Slow-mo - it’s one of the go-to looks in car commercials. But what if high speed photography was used slightly differently, to show how car engineers could tinker with and test a vehicle’s limits? That’s the premise of this Honda Civic spot, 'Feeling', from agency W+K London and RSA Films’ Johnny Hardstaff. Using a Bolt camera rig, high speed car footage was combined with normal speed engineers - and then integrated with additional 'frozen moment' elements by MPC. We find out from MPC visual effects supervisor Adam Crocker how the TVC came together.

fxg: What was MPC's ultimate brief for the spot?

Adam Crocker: We were approached very early on in the development stage to advise and facilitate the realization of director Johnny Hardstaff’s vision based on the concept from Wieden + Kennedy. The main technical and creative challenge for us was how to achieve the general feeling and environmental nuances associated with great high-speed photography, whilst also having the necessary real-time interaction of the Honda engineers, without going down the route of full CG environments.

Discussions surrounding shooting methodology with Johnny quickly developed from simply shooting cars moving very slowly with the engineers in the same plate, to actually shooting high speed. This would capture the nuances and atmospherics that would otherwise be lost shooting real time.

Honda_BTS4Civic_Range_CoverIt was important for all concerned and became evident early on that this aspect of the project would be what was going to elevate the quality of the final imagery above everything else. Whilst it was clear that we would be adding or augmenting these scenes with slow motion CG dust, vapour, petals (as these things don't tend to behave themselves on location!) it was important for everyone that as much as possible was achieved 'in camera'.

It was key for the director Johnny that in each shot the cars and environments appeared to move in a 'glacial' manner - something that we could never achieve effectively by shooting at a more standard frame rate. We needed a way to shoot motion control plates at hugely disparate frame rates. This led us to the bolt camera rig.

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fxg: Can you talk about the particular Bolt camera rig used for this spot - what are its capabilities? Did you do any tests/research for how the shoot would be conducted and how’d use the resulting footage?

Crocker: Short of shooting the entire spot locked off, the Bolt motion control rig was the only real option for shooting a spot like this. The Bolt rig is essentially a motion control camera rig that is capable of moving extremely fast. This allowed Johnny and Martin Ruhe the DOP to establish a camera move in 25fps (real time) and then when it came to shooting high-speed (high frame rate) plates the camera rig was able to adjust the speed of the camera and move accordingly. For instance, if we wanted to shoot a real time plate at 25fps, then shoot a plate that would line up and match at 100fps the rig would move 4x faster for this plate. When we get both plates into the studio what you have in theory are two plates whose camera moves match exactly as a conventional motion control shoot would, however the contents or action within the shot move slower/faster due to having shot at different frame rates.

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As with any conventional motion control or high-speed shoot, planning was key. The director had extensively planned in collaboration with MPC exactly what plates were required for each shot to achieve the desired imagery. We realized early on in shooting that we were really pushing the rig to its limits as a repeatable rig - the faster or higher frame rate we shot the more violent the move became which meant you were ever more exposed to physical forces of gravity and momentum making the plates progressively more unreliable; this coupled with some difficult shooting conditions meant that in a number of instances we needed to re-think/ adapt to the shooting conditions more so than one would want on an extremely technical shoot such as this. In truth this made it a lot of fun and ironically the results are probably more effective than they would otherwise have been!

fxg: What are some of the VFX considerations you need to think of when shooting high speed - how does it impact the day of the shoot, CG elements, matchmoving and comp?

Crocker: The main consideration when shooting high frame rates is mainly to make sure that what you are shooting is usable in the edit! It may sound like stating the obvious but it is very easy to forget that when shooting something at a high (non-real-time) frame rate (particularly natural phenomena) that is intended to be 3-4 seconds in an edit - you can suddenly find your shot when played back is 30-40 seconds or more. When shooting for a commercial that is 30, 60 or even 90 seconds long this is clearly something that could be very problematic.

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The second consideration when shooting high speed is image quality and exposure. Shooting high frame rates requires a lot of light. In the night time Type-R scenes we shot multiple exposures for the environments due to low light levels. As the actual hero car was unavailable for the shoot at the time, we knew we would be creating the hero car in its entirety from scratch throughout this section of the spot, meaning it was not necessary to shoot at the frame rates (and required light levels) previously required in the other sections of the spot.

fxg: How was a typical slow-mo car shot filmed? How were the engineers and backdrops then acquired? Can you talk about compositing the two?

Crocker: Typically we would establish a camera move at 25fps (realtime) in which the desired action would take place. We would then adjust the frame rate as desired and shoot the hero car that would in some instances actually be moving at between 30-40mph, although appearing almost frozen once we had it in post. Once we had this plate using live mix and overlay we would then shoot the engineers at 25fps with the same camera move, this time with no car seemingly interacting with the previously shot car plate. We would then set about acquiring as many plates as we needed, mist, a slow motion horse, reflections, petals - the list goes on!

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fxg: There’s such a live action feel to the spot, but what non-car elements did require manipulation or CG?

Crocker: Whilst we shot references for most elements we knew we would be ultimately be creating in CG - we created all falling and moving blossom, dust, mud, and surface water throughout the spot along with lasers in both the Tourer (white car) and Sport (Blue car) environments.

A full CG butterfly, the flock of birds featured in 'sport' (Blue car) were achieved by shooting many high speed takes of birds flying in an enclosed green screen tent then shooting the talents hands (actually the director) separately adding shadows and interaction in comp. We used these same birds to create the almost frozen flock featured in the wide of the sport car.

There was extensive use of matte painting throughout but particularly in Sport and Type-R sections to extend blossom covered foliage and backgrounds, and to add a city scape to Type-R. Many finer details were also added including a slight pulse or flicker in the night sections to mimic street lighting having been shot at high speed, very subtle atmospheric mist and water particles also.

Honda_BTS8Civic_Range_2015_60sec_still3fxg: How was the Type R car modelled and finally realized?

Crocker: To create the Type-R we shot a stand in model to get as much interaction with the road as possible i.e. headlights and surface interaction. Having then filmed lighting references on location we returned to MPC and created the Type -R from scratch using the designers CAD data and photos acquired of the actual model we needed to create.

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