5 Ads That Use Visual Effects to Tell Unforgettable Stories

More than mere flourishes or eye candy, visual effects have become an essential part of our moviegoing histories. The space battles in Star Wars. Bullet time in The Matrix. These weren’t just milestones for the industry; they were unforgettable moments in our lives. There’s a reason we call these effects special. Over the years and as the cost of pulling them off has lowered, we’ve seen a rapid increase in the amount of Hollywood-level visual effects cropping up in lower-budget productions — most obviously in commercials. Like their feature film counterparts, the effects in these commercials add more than just a wow factor — they are essential to the story. And they’re opening up entirely new avenues for genuine commercial filmmaking.

Here are 5 ads that use special effects in unforgettable ways.


This maximalist ode to fizzy-cola entertainment is, in a way, an ode to special effects. Car chases. Gunfire. Explosions. Cartoons. You name it, this ad has it all; and it is — in every way — a blast. It’s proof that no matter how much our tastes evolve, there will always be a place in our hearts for stunt doubles and fireballs. They even threw a Wilhelm scream in there.


It’s a bold move incorporating a well-known/well-loved CG character into an ad with miniscule resources (at least compared to a Hollywood tent pole like The Avengers). Renault went for it anyway, sending the viewer on a juggernaut joyride through Sao Paulo, as the one-and-only Hulk attempts to save the city from what appears to be some kind of falling space junk. It’s a lot to summarize in a sentence, let alone experience in an ad. The execution, though, is spot-on — thanks in large part to contributions by Framestore, who seem incapable of making anything less than spectacular.


It’s hard enough to get convincing performances from real people, let alone computer-generated animals. There’s no margin for error. Emotion lives and dies in the micro-expressions — things our faces do that we’re not even aware of, but animators have to re-create them purposefully and exactly if the performance is going to land. In this ad from John Lewis, the expressions are everything. The expressions are the story. Curiosity, friendship, playfulness, joy — they’re all here, animated in perfect facsimile on the faces of photorealistic woodland creatures and one very loveable dog. A testament to VFX’s ability to deliver not only the larger-than-life-ness of Hulk, but details so small and intimate, we only notice them when they’re wrong.


A few of the ads above use special effects to get us to care about animals. Which isn’t that hard, when you think about it. They’re animals. We love them to begin with. What’s really impressive is using special effects to get us to care about T-shirts. In this clever ad from IKEA, a flock of shirts braves a long-distance migration in order to find their way home to some apparently clothes-less person’s wardrobe. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But it doesn’t have to. This ad lives in the world of what it calls “The Wonderful Everyday.” Rules of whimsy apply. It’s a little gem of cleverness and a spectacular use of visual effects.


While the concept and story of this ad are extremely simple, the execution is off-the-charts difficult. Created by those wizards over at The Mill, the animators worked closely with an ornithologist to make sure the movements of their CG robin were biologically precise. In the end, they animated over 5,000 unique feathers for a single bird. Their attention to detail pays off. The ad is successful to the extent that you allow yourself to believe this bird is both real and in danger. Neither are a stretch of the imagination.