When we first saw Alex Roman’s work in ‘Above Everything Else’, a 60″ spot for Silestone kitchen worktops, we were blown away by the 3D realism. So we got in contact with Alex to talk about what was real, what was CG and how the spot was achieved. Beside we figured 1.2 Million views on Vimeo cant be wrong.
The spot features fruit, vegetables, quartz crystals and other objects in slow-motion flight – some even shattering – intercut with scenes of a kitchen. Most of the objects were created as 3D models with photographs projected onto them.
“Realism was my main goal here,” says Roman. “I firstly thought of shooting some live-action but after studying carefully the budget and deadline I realized that CGI was the only way I could do it. The most important part for me was to deliver a beautiful and very visual commercial and keep the viewer focused on the commercial itself, not the fact that it was a CG piece: the photorealism was the only option I had to achieve this.”
The only full photograph used was for the scene of Manhattan outside the window in the final shot that was projected onto a cylinder. The ink drops are also real footage. The fruit, however, relied on 3D models with projected textures, displacement maps and, according to Roman, lots of shader tweaking. “When you project an apple texture photograph onto an apple 3D model, you quickly realize that the result is nothing but an awful 3D model with a stuck on projected photograph. There was a bit of hard shader work here in order to get a ‘real’ apple.”
The objects were rendered in VRay with subsurface scattering, building in imperfections to the objects and the scene. “I wanted people to focus on the storyline and not get distracted on the 3D thing,” says Roman. “I spent a great part of the art production time on those tiny details – imperfections, dust et cetera that sometimes makes the difference.”
Renders were multi-pass, split into foreground and background elements, with z-depth and velocity channels and smoke and particle layers also used for the final shots. “I did not split light from beauty from reflections from shadow for this job in particular,” adds Roman.
Another key part of the spot is the reliance on depth of field in adding to the very photographic and filmic nature of the scenes. That work was achieved using Frischluft’s Lenscare plugin for After Effects. “It’s really fast, powerful and you can interact in real-time,” notes Roman. “You can study carefully the shot compostion once it’s already rendered and that’s a real ‘must’ for me – to have full control over the depth of field. Raytracing depth of field is really useful as a reference but still useless, in my opinion, for a production workflow when you’re working with 2K, or even 720p. Like most directors and cinematographers I see depth of field as a very powerful tool or language to tell what you want to tell and stay focused into you want to show.”
The falling and smashing elements were created in NVIDIA’s PhysX and using RayFire and PFlow. “The first intention was to dynamically fracture all pieces in real time but after several attempts I noticed that was not the way since I had no control over the final animation,” says Roman. “The solution was pretty clear: to pre-fracture all geometry and then explode it in the way I wanted!”
The spot also features dynamic moving lights in the scenes. “With the still lighting I wanted to keep a warm ‘still life’ mood that wasn’t too much aggressive and kept very soft,” says Roman. Extras glows and flares were done in After Effects. “Regarding the glows and flares I think there’s no big secret: it’s quite easy to play with when you input a full-float format in terms of ‘real’ light energy to the compositing software.”
Finally, the grade on ‘Above Everything Else’ includes beautiful crushed blacks and vignettes. The spot was finished first and then graded. “I used to do it upside down but I soon realized that this was a big mistake,” says Roman. “All shots must have the same mood in color terms. I had to re-grade all shots when I found out the editing nightmare.”
“One important thing to me is the 32-bit full-float output. It’s something that you cannot have on ordinary photography and allows you to have total control over all the image levels! For heavy-tweaking grading I think this is essential. The shots grading starts from the same template in order to get as close a color match between them as possible but finally they all have their own subtle variations. This was all done with the standard AE color correction tools plus the Magic Bullet Looks app.”
Title: ‘Above Everything Else’
Client: Grupo Cosentino
Production company: The Mushroom Company
Director/DoP/Art direction/Post/Editor: Alex Roman
Original idea/Concept: Alex Roman
Additional CGI: Juan Ángel García Martinez
Music: ZipZap Music