to be made as light as possible.

And normally for a project like this, you would have some kind of video playback so that we could see the footage as the rig was rising. But because of the weight restrictions, we couldn't. So literally, we had to set the lens, set the up chair and let the rig go, and then had to wait for them to find the rigs, download the footage and then deliver it, which took, in the end, two days. And those were the two most agonizing days of my life, I think.

SMITH: Well, it's nice to know if you drop your camera from 20 miles high, you can still at least get some video from it.

Mr. AMADEO: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Andy Amadeo is the director of the Toshiba commercial Space Chair project. He's with the firm Grey London.

Thanks so much.

Mr. AMADEO: Thank you.

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