LBB | Mill+ x Volvo: Proving Big Results Come from Small Beginnings

LBB’s Tará McKerr speaks to Mill+ about their work on the Volvo campaign, unveiling the creative intricacies
Press July 26, 2023
In June 2023, Volvo introduced the world to its fully electric SUV: the EX30. This groundbreaking vehicle represents Volvo’s unwavering dedication to sustainability, innovation, and conscious design. Teaming up with AKQA, Mill+, embarked on a remarkable campaign that defied expectations and pushed creative boundaries. Despite the challenge of launching without a road going car available to shoot, they ingeniously blended live-action scenes and CGI to create a captivating juxtaposition of big and small worlds, capturing the essence of the EX30’s future-facing direction for Volvo.
Beyond the innovative “unboxing” video, the campaign delved into the remarkable aspects of the EX30. Through a series of films, they highlighted the car’s sustainability, design, personalisation, and commitment to safety. Each film was a testament to Volvo’s holistic approach, and the artistry of The Mill, illustrating that the EX30’s excellence extended far beyond its compact size.
The campaign stands as a testament to the pioneering spirit of Mill+ and The Mill, whilst exemplifying Volvo’s commitment to a greener future. The team brought the car to life in a way that captured attention and imagination. With the charismatic presence of Volvo’s CEO and a focus on the car’s exceptional features, the campaign emphasised the message that small beginnings can lead to extraordinary outcomes. 
In this interview, Mill+ tells us exactly how they achieved this extraordinary outcome. 

LBB> What was the initial brief from Volvo and what did the full campaign consist of?

Mill+> To make a big noise, Volvo wanted an extensive campaign with big visuals to launch their not-so-big, big deal. From London to Lagos, Gothenburg to Georgetown, Dubai to Dubrovnik – everyone will see it. Thanks to AKQA’s brilliant creative thinking and visionary ideas, partnering with Mill+ was the perfect choice to bring it all to life for Volvo.

Consisting of a full suite of films and imagery for the three phases of the EX30 launch (tease, reveal and TVC), the massive scale of the launch required Mill+ to produce a vast campaign using every discipline in-house, from live action, VFX, design and colour.

Phase one of the campaign was ‘Tease’. A beautiful and tantalising film, supported with social and stills that gave just enough away to show that there was something very special coming. The tease creative had a tough job. Show the car, but don’t show the car. Allude to the campaign’s creative conceit of big/small, AND play it all out in a vast landscape world of materials. All while making sure it’s set inside a box just big enough to fit your new shoes! Easy peasy.

Phase two, ‘Reveal’, a triumphant keynote style presentation with a twist, was focused on a deeper dive into the car itself. It showcased its benefits, its details and the unique Volvo technology that went into it. The ‘Reveal’ used the classic style of an unboxing to incredible effect. The six-minute film, starring none other than the Volvo CEO, Jim Rowen, who plays himself in three different sizes, imaginatively delivers the message that small IS mighty.

The final piece to drop was the headline global TVC. A unique visual story of friends on a journey in the brand new EX30, which traverses in and out of the (BIG) real world and the (small) microscopic world, stunningly inspired to reflect the car’s design and materials.

LBB> With so many different elements to the campaign, where did you start?

Mill+> Like Mill+, it turned out that AKQA, a long-time partner with Volvo, also loves a challenge! Being such a large project, they had multiple offices and teams simultaneously working on creative. So, although it was one big launch, together, we set about producing three massive projects that overlapped in so many ways but with different creative briefs and outcomes.

After what seemed like microseconds after putting the phone down with AKQA, the ‘Teaser’ was in production. The mind-bending challenge of unlocking the physics of how to present big things in small spaces, and vice versa, got underway.

Then, after what seemed like another microsecond came the TVC live action production, and we found ourselves recceing a couple of mountain tops in Northern Spain looking for an epic actual-world location for the end scene that could mirror the incredible CGI landscapes that The Mill were conjuring up to be seen on the car’s journey in the micro world.

LBB> What was it like shooting the live-action scenes in Sweden and Spain?

Mill+> We headed off to Gothenburg after we were done in Spain – to see the actual EX30 for the first time. Only a handful of eyes in the world had been laid on this beauty so far. And, oh boy, what a car. Everyone’s first impression was, ‘Wow. This sucker is going to sell like hotcakes. Bravo Volvo.’

Shooting in Volvo’s own film studio, we set about three days of highly technical shooting focused on the actors’ performance and the car itself. Then, we hotfooted it back to our location in Spain with the actors, to dress and shoot our stunning mountain top. Luckily, the snow-covered mountain we saw on the recce had melted away to reveal sunshine and lush green as far as the eye could see. Phew.

Upon locking the edit a moment later, The Mill could finally start marrying the real and imagined together. Crafting, sculpting and building the CGI world around the live-action, developing concepts, and generating otherworldly scenes all born from the actual car’s design and textures.

LBB> Was there a balance that needed to be struck between photorealism and slick design and stylisation?

Mill+> In a microworld made of sustainable EX30 materials, the audience needed to see the small flecks as rocks and not question the surreal billowing road surface which
suddenly turns all tech and spits a feather out of the HK speaker.

We weren’t necessarily going for a completely photorealistic look, but a clean design that reflected the Volvo brand and pure aesthetics. Each frame is intended to live as a piece of design – graphic and bold. To get the visuals correct, the team used various new tools, including AI concepts along with traditional matte painting and design.

LBB> Additionally, could you share some details about the project featuring Volvo’s CEO in a creative “unboxing” video?

Mill+> We headed back to Sweden for this element of the campaign, this time a six-day shoot with Volvo’s very own CEO, Jim Rowen. This second project is an incredible send-up of the classic ‘unboxing’ video. Only this time, Jim and the car appear in three magical sizes, tiny, average and mega-sized – all a play on the car’s clever talent of being a small yet mighty power.

This film embodied a particular challenge; to be information packed and dialogue-heavy but also watchable, fun and entertaining. Oh, and to fit all that info and dialogue in, it’d need to be six-minutes long. Yikes. Six minutes is a lifetime in the commercial world but thanks to one extremely charismatic, un-camera shy CEO, some slick, lyrical copywriting and a highly enjoyable, visual wrapping, six minutes goes by in about 5 minutes 27 seconds, or thereabouts.

LBB> The campaign seems to epitomise that small beginnings can lead to big outcomes. What more can you tell us about amplifying this message via the campaign?

Mill+> Some of the technological and design features in the EX30 needed a bigger shout out to really reinforce this message. So we had four more films focusing on the very particular and unique features of Sustainability, Design, Personalisation and, of course, being Volvo, Safety. There were countless other assets – the social first bespoke films, the cut downs, the stills, the Insta carousels and so forth.


LBB> Could you tell us some more about these additional assets? How did the various teams at Mill+ collaborate to produce such an array of elements?

Mill+> With such great concepts and a broad range of incredible final images to draw from, the challenge was how not to produce even more assets. Aside from multiple cut downs, versions for social, and upscaled stills there were bespoke social infinite loops, Insta carousel visual stories that told a story over a number of swipes. With all our departments and disciplines working closely together, and crossing over on all elements of the project, the production of everything was very seamless.

LBB> Aside from handling this vast amount of elements, did you face any interesting challenges during production? How did you overcome them?

Mill+> Hands down, the biggest challenge was the timeline. From brief to delivery across two massive films, and many other smaller, or shall we say, less big, was about three and a half months.

LBB> Considering the car’s sustainable credentials, what did The Mill do to ensure the production process itself was sustainable?

Mill+> As far as auto ads go, this was pretty low impact. Using a CG car for all driving shots meant that no rubber ever hit a real road. Which also meant no moving cars and crews around the globe to drive that one special strip of tarmac, instead the EX30 drove a road in the microverse. Making the film content this way meant it cost less and used a fraction of the emissions.

LBB> How does this work typify what you’re currently doing at The Mill+?

Mill+> We don’t see this type of project as a ‘current’ way of working. For us, Mill+ has always approached projects this way. Joined up, shoot and post from front to back. Simple. But yes, this project is the perfect example of all channels working together to create larger than the sum of its parts.

LBB> And finally, what were your personal highlights from working on this campaign?

Mill+> They say making a film is like going into battle. Sometimes it actually feels like that. But on this one working with the great people at Volvo and AKQA meant that for once, it felt like we were all at least on the same side and battling a formidable foe and winning.

So there you go, Mill+, AKQA and Volvo proving that the greatest things grow out of something small with one BIG campaign that packs a mighty punch.


Read the Article from LBB here.