Making of “Engine Off” with Nick Meek

Creative Director Mark Dickens and copywriter Joe Tanner of agency Dog Cat & Mouse came up with a strong visual concept to launch a new campaign by Idling Action London encouraging drivers to switch off when pulled over. “Engine Off Every Stop” shows the amount of pollution emitted by a car in just one minute of idling.”

“We knew it was a problem that drivers were not taking seriously enough. So, our idea was to make this invisible problem, visible.”
– Creative Director Mark Dickens

Working with director Nick Meek to decide on instantly relatable and logistically simple locations, they settled on a school for the video. A shop, a plumber and a residential street were added to make four still versions.


The Shoot

Shooting during lockdown, it was necessary to have the smallest crew possible, so Nick was directing and doing all camerawork himself, with Joe directing the talent. Recom Farmhouse CGI Director Christoph Bolten was on set to advise on what footage would be needed for the VFX to work smoothly, ensure there would be the right empty backplates, shoot HDR spheres and advise on the feasibility of the ideas for post-production.

Organisation was vital in these circumstances, our extensive preparation paid off and everything went very smoothly. With the backgrounds shot for four stills and the commercial, we started post-production.

Creating the balloon

The gases themselves are largely invisible, so to give visual impact to just how big the volume of pollution is in such a short amount of time, Nick wanted the inflating bag to be semi-transparent, to convey the volume and give an idea of the content. It should be as thin as possible, to show the billowing movements, and it should have seams, to feel as if it was a material construction.

Before starting work on the CGI, Recom Farmhouse studied reference of plastic film and how it moves and crinkles, how the shape of the bag would be, and how it would inflate, so that the balloon looked as believable as possible. A balloon couldn’t inflate for real in this way, so it’s vital for the idea to work that the viewer understands what’s happening – realism in the movement of the material was of paramount importance.

CGI artist Richard Jenkinson used Maya to simulate the movements of smoke as a starting point. With an initial idea of how the shape would be, he exported it from Maya into Zbrush, and split it up into separate panels.

Creating the reverse movement was an interesting challenge, as the balloon is sucked back into the exhaust – we pulled the simulated material through a hole for a realistic effect.

Once we were happy with the result, we brought it back into ZBrush to add extra detail for the four still images.​

A series of tests went back and forth between the teams, perfecting the inflating bags against backdrops, with materials and shape to suit each individual setting.

The agency used our first test renders to work on the type for each headline, and we worked on the final copy to integrate it both realistically and legibly onto the material of the bag itself.

The Campaign

The poster campaign is up in locations all over London – these were selected to be places where those where idling is common. It has also been received well on social media, ran in Youtube pre-roll, on radio, on petrol pumps and is extensively in use in education with an outreach program to schools.


See all the images on our site here


Agency: Dog Cat & Mouse

Creative Director: Mark Dickens

Copywriter: Joe Tanner

CGI Director: Christoph Bolten / Recom Farmhouse

CGI Artist: Richard Jenkinson / Recom Farmhouse

Post Artist (Stills) – Kate Brown / Recom Farmhouse

Assistant Retoucher: Chloe Dodds / Recom Farmhouse

Compositor: Felix Baesch / Recom Farmhouse

Colour Grading: Christoph Bolten / Recom Farmhouse

Editor: Andy Philips at The Chop House

Sound Design: Owen Griffiths

Location Management: Victoria Hutchings @ Mint

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