Toyota C-HR: “Cinderella” | “Gingerbread Man” | “Trojan Horse”

Toyota C-HR: “Cinderella”

Toyota C-HR: “Gingerbread Man”

Toyota C-HR: “Trojan Horse”

ROLE: Senior Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
AGENCY: Saatchi & Saatchi
DIRECTOR: Noam Murro

Here’s an odd trio of high-concept spots for Toyota, all loosely based on fairy tales and historical fantasy – Cinderella, the Gingerbread Man, and the Trojan Horse. Although, I think that last one is more history than fantasy, depending on your point of view.

Each is very stylish and beautifully shot, even if the metaphorical conceit sometimes gets lost in the presentation. “Cinderella” and “Gingerbread Man” were fairly straightforward, in terms of workload. Lost of clean-up, alteration and adding of signage, and of course, car beauty. Cindy also required some digital hair dye to make her more prominent.

“Trojan Horse” required a CG Trojan Horse, and some minor beauty and cleanup. The wonderfully weird animation was outsourced to Made by Radio.

Curiously, all three spots somehow got spun into 150 deliverables, none of the them being socials.

Toyota Safety Sense: “Crash Test Dummies: Overheard”

ROLE: Senior Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
AGENCY: Saatchi & Saatchi L.A.
DIRECTOR: Speck / Gordon

The Crash Test Dummies look to be out of a job, thanks to Toyota’s new safety features, titled Toyota Safety Sense, included in their latest models. This spot brings back these humorous characters as the punchline to Toyota’s ongoing efforts to make driving a safer experience.

Although shot in-camera, the dummies had to be augmented at the joints and neck to accurately depict real world crash test mannequins. Most of that was handled with CG and Nuke, with background clean ups aided by Flame. I tackled a few of those.

But my main responsibility, other than managing the conform, was look devving and comping the test facility environments. Various split screens, CG extensions, and matte paintings were used to extend the space, which was originally shot in a hanger.

Tracking and integration were particularly challenging. The foreground interior hallways were separate from the warehouse car plates, neither shot with motion control. So various retiming and hand tracking techniques had to be used to fit these square pegs into the round holes. Thankfully, some of these shots were lock offs, or had minimal camera moves.

Full Credits

Intel: “The Future of Retail”

ROLE: Senior Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
PRODUCTION CO: Imperial Woodpecker
DIRECTOR: Stacy Wall

The Future gets personified in this somewhat humorous spot for Intel, one of a dozen that showcases how their tech aids business and personal experiences.

My big takeaway from this project wasn’t so much the final result, as it was the techniques that went into creating it. The Future was originally supposed to be depicted as a simple glowing person, radiating Intel blue. And that’s how the project was bid and shot. Somewhere along the way, the concept changed, and The Future assumed a more hi-tech appearance.

The problem started with the absence of facial and body tracking markers, which were necessary for the hi-tech animated graphics to adhere to his skin. And of course, since the project wasn’t bid or scheduled for this change, there were no assets in place to handle the task in the given schedule. So a decision was made to tackle these tracks in Flame, using UV tracking and stabilizing techniques, and rendered unwraps with graphics assembled in After Effects.

Overall, probably not the most efficient approach to the problem, given the 12 spots, and the sheer amount of facial and arm articulation in The Future’s movements. But an interesting challenge nonetheless. It took about 2-3 weeks to handle everything, of which I was tasked with leading the charge. And honestly, it was pretty painful. But at the end of it, I had a new set of tricks to apply to any and all future projects (no pun intended).

I also handled some look development on The Future. But that task went through many hands, until The Future’s appearance was agreed upon by agency and client.

Nike: “Unlimited You”

ROLE: Senior Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
AGENCY: Wieden+Kennedy (Portland)
DIRECTOR: The Daniels

Nike commercials tend to look and feel the same. And understandably, that comes with the territory, when you’re one of the world’s most recognizable brands. So when the “Unlimited You” campaign came along, it was an unexpected and creatively inspiring breath of fresh air.

This series of ads, represented by the anthem spot featured above, directly attempts to subvert the expected Nike style, taking an over-the-top mash-up approach to athletic inspiration, pushing the limits of one’s ability to absurd levels of achievement. It gives a whole new meaning to the tag “Just Do It.”

There was a huge team for this, and all the compers got a segment or two to work on, as well as the additional shots for the shorter breakout vignettes. I touched some of the earlier living room shots with the kid making baskets in front of his synced-up flatscreen. But my main contribution was the crash test sequence with Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon, and the tennis-baseball training with Serena Williams and Giancarlo Stanton.

The crash test sequence was entirely assembled in 2D with multiple plates and elements. Matte paintings extended the limited set environment. Additional glass, smoke, and debris were added to augment the impact. And extensive retiming and animated repo’s were needed to make the players “impossible” actions convincing. For the cutdowns, each featured a different timing, so all of the work had to be repeated for a 15 and 10 second version.

The Serena / Giancarlo training session required an animated ball, damage to the court, and extensive retiming for the players’ swings. Additional work was done to clean-up and flush out the tennis court environment. And there was a fair amount of beauty work and sweat removal for each. The cutdowns added a handful of shots.

Beats: “Firestarter”

ROLE: Senior Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
AGENCY: Hustle L.A.
DIRECTOR: Adam Hashemi

Barring a few crazy in-suite incidents, involving some over-the-top conflicts amongst creatives, this Beats spot was incredibly fun to work on. Scored to the Prodigy’s breakbeat techno anthem “Firestarter,” the premise imagines a football (soccer, for the U.S.) game set in the tunnels of the London Underground.

A few shots were actually taken on location. But for the most part, the action occurs on a 15-20 foot section of tunnel, constructed against greenscreen. Fairly straightforward, or so it would seem. Unfortunately, the majority of the footage was captured on grainy black and white film, to lend a gritty authenticity to the game play, which it does. But it also rendered the greenscreen useless. And mucked up the LED tracking markers needed to get a decent camera track.

So aside from the look dev, which actually proved to be quite creative, the biggest challenges centered on roto and tracking. The enjoyable bits came from assembling the tunnel with geo and projectors, all built entirely in Flame. Alignments were tricky, as was getting the lighting to integrate. But thanks to the limitations imposed by the black and white film, comps actually tended to move quickly, with less rather more integration issues to worry about. That proved to be a relief, because there were quite a few shots.

The look was intentionally stylized, so there was a bit of experimental give and take in its creation. Some challenges arose, when players or the ball needed to be repositioned among all the dynamic camera moves and player activity. The interspersed color shots of players also required tunnel extensions, lighting effects and transitions, and in the case of the endcards, CG crowds and stadium additions.

I worked on look dev, and handled roughly a third of the tunnel shots, as well as one of the crowd/stadium shots.

Nissan Heisman House: “Tebow’s Dream”

ROLE: Lead Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill

Nissan’s annual Heisman House spots featured something special for 2016. Along with the usual round of comedic antics, this year featured a special Tim Tebow music video.

The song itself is something akin to a country rock-rap song with an occasional millennial whoop to punctuate itself. The visuals are literally a performance in the clouds. I’m not sure how the creatives involved pitched this one, but it sure revels in its ridiculous premise.

Workwise, I have to admit, it was a lot of good fun. The spot was intended to look a little cheesy, so of course, I leaned into that aspect with tongue firmly planted in cheek. And although not intended as the slick, classy comp job, these shots did prove to have their own complications. They still had to look good, while intentionally looking bad.

Most of the plates had limited-to-no greenscreen backing. And there were no tracking markers to help align the elements. So quite a bit of push and shove had to be utilized to get everything working together.

All of the cloudscapes were assembled in Flame, cobbled together from various stock footage, and repurposed assets from previous projects. Thanks to the alligator paint job on the Nissan Armada, there was no car clean-up or beauty needed. But Tebow did need some glimmer in his eye.

Myself another Flame Artist handled all of these shots.

Super Bowl 2016 | Heinz: “Wiener Stampede”

ROLE: Senior Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
PRODUCTION CO: Biscuit Filmworks

My clearest memory of working on this spot is watching all the office dogs try on the hot dog bun costume. Of course, it worked best on the little dogs. But that didn’t stop the big ones from trying.

This humorous Super Bowl spot for Heinz Ketchup has a visual play with the whole wiener dog conceit, transforming a pack of dachshunds into a literal hot dog stampede towards a row of anthropomorphized condiments. Harry Nilsson’s melancholic ballad “Without You” adds the sonic cherry on top.

Shot in Cape Town, the dog footage was surprisingly good, requiring little to no augmentation. There were a few tricky split screens to multiply the number of dogs, the most challenging being those running towards or away from camera. And the leap towards their owners, dressed in condiment costumes, required extensive retiming, repositioning, and 2D comp finesse.

There was also some bun and harness clean-ups, which were harder than they might seem, due to the running gallop. And the wide stampede shots required additional CG dogs, since production couldn’t round up that many dachshunds in South Africa, nor keep them under control long enough to get the shots – hence the split screens.

Additionally, there was human costume cleanup, as well as removal of trainers, crew members, orange cone markers, and occasional dirt kick-up from the field. Also, sky and background replacements got thrown in the mix, late in the game.

There was a large team, so the work was evenly divided. I mainly handled the tricky split screen gallop shots, all condiment clean-ups, a handful of harness/bun and field clean-ups, and a couple of background replacements. CG dogs were relegated to Nuke.

Full Credits

Nike Basketball: “Bring Your Game”

ROLE: Lead Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
AGENCY: Wieden+Kennedy (Portland)
DIRECTOR: Rick Famuyiwa

Nike loves their long-form commercials, which tend to play like short-films. I’m never quite sure how to classify them, because they’re a little of both.

Anyway, Nike’s “Bring Your Game” is an all-star celebration of basketball’s greatest players, as four kids travel across the country in search of their favorite player. This lends itself to all manner of self-mockery and humorous parody, as each player exaggerates their quirks and perceived eccentricities.

At five minutes in length, there’s quite a few shots that required various forms of clean-up and augmentation, all invisible to the average person, exempting perhaps, the holographic Anthony Davis.

There’s too many shots to list individually. But a few stand-outs come to mind. I tackled the KD dunk sequence, with removal of windows, furniture and wall fixtures, as well as a poster image replacement that the kid with glasses receives. Both the front image and the back color needed to be swapped, proving for some tricky tracking and re-integration.

There were a few day time shots that needed to be switched to night, due to continuity issues. The most challenging was the sequence with the kids boarding a bus on a busy afternoon street. Everything needed to be roto’d and color corrected, and in some instances, replaced.

And then there were a number of LeBron James courtside shots that required crowd greeking. In other words, if it wasn’t LeBron or the kids, then none of the audience could be recognizable. This was handled through face replacements, focal tricks, or median blurring, depending on what worked best for the shot.

I also managed the conform, which was a bit more challenging than usual, due to its length, and the constantly revolving editorial revisions.

Full Credits

Comcast Business: “Going Up”

ROLE: Senior Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
AGENCY: Ogilvy & Mather (New York)
DIRECTOR: Oskar Holmedal

I really like the technical and creative challenges of this Comcast spot. Unfortunately, I was only able to assist for the latter half of its schedule, so I didn’t get to contribute as much as I’d hoped.

That said, I handled a number of screen comps in the various rooms that are seen as the camera ascends the building. These were a bit tricky, due to the extreme nature of the camera move, as well as the accompanying lens distortion. For the most part, the standard plate undistorts and 3D tracks proved ineffective, meaning most of it had to be hand-tracked. The exterior window glass didn’t help either.

I also handled roof extensions and transitional wall patches for the opening ground level shot, up until the camera reaches the first visible office. There was a lot of give and take here, since this opening movement set the pace for the remainder of the spot.

The most exciting task I handled was the entire concluding rooftop sequence, which was shot practically, but needed extensive augmentation. All the buildings needed to be straightened, due to the natural curvature caused by the camera lens. The sky needed to be replaced, with all the integration issues that come with it – reflections, grading, lightwrap, etc. Birds were added, just because … And timing and camera movement needed additional adjustment to work seamlessly with the one-take motif utilized throughout.

Gatorade: “Moving the Game Forward”

ROLE: Lead Flame Artist / VFX Compositor
VENDOR: The Mill
DIRECTOR: Max Malkin

Gatorade moves the game forward with this athletic showcase from all sports disciplines.

Although mostly invisible, this spot had a tremendous amount of work done on it, from CG stadiums and crowds, matte paintings of various worldwide locations, the addition of trophies, some of which weren’t allowed to be photographed, literal ring bling, and all around uniform clean-up. I don’t think there was a shot that wasn’t touched and retouched.

I contributed numerous odds and ends to this spot. But my two largest sequences were Lionel Massi and Elena Delle Donne.

The former required an entire rebuild of the shot, due to client dissatisfaction with the plate’s original photography, which was shot on greenscreen. This included a CG crowd and stadium, more photographers, camera flashes, confetti, the alteration of security uniforms, and a cleaner, shinier trophy.

The latter needed crowd replication, stolen from alternate takes, and multiple handheld face posters of Delle Donne to replace the practical ones shot on the day. Both tasks were tricky, thanks to the dynamic photography, the barrage of camera flashes, and the frantically waving posters, which all needed to be hand tracked.

I also did some crowd replacements for the football shot in the rain, as well as enhanced the ring bling, and tidied up the end shot uniforms.