Built to survive a car crash, 'Graham' leaves Darwin in the dust

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Clemenger BBDO makes a man who can survive an auto accident but can't turn his head

The human body is made to move. We run and grab and play and dance better than anything else in the animal kingdom. And at normal human speeds, people are pretty resilient — crash into a tree while sprinting and it’ll hurt, but it probably won’t kill.

Technology has left Darwin behind, though. Cars are much faster than people, but that enhanced mobility creates vulnerability. According to the World Health Organization, 1.25 million people were killed in traffic accidents in 2013.

Now a new road safety campaign for the Transport Accident Commission of Victoria from Australian agency Clemenger BBDO is reimagining human evolution to convey the frailty of a body in motion—blending art, physiology and a circus freak show.

"The slo-mo, shock tactic type of advertisement has run its race," said Stephen de Wolf, creative director at Clemenger BBDO in Melbourne, referring to the ubiquitous traffic safety spots that show cars and bodies colliding in exquisite detail. "The public just doesn’t react to that type of work anymore."

Instead, the creative team at Clemenger attacked the problem from the other direction. Rather than focus on speeding drivers, they decided to fix the human body, creating "Graham," a life-sized mock-up of an evolutionarily-advanced human capable of surviving a low-speed car crash.

Graham is what people might look like if the human race had a few million years to adapt to survive the perils of modern transportation. His skull is enlarged and has built-in "crumple zones" to protect the brain. His face is recessed, and he has no nose to break against the steering wheel. His neck is gone, replaced by an elongated rib cage that supports the spinal cord and prevents whiplash. "Head mobility is greatly reduced and his knees also move laterally, which may mean he’s a little wobbly," de Wolf said.  

"The task was to get Australians to reconsider their own vulnerability on the roads, which is a curly one," he added. "We had to take into account all road users -- drivers, passengers and pedestrians, so really the only way to deliver all the information required was to focus on the human body and its fallibilities."

To create Graham, Clemenger enlisted the help of crash investigator David Logan, trauma surgeon Christian Kenfield, and sculptor Patricia Piccinini.

"It was so important that people could connect with him, that he needed humanity," de Wolf said. "He had to be as real as possible, and while he looks great in print and online, seeing him in the flesh, so to speak, is something else entirely." Keeping the project relatable also led Clemenger to the name, de Wolf added. "Everyone knows someone called Graham."

Curious Melburnians can see Graham in person at the State Library of Victoria, but everyone else can view his biological adaptations online. The "Meet Graham" site is the first in Australia to use the augmented reality capabilities of Google Tango, which allows users to peer beneath Graham’s skin and view his enhancements from the inside.

Opinions differ on the view from the outside. "He’s a polarizing character!" de Wolf said. "Personally, we think he’s beautiful."


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