The project took five months of planning, 11 days to film and a specially rigged SUV to conceal six puppeteers.
A crew of 100 people shot some scenes in Malibu, Pico Canyon, Stevenson Ranch, Playa del Rey and Universal City.
This wasn't for a movie or television episode, but a Muppet commercial for Toyota that will air during the Super Bowl on Sunday.
The 60-second "Joyride" advertisement — created by Saatchi & Saatchi LA for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. of Torrance — promotes the launch of the 2014 Toyota Highlander and the upcoming Disney movie "Muppets Most Wanted."
"We shot the whole thing in L.A.," said Jack Hollis, marketing vice president at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. "It's a huge, huge undertaking. When you are in the Super Bowl, you have to deliver more than a car ad — it has to be entertaining and tell a story."
As the Super Bowl grows in value, big flashy commercials — even ones with Muppets — have become more prevalent, a trend that has benefited Los Angeles, where most of the commercials are filmed. This year there will be 55 commercials in the big game.
Spending on the ad time by advertisers has increased more than 70% in the last 10 years, rising to a current average of $4 million for each 30-second spot. Some companies spend an additional $2 million on production costs, which can hike the total cost of a 60-second Super Bowl ad to nearly $10 million.
The increase reflects the unique and growing value of the Super Bowl to advertisers. More than 110 million people in the U.S. watched last year's football championship, with at least half of those people tuning in to see the commercials as much as for the action on the field.
"It's incredibly important to have these types of brand-name commercials here," said Matt Miller, president of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers, which has 223 members in the Los Angeles region. "It's not only employing a great deal of people, it drops a lot of money in the ecosystem. It also lends the scenery of Los Angeles to the biggest stage that media has today."
In addition to the year-round sunny weather, several factors make L.A. a key destination for shooting Super Bowl ads, including the proximity to the Hollywood pool of directors, actors, visual-effect shops and Web producers who can expand campaigns to social media.
The rise in advertising spending has been largely driven by the resurgence of the auto industry after the Great Recession. For last year's Super Bowl alone, auto companies spent $92 million for less than 12 minutes of airtime to pitch nine car brands, according to Kantar Media.
This year's numbers are expected to match or exceed that figure, with ads from major U.S. carmakers as well as VW, Audi, Hyundai, Kia and Toyota. The latter three each have their U.S. sales operations in Southern California, whose auto industry has helped to build the West Coast counterpart to Madison Ave.
The Super Bowl ads have been a bonanza for L.A.'s postproduction houses, ad agencies, producers, directors, animation companies and visual-effects shops, which are increasingly used to enhance commercials.
For example, German carmaker Audi's locally shot Super Bowl ad features a digital mash-up of Doberman pinscher and Chihuahua called "Doberhuahua," which terrorizes a neighborhood.
Super Bowl ads, most of which are filmed in the fourth quarter, contributed to a record level of commercial production in Los Angeles County last year.
Although L.A.'s commercial sector has lost business to rival states and countries in recent years, location filming for commercials was up 18% in 2013 compared with the category's five-year average, according to a recent report by FilmL.A. Inc.
The report cited rapid growth in Web-based ads and the fact that more producers are filming on location rather than on soundstages to save money. The Super Bowl is traditionally a big driver of commercial production in the fourth quarter.