Non-existent Porsche Goes Viral

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking

Porsche Shooting Brake Is a Fake
by Richard S. Chang
wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/
August 13, 2009

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Last month, a mysterious Porsche shooting brake appeared on the Web. It arrived courtesy of a camera phone video, which showed what looked to be a test mule, clad in black primer, parked on the sidewalk of what looked to be an industrial area - of Germany?

Autoblog wrote:

Looking something like the product of a one-night-stand between said Porsche and either a Volvo C30 or an original BMW Z3-based M Coupe, the supposed mule is wearing all black, but apart from that, it appears to be undisguised. Of course, this could be a one-off made by someone with no official connection to Porsche (Rinspeed, anyone?), but then again, it could be a harbinger of a model to come.

The news spread like wildfire, reaching other enthusiast sites. Some were excited by the prospects of a Porsche wagon. Others were skeptical. "It also strikes us as odd that the only evidence comes in the form of an ultra-short video (the kids are doing crazy things with their computer machines these days)," wrote Jordan Brown of CarandDriver.com. "But if this is indeed Porsche's doing, you can bet more sightings will follow."

More sightings did appear. The first resembled a screen shot taken from the upcoming Forza 3 video game for the Xbox 360. The other image seemed to show the Porsche in the middle of a photo shoot, possibly for the Frankfurt auto show in September.

But there will be no debut at the show, just as there is no car. The Porsche shooting brake is a hoax - a parting gag gift created by TopGear.com America, which let go of its editorial team this week. According to Devin Johnson, a BBC spokesman, TopGear.com has migrated to BBCAmerica.com, and the company "is continuing to explore opportunities for a U.S. version." The viral scheme was overseen by the site's former editor, Jared Holstein, and was executed by summer interns.

The fake Porsche was designed by Matt DuVall, a digital arts student at Savannah College of Art and Design, using Maya, a 3D animation program. He pulled a 3D rendering of a Porsche Cayman off the Internet and modified it into a small two-door wagon, called a shooting brake.

"It's definitely a polarizing design," Mr. Holstein said. "Some people love it, some hate it, but we wanted it to feature enough cues from the Panamera's design vocabulary to pass as a potential Porsche product. So we did spend a good bit of time on that part." The Panamera is the new Porsche four-door.

Mr. Holstein said they were also fastidious with the details, applying Porsche development wheels, black tape on the front headlights and a front bumper that mimics other Porsche mule photos. Even the license plate number was selected to resemble proper Porsche development plates.

Eventually, the fake shooting brake was rendered in HD and then downgraded in size and quality to appear as if it were shot with a camera phone and output in FinalCut Pro. The video clip was shot in an alley in Brooklyn. An Italian soundtrack was added to give things a European twist. "Matt shot HDR to get the reflections right on the car, which meant shooting 360-degrees with a still camera with a fish-eye lens mounted and stitching it all together in Photoshop," Mr. Holstein said.

Once the video was created, TopGear.com America planted the video, and that responsibility fell to another summer intern, Jon Masters, a master's student in media studies at the New School in New York City. He placed links to the video in Porsche enthusiast sites, alerted sites like Autoblog and Jalopnik and inserted a fake screen shot from Forza 3 into the requisite fan forums. "It was originally posted on a Czech Forza fan site - in Czech to add a layer of deception and plausibility," Mr. Holstein said. Christopher Gifford, an editorial assistant for BBC America, provided opinion on how well the strategies would work, and also pointed other Web sites to the images.

But why did they do it? "It's never been done before," Mr. Holstein said. "We love wagons. And we wanted to see what we could accomplish with a high degree of sophistication, but with only a conservative effort."

Mr. Holstein also said that the project highlights a larger, evolving dynamic of the media environment. "Particularly the increasing - and often frightening - convergence of reality and simulation, especially the unlimited potential for its use/abuse in a hyper-mediated culture," Mr. Masters added. "Is virtual reality an effective test bed for future design concepts, especially when married with the capabilities of future gaming software?"

While TopGear.com America didn't fool everybody, it did fool some, and it did generate discussion. And for those who looked very carefully, there was a small clue in the video to hint at who was behind the hoax.

"There was also a little Easter egg that no one picked up on. There is a Stig helmet partially visible in the rear hatch at about the nine-second mark. Perhaps too hidden," Mr. Holstein said, referring to the helmet worn by a character on the show.