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Ingolstadt certainly wowed the crowds at the New York Auto Show with the unveiling of the RSQ. Concepts often show the future of the automobile, but seldom do they show a glimpse so far into the future. This summer, Audi’s new RSQ concept will star alongside Will Smith and Bridget Monahan in the movie “I, Robot”.
The film, an adaptation of a story by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, takes place in the year 2035. The RSQ, a futuristic car with spherical wheels and other futuristic design elements that bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1937 Auto Union Streamliner, will be the car of choice for Will Smith’s character in the movie.
Audis in movies are not entirely a new concept. Who doesn’t remember the S8 hammering through the streets of France in “Ronin” or Agent Smith rolling up in an Audi A8 in the opening scene of “The Matrix: Reloaded”? However, designing a whole new concept from the ground up, much less one that is supposedly from 31 years in the future, is quite a different undertaking.
Much of the story behind the RSQ comes down to two individuals; Martin Ertl (Audi Head of Design Management) and Tim Miksche (Audi Product Placement). We sat down with both men while in New York at the car’s unveiling to learn the story behind the RSQ and even more about Audis in television and the movies.
Fourtitude – First, can you tell us a little about yourselves. What were your roles with the RSQ?
Tim Miksche – Martin is responsible for all design affairs and I am head of the entire placement project.
Fourtitude – Let’s start from the beginning. How does this all begin? Do you approach a movie company, or do they approach you?
Tim Miksche – We’ve worked with agencies in Hollywood for years and in the case of “I Robot”, the director Alex Proyas is an Audi driver himself. He was fascinated by some of the show cars we showed in 2003. He had the idea to ask Audi whether they wanted to be present in the movie “I Robot” and develop a hero car for the main character. That was nearly 12 months ago.
Martin and I flew over to the production office in Vancouver and got together with the producers and the set designers. They introduced us into the world of the year 2035 because obviously this is a futuristic movie.
They explained to us what the cornerstones of that world are, and explained what they were looking for in a car and what requirements the car needed to fulfill. Then we adjourned until the next day and thought about how we could make that work into an Audi, what an Audi would look like that would fit into that world.
Twenty four hours later we flew back to Germany and had a thrilling project in hand, but a lot of work to do.
Fourtitude – At that point, we’d guess the design work begins. Obviously some current cues such as the new “shield grille” were included, but where do you start when designing a car for 2035?
Martin Ertl – Well at that time, we were thinking of different layouts for mid-engine sports cars. One of the results for instance is the Le Mans concept that we showed at the Frankfurt Motor Show, but then on the other hand we had different ideas and different methods that we wanted to use. Therefore, it wasn’t like from one moment to another we had to think of “Why not do a mid-engine sports car?”
So we were already in the process of making up our minds in regards to what different characteristics we could display. We came up with the basic design, just ike Tim said, within twenty four hours using principal sketches of what it might look like in order to convince the production company.
Then we went on and really put a lot of effort in making those sketches precise and precisely communicating the message that we wanted to contain in there, like really a possible vision of 2035 and still have linkage to present design language.
Fourtitude – This car, at least dimensionally, resembles very strongly the Le Mans quattro concept that you showed in Frankfurt. Did you begin by using a similar body structure?
Martin Ertl – It is a similar technical layout. We thought that building a car for 2035, or at least a very advanced car is one story. But then on the other hand, our claim is to always have sports cars, sedans and limousines the way Audi is doing cars; useable and drivable.
Having an exotic car is one thing, but to really be able to control it and to drive it. If you hand it over to well known actors, you really want to make sure that everything is just at the place where it has to be, well done and well made.
Fourtitude – We noticed the covered wheels and the open-top steering wheel. What sort of details are in this car that might be different from something people might see today in one of your current vehicles.
Tim Miksche – Actually, we didn’t put too much emphasis on new technical innovations or details. The main idea was to display new design. Having said that, we did incorporate the spherical wheel principal that the director wanted, but not in a way that we just attached them to the car. We really integrated them into the shape in a way that is very harmonic and is just like it is milled out of one piece.
Martin Ertl – The second thing is the door opening system. That was also something that we wanted to have. It’s not like anything that is usual on the street today. There are suicide doors, there are wing doors, but the combination of it is something that has not been done yet so far.
Fourtitude – Audi released some drawings of the car several months ago to go along with the announcement of its involvement in the movie. Later, some photos began to surface on the internet that were not this car, but clearly on set. Were other Audis used as well in the movie?
Tim Miksche – It was funny, because there was a lot of commotion about the fact that everybody thought they had seen the car. However, they didn’t. These other vehicles are cars that we gave to production for them to create the general traffic around the hero car. Here other manufacturers’ vehicles were also used to come to a realistic diversity of models.
So anything you see apart from the hero car that resembles an Audi were cars that production changed according to their ideas of the future, which is one of the reasons that you won’t find them branded. These cars are not specifically Audi cars, but part of the traffic surroundings.
Fourtitude – Except for the hero car right? It’s got the four-ring logo.
Tim Miksche – It’s actually the only car that was branded, to make sure that we can show people what’s important to us.
And another idea of course was not to push it, not to really start boring people with it. We wanted a presence, but a subtle presence. It’s not credible that in the year 2035 all the world and all the Police departments are driving Audis. So, it has to have a subtle presence, but very distinctive.
Fourtitude – So regarding the other Audis in the movie, Audi was not involved in the design of those cars. Correct?
Martin Ertl – We were shown designs, but we specifically said that we did not want to be connected to the design of those cars. The production company came up with general traffic. We were fine with that. That’s why we supplied the cars, but we wouldn’t want to actively communicate that association. It’s not of much interest to us.
Fourtitude – I assume the criteria of what a car might look like from that period. Did they use any of your designs in figuring out their own, or was it more independent?
Martin Ertl – Well, at the very beginning, they came up with their own ideas, and did cars that looked quite similar to the Lexus model that you saw in “Minority Report”. Later, they got into discussions internally and decided that they didn’t want to have this 200-years-ahead look where cars are flying or whatever. Therefore they came back to some more down-to-earth designs. When they showed us their first ideas on how they wanted to convert the Audi models, we said , “of course we’re happy to help you with that, but please understand that the designs are really radical and not really the way we would do it.” So in the end, we said “do it, but just don’t badge it as an Audi.”
Fourtitude – Is the process of building a car like this just like building one of your other concept cars?
Tim Miksche – In a much quicker time.
Martin Ertl – Basically, yes.
Fourtitude – What were the differences? For instance, how long did it take to bring the Audi RSQ from idea to reality versus the Le Mans quattro?
Martin Ertl – Well the Le Mans quattro had an overall development time of around six or seven months, then three months of building of the model and finally the premier in Frankfurt.
With this car, basically the process is the same. You come up with sketches. You go to the CAD system and put all of your ideas into it. Then you check the technical necessities. Does it work? Doesn’t it work? Do you have some intrusions? Restrictions like that.
When everything works out, you start coming up with models; 1/4 scale then 1/1 scale. Those models are being used as a first physical pattern, and you refine it.
If you are looking for timing, the Le Mans quattro took ten months. The time we had from the meeting in Vancouver to when we had to deliver the car was ten weeks. So there was a little more pressure.
Fourtitude – We noticed in the film they showed today (during Audi’s New York Auto Show press conference) that it appears some stunts were performed with the car. Was that done through computer, or were other copies of the car available for stunts?
Tim Miksche – We don’t want to talk about how they actually pulled it off in the filming, but we did deliver three models. One is drivable, and that’s the one you see on display now. There was one additional one that was not drivable, but was used for pulling in scenes and stunts. And then there was a third one, which is an interior model. It was focused very much on how you can get a camera into the inside of the car and at which angle you can provide a camera slot so that when the actors are inside the car acting and communicating you can get a full view.
Fourtitude – Without going into details on how they pulled off the stunts, do all those models still exist?
Tim Miksche – Yes they do. They are not all in the same state that we delivered them, but they all still exist.
Fourtitude – So you mentioned this car drivable? Can that really be true?
Tim Miksche – It’s drivable for the purpose of filmmaking. So it’s functional.
Fourtitude – Can you go into the spheres a little bit? Can you tell us how the science fiction idea behind the spherical wheel design is supposed to work?
Tim Miksche – The reason why the filmmakers proposed it like that to us was because it is an integral part of the story line. Alex Proyas wanted an evolutionary future rather than a revolutionary future. Cars will still be there and driving. It will have to be on a street, but there will have to be some type of evolutionary step to the way that we drive today. So instead of driving on wheels, you drive on spheres.
The benefit of that is that you have a completely different rotational possibility with the cars. If you wanted to parallel park a car like that, you could just move in sideways. Instead of standing on one spot, you could spin it 360-degrees without the car moving. If you take that one step further in your mind, you would find that you could drive a car at speeds up to 250 miles per hour in the future and still spin it 360-degrees at the same time. So you would be going two-directional. You spin the car around on its own axis, but you would be going 250-mph at the same time. That is something that when you see the movie, you should watch for to see how that works out.
Fourtitude – So it’s safe to assume that there will be scenes where this feature has been exhibited?
Tim Miksche – That is the reason why this concept was integrated in the cars, because it was integrated into the story line.
Martin Ertl – Otherwise you lose credibility, because with a traditional rim and tire system it wouldn’t work.
Fourtitude – Is this a concept from the ground up? We know that with the Le Mans you started at least with the Lamborghini Gallardo component set. The dimensions look similar. Can the same be assumed regarding the RSQ?
Martin Ertl – We were already in the process of developing ideas on what a mid-engine sports car might look like. So it wasn’t really all from scratch. We’d already made up our mind of what an advanced or very advanced version might be, what would be very aggressive and what might be out of line.
We had a high degree of freedom with this project as we didn’t have to take into account any street regulations, crash norms or other usual restrictions. But then on the other hand, you still have to stay with the brand, with the brand values, with the brand claims and of course with the design language. To find this bridge between the future and present was the hard part for us. We had to be grounded in a certain way, but then had to lift off mentally.
Tim Miksche – That’s true for the design as well as it is for the vision. Do we want the character Del Spooner to be driving an Audi? Actually, that was a very strong point that the production company had in the storyline of the film, which convinced us that it would be the right kind of association. The character Del Spooner that is driving the car is actually unique to the future society in the film. He is the only one that believes that a robot could have commited this murder/suicide that occurs in the movie. According to everyone else in the movie, there are three laws of robotics and due to the common laws that robots have been built under, no one believes that a robot could have done it. Then there is Del Spooner who says, “but what if they did?” Going one step beyond puts him on the forefront of thinking, and being at the forefront associates him with the Audi brand.
Audi sees itself as a progressive brand at the forefront, never following but actually defining what things are and which questions to ask and how to push forward, and so he is really the perfect association between the world and Audi.
Fourtitude – So is that a consideration when you place product in a movie. Does the character have to show the characteristics of an Audi owner?
Tim Miksche – That’s very important to us. We don’t do product placement where you just do this and do that and do this. We pay close attention to the storyline and to the living environment of the character. Does that living environment somehow relate to what we want to promote in terms of the Audi brand.
We look at the personality too. Is he someone we want to see as an ambassador promoting the Audi brand? In this case everything fits, and then on top of that you have a superstar playing that role, which of course makes it attractive too.
Fourtitude – Were you involved in just the “I Robot” project, or are you involved with Audi placement in general?
Tim Miksche – Yes, I am involved in all feature film activities where you find an Audi, .
Fourtitude – How many projects do you have going in a given year for movies, TV or whatever else you do?
Tim Miksche – We have about eight to ten television shows on big networks going on in the US. In Germany there are about twenty shows a year that we support. In the movie business, we probably give cars to productions numbering again another ten. However, the size of this placement with all the activities involved, the campaign that goes behind it and all the effort that goes into building the car and making it work, you could pull it off once a year at the very most.
Fourtitude – We won’t ask you about all of the future projects that may not have been announced yet, but can you tell us some of the recent movies or television shows that you’ve been involved in?
Tim Miksche – Well, there was the Hugh Grant movie “About a Boy”, which featured a TT in 2002. Then there was another with Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde 2” with a TT Roadster, which received very positive feedback in the States. On TV, we’re working on something with “Nip Tuck”. So in the next season of “Nip Tuck”, which starts in June, there will be an Audi A8 featured with one of the doctors. He’ll be driving it and it will be integrated into the storyline quite substantially. We’re excited about that. It’s a hot show and a hot car.
Fourtitude – How do you determine which cars you place? For instance, you had two different TTs in those movies, and the A8 in “Nip Tuck”.
Tim Miksche – It’s a similar story to the situation that we talked about with Del Spooner. Which type of character is it that will be driving the car? And, how well does the driver fit the target group we want to promote.
With the TT and Hugh Grant in “About a Boy”, he is a very sort of lifestylish type of guy. He fits perfectly with the kind of image that we are trying to promote with the TT. Then again, someone more senior like Michael Douglas might be an option. We had Richard Gere in “The Mothman Prophecies” drive an A8. It’s someone who’s a bit older, a bit more subtle, but still sporty, still dynamic and still cool people.
Fourtitude – Amongst your enthusiasts, there are some that are better known or more talked about that I’d like to ask you about. First, there is “Ronin”. That’s probably one of the best known, and most talked about.
Tim Miksche – We really enjoyed that project, and everyone at Audi still remembers it. It’s funny. There are some movies that everyone talks about in regards to car association. There’s James Bond, although the amount of car involvement isn’t always that great. It’s not really that much car, but everybody talks about it.
And then the one in the Audi world is “Ronin”. Everyone still talks about it and still freaks out about the Audi placement.
A similar one is “Mission Impossible 2” where Tom Cruise’s female counterpart is driving a TT Roadster. There’s the chase scene where she’s driving a TT Roadster and he is in a Boxster. That was actually filmed before the car was available anywhere, even before it was available in the German market and it was already on film.
Fourtitude – The other one I’ll ask you about, because there are a lot of theories out there, is the Matrix. We all heard about the large investment by Cadillac for the second movie, yet there’s an A8 in the opening scene and Audi shows up again in a parking garage in the third movie.
Tim Miksche – The Matrix was shot in Australia, and the production company has friendly ties Audi of Australia. So when they came to Australia to shoot, they asked us whether we could support the shoot just by giving them some cars for show purposes and things. We didn’t necessarily pay too much attention to the fact that we would be in the movie, though it was nice to have. It’s nice to have relationships where we say, “we’ll support you,” and they say, “you’ve given us a hand, why don’t we just put you in the movie too?”
Fourtitude – When you hear reference to the price paid by Cadillac especially to be in the second movie, it must have been fairly satisfying to have an A8 make a showing, even a very short showing, in the opening scene.
Tim Miksche – We generally don’t talk about competition, but it does seem like we got a better price.
Fourtitude – Given the stars that have had exposure to your product during these projects, do you get cases where you get converts to the brand?
Tim Miksche – It’s funny actually. Not only stars, but production crew have taken interest. In the case of “I Robot” we had two or three people from the crew say they liked the cars and inquired on purchasing one.
So it does bring interest to the brand. The funny thing about Audi, the brand is not known well enough for how well it performs in the market. Though once you’ve been in it and once you drive it, it’s usually the same experience. People get exposed to the car and they’re overwhelmed.
With “Nip Tuck”, they were preparing for shooting the second season, sitting in the A8 and driving it. They’ve had it for almost two weeks now, and we hear everyone is fighting over the A8, wondering when they’ll have a chance to take it home.
Fourtitude – That must be a nice compliment then, for you both as designers and marketers of the cars.
Tim Miksche – That’s almost the best compliment you can get. You figure those people are exposed to all kinds of cars, very fast, very luxurious. They can have anything, and if they still choose to come back and be intrigued by your car and inquire how to get it, that’s a nice compliment for us and a confirmation for me that we’re on the right direction.
Fourtitude – Gentlemen, we appreciate your time. Thank-you.
Tim Miksche – Product Placement, Audi AG
Martin Ertl – Head of Design Management, Audi AG
Date: April 7, 2004
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