Keeping it cool in Bondi: creating the world’s biggest esky

10 December, 2013 by Rodney Appleyard

Featuring 33 giant cans of Jim Beam, floating gently in the water at the 50-metre long outdoor swimming pool, the Barrel to Bondi TVC tells the story of how the bourbon and coke is created with care in Kentucky, U.S.A, before being flown over to Australia – the perfect place to keep it chilled.

The concept was originated by the Works, a Sydney based advertising agency, but Will Colhoun's team from Big Kahuna Imagineering (Colhoun is the managing director of the company) was responsible for converting the pool into an enormous cooler.


His team faced a number of tricky scenarios when they were tasked with the job of moving these 12 foot high cans into the pool and devising a customised system to ensure they remained safely in the water. They only had a window of 12 hours to install the cans, 15 hours for the film crew to record the footage (while a client party was in full swing) and then just nine hours to uninstall the equipment.

"Keeping the cans buoyant in the water took a lot of planning, to make sure they could cope with the conditions," recalls Colhoun. "The cans were semi-floated in the water, individually placed at a kilter and were all linked together via steel arms.

"However, they were designed to be resilient and have some come and go, which allowed them to move freely and accommodate the power of the waves. This meant that if one can was dislodged, the others would be held in place. Basically, the whole construction could flex and bow on a can-for-can basis, while being affixed to a supple, yet secure carpet grid."

The cylinders were created out of polycarbonate sheets and were kept airtight to allow them to float. Using CAD modelling, 500 individual ice cubes were also heat welded together in PVC and covered in frosty white paint, to construct a raft that was buoyed in the water to surround the cans (2,000 other fake cubes were gang-moulded and also placed into the pool).

The esky itself was made with hinged waste-gates on the seaward side of the pool, to absorb the power of a big wave hitting the whole structure, should it make its presence known.

Additionally, a 15x18m floating board, featuring Jim Beam branded graphics, was built just outside of the esky to soak up the shocks of the sea hitting the giant cooler.

During the 12 hours of construction, each of the cans had to be trucked in before being carried by hand down a goat track, over two balconies and into the pool floor, to sit on top of its customised base. Over 20 deliveries and 20 dispatches were made in total, using 6-tonne trucks, to get the equipment in place on time. The process involved over 120 legs and arms racing up and down the goat track at night, from the road to the ocean pool floor.

"When we got to the pool, it was also a race against the tides," recalls Colhoun. "To facilitate the shot required by the client and the agency, we needed to have everything in place for when the helicopter arrived for filming, while also taking into account the cafe opening hours and the local residences' sleep disturbances. But our attitude was – never say die!"

One of the biggest challenges for Big Kahuna Imagineering involved making the esky match the scale of the pool, while still ensuring it could work practically and look right.

"What nearly dropped me on my confident backside was the process of trying to colour match the weird translucence of the white ink on an aluminium substrate," says Colhourn. "However, in the wee hours of the morning, under the solely fluorescent light source of the old dog Pavilion at Fox, when I saw strangely alien coloured cans through my very own tired eyes, I panicked.

"The giant silos looked downright green. So by 9am, I had 200 litres of gloss white two-pack paint in a courier speeding towards our studios, to make amends. But by 9.30am and in the light of the full sun, the green was gone in place of the perfect pearlescent paint effect we had been aiming for."

Despite the unorthodox challenges involved in creating this enormous practical effect in just five weeks, Colhoun loved every minute of the project, stating he thrives on being pushed to his limits to build memorable constructions. As a result, Big Kahuna's work has provided visitors to Bondi with a unique opportunity to witness a once in a life-time artistic masterpiece.

View the commercial below: 

This article first appeared in IF issue #154.