Vancouver. 1996. A young Steve Nash is visited by a fan from the future whose life was changed by the NBA superstar. But it’s all thanks to visual effects from a52. Lead Flame artist Glyn Tebbut guides us through how this ‘Nash’ future kid spot for the NBA was realised. We also have a making of clip.
fxg: What was a52’s brief for this series of spots?
Glyn Tebbut: a52 was tasked with designing a VFX pipeline that would allow Chris Sargent, the director at Park Pictures and the Agency, Goodby, Silverstein + Partners, the flexibility to get genuine performances from the ‘future kids’ and not be hindered by static cameras and hitting marks. We had to seamlessly integrate newly shot footage of our ‘future kids’ into archival footage of the athletes before they were in the NBA.
fxg: Can you talk about the process of finding the archive footage, and any clean-up or conversion work that had to be done?
Tebbut: The director and agency started the search for archival footage well in advance of shooting. Then once the footage was chosen, we all assessed which footage would give us the best result – looking at both the complexity of the VFX work involved, but also which clips provided the most opportunity for interaction between the future kid and the young athletes. Prior to shooting we removed any people that we couldn’t clear or that we didn’t want in the final shot. Every spot had some head replacement, eyeline adjustment as well as speech and gestural movement alterations.
fxg: For ‘Nash’, what planning was involved in terms of working out how to shoot the new live action and incorporating it into the footage? How was this ultimately shot and how did you work with editorial on bringing it together?
Tebbut: Once the footage was chosen, the timing of both Nash and the coach, who was removed from the final film, were analyzed in order to recreate the choreography on set. We approximated the lens, amount of footsteps and jumps taken, ball dribbling and passing between them in order to choreograph the future kid’s action to integrate with Nash. Video screens with a sync count and floor markings were placed around set for the actors to choreograph their moves relative to the archival footage. The future kid was shot 2K at 60 fps since we would be de-interlacing the old NTSC footage prior to compositing. The 2K frame allowed for repositioning within the frame should we need it.
fxg: What kind of tracking did you undertake for the shots? How were the camera moves derived?
Tebbut: We used PFTrack to track the old footage and the new blue screen footage. For Nash, the track for the old footage was done in two sections, combined and then Flame was used to smooth out any abnormalities.
Tebbut: We used PFTrack to camera project the coach out. Due to the nature of the shiny floor and the changing light reflecting everything in the gym, we painted a huge amount of frames and ramped through each of them to match the lighting throughout the spot, painting out all reflections, shadows, highlights and recreated those that were environmental. We then had to restore any elements that were on a different Z plane to the hall, floor and walls, such as the hoop, drapes and chairs. Nash was then roto-ed for the whole scene before being moved slightly and put back over top.
fxg: What were some of the compositing challenges in adding the future kid into the plate? What were the specific tweaks and elements you needed to add in in order to match the look of the original footage?
Tebbut: The connection and interaction between the young athlete and the future kid was key to the success of the spots. And even though there was much planning that went into the prep with regard to working out their position in frame, it still meant there was room for finessing to get the final composite looking right. In the case of Nash, moving the hero kid’s eyeline proved to be insufficient, so we then moved Nash to line up better with the future kid’s eyeline and retraced him into the now even cleaner back plate.
We were locked into the kid’s position because he was knocking the ball out of his hand, so the only solution became moving Nash. Some realignment of the ball trajectory, matching of ball lines and colour were necessary to make the ball interplay work. It was then down to matching softness, colour and texture of the archival footage. For this we used a series of filters that would clone the texture of the old NTSC footage. The final stage was to introduce the interlacing to get it back into its original video format.
fxg: Can you give me an overview of the similar work required for the other spots in the campaign?
Tebbut: For the ‘Durant’ spot, there was again a great deal of consideration put into setting up the blue screen shot of the actor, his lighting emulating the low ceiling classroom and his surrounding props matching exactly what was in the original classroom. We also removed people in the scene that were not cleared and then reshot people to fill those gaps. We combined various takes of the hero actor to coincide with Durant’s reactions in the original footage. The original footage was shot on a fairly wide lens and it became key for us to match the camera distortion. We did this by using Flame’s action setup, blending just enough of his environmental props to maintain his natural shadows and ambient lighting with the original plate.
A very similar process was used for the other three spots in the campaign. Each one required different degrees of cleanup, head replacement, shooting extras where necessary, alongside the fundamental task of tracking our actor in and matching the existing degradation of footage independently from one spot to the next.
Tebbut: It was roughly two weeks per spot. There was a team of roto and tracking artists along side myself and one other Flame artist. Of course it never seemed like it was enough!
Agency: Goodby Silverstein & Partners
Production Company: Park Pictures
Production Company: Bicoastal
Director/Director of Photography: Chris Sargent
Executive Producer/Owner: Jackie Kelman Bisbee
Executive Producer: Mary Ann Marino
Line Producer: Ahnee Boyce
Head of Production: Dinah Rodriguez
Creative Director: Jamie Barrett
Associate Creative Director: Paul Charney
Associate Creative Director: Stefan Copiz
Art Director: Andy Dao
Copywriter: Eric Boyd
Agency Producer: Conor Duignan
Agency Executive Producer: Tod Puckett
Original Concept: Eric Boyd
Original Concept: Andy Dao
NBA EVP: Danny Meiseles
Editorial Company: Final Cut
Editorial Company: Bicoastal
Editor: Matt Murphy
Assistant Editor: Arianna Tomasettig
Editorial Executive Producer: Saima Awan
Editorial Producer: Suzy Ramirez
Post Production/VFX: A52
VFX Supervisor: Pat Murphy
Lead Flame Artist: Glyn Tebbut
VFX Executive Producer: Jennifer Sofio Hall
VFX Producer: Heather Johann
Sound Design: 740 Sound Design