Hi-Test Graphics and FX
Eight VFX Runs the Numbers to Depict BMW Efficiency
Is this a typical way of working for you – to combine a motion-graphics component with hardcore VFX?
Yes, we do that all the time. We did that for Capital One, where we designed their campaign and created full CG environments, like a space station, for “Galactic Empire.” We did an environment for a submarine when we re-created 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, with a CG squid attacking. At the same time, we created all the graphics.
Is there a separate graphics team and VFX team?
Everybody here does a little bit of everything. We love to take one project at a time, as much as we can, and have the whole team work on it. Everybody has the ability to do pure VFX work – there could be some clean-up work, some green-screen or tracking work – but at the same time I’m expecting everyone in the company to bring their artistic view into the mix. On this commercial, everybody had to put their creativity on the table.
What guidance did you have from the client, and what was that creative process like?
The agency had some references that they liked. They knew that we had to be in a CG space. They wanted the graphics to lead, in a very organic way, into the environment with the car, so everything had to be created in CG. And they asked us to be in a close relationship with BMW’s engineers, because they wanted all the information on the new features BMW wanted to showcase to be accurate. We put multiple typefaces into the environment. We took a shot of a BMW Series 5 car from last year and started putting type and graphics into that environment. We had a pretty lengthy back-and-forth with the director and the agency to find the right look.
Was there an effort to draw the inspiration for the graphics from the field of engineering and design?
Absolutely. We wanted to be very close to reality. For the Brake Energy Regeneration feature, we actually took the CAD file of the car’s wheel and pulled out of the 3D data all of the pieces related to that function. And those are all the elements you see coming out of the wheel. We tried to have all these arrows and other little things to show the energy going back into the car – to give the idea of the work actually getting done. And all the little numbers you see are actual numbers – how many kilowatts of energy are actually being sent back into the car. For the High-Precision Injection feature, we tried to show, through the hood, all the pieces of the injection system. All the numbers we see on the side are the actual numbers – the ratios of power you get there.
Was it hard to bring a CAD model into a VFX environment?
No, we usually do that. The only problem is that CAD models are extremely detailed. You get every piece of the car in there. So you have to take the CAD model and clean it up, thinking about what you’re actually going to use in VFX. You’re not going to see everything, and if they’re too detailed they’re not going to render properly in a 3D package like Maya. It’s not made to be re-done by a laser cutter in a factory, but it has to be rendered in a shader in 3D. We had to redefine a new shader to only show the outlines. That was some work, to find the right way of showing all these pieces without being too complicated to look at – to keep some kind of aesthetic and elegance to it. And some of the pieces we wanted to render photoreal, like when we had to modify the hood of the car or the exhaust pipe because it was not the correct model for the Chinese or European markets.
Now, you said you worked with some footage that was shot last year Ã¢Â€Â¦
That was for developing the look. We had some footage of design tests. Everything has to be animated, so it was really tough to go through a still-frame design process. It had to be seen in the shot, because we knew Joseph Kahn would have moving cameras. We really started digging into it when we got the footage from the shoot, because we knew exactly what the camera moves were. We could design the animation as well as the [graphic] elements, because they’re really linked together.
Are there any shots you created in CG with a CG car?
All the car footage is live action. Some parts of the car at some points are CG. There were some slight differences between the European and Chinese models – the moon roof, some little badges, some slight differences between models that we had to change.
And you did some sky replacement?
Every sky is replaced.
And the city in the last shot?
That’s a pure CG city.
And the bridge below the car in that same shot – is that real?
The bridge is real. It has been enhanced a little bit. It was kind of an old bridge, so we re-did the pavement and the side of the bridge to make it really nice. On the hills next to it there were some houses, and we replaced the hills to make a more pure environment. And then we created the CG environment.
What was the biggest challenge?
It’s really the design of everything. It’s elegant, really flawless. The animation, too, and all the great live action we got from Joseph Kahn, we had to create something that would flow from one thing to another, as well as to give all this technical information. We’re happy with what we got.
What platform was the compositing done in?
We used a bit of everything. We usually pre-composite the 3D in Nuke. We used a lot of After Effects to create graphics, and we have Flame systems.
Is there any other aspect to this that was especially challenging?
The tracking was really difficult. But it’s just something you need to do now. A lot of people in features and commercials want to shoot handheld, or with moving cameras, and they expect you to integrate, perfectly, CG into their live action. And sometimes it’s really tricky. In this spot we had zooms, pans, traveling shots, everything. When you have a zoom on a camera car moving around another car, there is no way to know what’s happening. We had to go through multiple processes. You track the car and try to define what your camera is, and then you have to track the environment and try to fix it and make it match the camera on the car. We knew at the beginning it would be challenging tracking work, but we were really happy that we pulled it off the way we did.
What was the software that helped you get it right?
We used [Pixel Farm] PFTrack and a lot of sweat! There were a lot of nights of taking every point and going frame by frame, matching it to the next frame. I’ve very proud of what our tracking department has done on this one. It seems simple: something’s going to fly around the car and look like it’s there [in the live-action shot]. But it has to be tracked perfectly, and it has to be lit perfectly, and the animation has to be flawless – and then it works. But it takes a lot of time.