- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2009

The new BMW Z4 roadster is a brush that paints strokes of joy on the automotive landscape. Stay with me - there’s more to this story than a silly metaphor.

To market the all-new BMW Z4, the creative team decided that the sexy, fabulous Z we’ve come to know and love - the Z whose wide tracks hug the curves of windy roads - needed rejuvenation. The new BMW Z4 is even sexier and more fabulous, with a retractable hardtop, 255- and 300-horsepower engines and a body to die for.

But BMW wanted to show the world that to drive this machine is to experience pure automotive joy. So the carmaker asked: What if the Z4 were a paintbrush?

For a 30-minute “Expression of Joy” documentary that aired on Discovery, South African artist Robin Rhode choreographed the movement of a BMW Z4 - mounted with special paint dispensers behind the wheels - to create a football-field-size painting.

Filmmaker Jake Scott captured the action with 40 simultaneous camera angles, and behind the scenes were actor and photographer Dennis Hopper for Vanity Fair and composer Nico Muhly.

That’s a lot of work for an image campaign. I set out to learn whether the car measures up to the hype by going behind the scenes at BMW’s DesignworksUSA, the automaker’s global design consultancy in Newbury Park, Calif.

“We wanted it to look athletic, sporty and elegant, proportioned by a retractable hardtop. The interior needed to be strong and forward to keep the driver interested,” said Nadya Arnaout, interior designer for the Z4.

In short, she said, “the design is an expression of freedom and joy” that is tempered by a “cocooning” element that comes from the car’s position so low to the ground that it has to really “hold” the driver.

Scott Brewer, principal with GSD&M; Idea City in Austin, Texas, and the art director for the Z4 project, noted: “There was a truly visceral difference beyond driving a roadster and a BMW roadster. The fact that you are inches off the ground is an organic feeling. That was the challenge for us - to try and describe what it feels like.”

“The audience for BMW has traditionally been very art-heavy because BMW is a great patron of the arts,” Mr. Brewer said. “We wanted to get to the core and the playfulness that captured that side of all of us.”

So there’s the connection between car and canvas.

Historically, BMW has been involved in the art scene. For example, 35 years ago, a design created by American artist Alexander Calder was put on the BMW 3.0 CSL that ran in the 1975 24-hour Le Mans. It was the first of 16 BMW Art Cars with featured designs by famous artists including Frank Stella, Robert Rauchenberg, Andy Warhol and Olafur Eliasson.

It was a match when GSD&M; Idea City partnered with film director Mr. Scott in the summer of 2008. They soon started collaborating with the South African artist Robin Rhode.

Last November, the event was staged at Downey Studios in California, where they set up a 100-by-200-foot “canvas” made of chip board for housing construction that had been coated with a white paint.

The driver was the Mini stunt driver from the film “The Italian Job,” and the whole event was choreographed from a hydraulic fork lift. The set designer created a large remote control that artist Mr. Rhode used to shoot off different paint dispensers while the car was in motion.

Mr. Rhode wanted to have other people be able to experience that sensation. He created an iPhone application so users can customize their own car, drive it on the canvas and save it in their photo galleries.

Having seen the finished art project and driven the finished automotive product, I have to say the Z4 is inspirational. N I could just get the Expression of Joy App on my iPhone to work.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2009

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