Zoetropes depict industrial evolution in expertly crafted Volkswagen ad

While the spot sometimes falls into cheesy car ad stereotypes, the incredible animation skills make it worth a closer look.

13 January 2021
Reading Time
1 minute read


Put aside the typically dramatic, emotive music and the ubiquitous model stepping into a shiny new car at the end, and you’ll see the incredible craft at the heart of this new Volkswagen advert. The Wheel by ad agency Johannes Leonardo, directed by Imperial Woodpecker’s Sam Brown, features no less than eight incredibly complex zoetropes, each physically built from scratch and each telling a segment of the story of transport evolution.

Using the mesmerising mechanical animation technique, the eight zoetropes also make use of various disciplines, from sculpture to hand-drawn illustration, photography, cel animation and 3D stop motion. Zoom out, and the ad subtly nods to the “stages of man” and uses the various disciplines to demonstrate progression and modernisation. There’s a feel to the whole film that’s reminiscent of the iconic Honda Rube Goldberg ad Cog, and while it lacks some of that intrigue and impact, the making expertise at the heart of this production is just as impressive.

Meanwhile, conceptually, the use of the zoetrope serves to remind us of the human skill at the heart of industrial engineering and how that is the forefront of culture now we fully enter the electric revolution (the ad is promoting its new electric SUV). It also holds a message of democratisation, and how progress cannot be made unless innovation is available to everyone – conveyed by the various depictions of transport in culture throughout history, and – in between the lines – the hand-made feel of the zoetropes themselves.

GalleryJohannes Leonardo/Sam Brown/Imperial Woodpecker: The Wheel (Copyright © Volkswagen, 2021)

Hero Header

Johannes Leonardo/Sam Brown/Imperial Woodpecker: The Wheel (Copyright © Volkswagen, 2021)

Share Article

About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny joined the editorial team as It’s Nice That’s first news editor in April 2016. Having studied 3D Design, she has spent over a decade working in design journalism. Contact her with news stories relating to the creative industries on jb@itsnicethat.com.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.