Breaking down the Super Bowl spots – Part 1

In Part 1 of our 2012 Super Bowl TVCs coverage, we take a look at a post-apocalyptic Chevy spot with visual effects from Method Studios, and some CG cheetah work by MPC for Hyundai. Then in Part 2 we’ll break down the remaining big-name spots that aired during the game.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

Method Studios worked on seven Super Bowl spots this year, and one of the forerunners was ‘2012’ – a post apocalyptic take on the events of this year for the Chevy Silverado. Directed by Noam Murro through agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the spot depicts various doomsday scenarios – an alien invasion, robot apocalypse, a crashed meteor and, of course, raining toads.

“In this spot,” explains Method’s creative director/VFX supervisor Benjamin Walsh, “we had to find a balance between cliches for the end of the world while keeping it realistic and dark.” Method undertook some initial concept work and was part of the overall location and tech scout for places that would feature, for example, a downed UFO and robot, as the Chevy Silverado drives through the destruction.

Several plates were filmed on the New York backlot at Universal Studios in LA, including the final street gathering of survivors. “We had to replace most of the building backgrounds for those shots but we kept the cars, the road and we dressed it with a lot of debris,” said Walsh. “All the on-set backgrounds were used as good reference for perspective and we used the bottom of the buildings and matte-painted destroyed buildings on top.”

Before and after shot of the opening wide destruction shot. (click for large version)

The spot’s opening view of a destroyed landscape was built up from a plate filmed in an industrial area of downtown LA. The iconic UFO shot was filmed on the Falls Creek Bridge, while views of the Chevy driving underneath a bridge were captured in Grand Street. Production relied on the ARRI Alexa, with follow-car scenes acquired using a Pursuit Systems chase camera rig.

“We did surveying of each of the set pieces we were driving through using a Total Station,” says senior visual effects supervisor Rob Hodgson. “Then we also shot HDRIs and used the silver and gray balls. Some of the shots became more involved than we originally thought so it was great to have all that data.”

The LA river served as the location for the crashed UFO.

One key shot featured the Chevy driving past a giant destroyed robot. “The plate we shot was a car coming down the road underneath the Falls Creek Bridge,” says Walsh. “The building on the left was a complete building that was all in tact and quite new and modern. The burnt out cars to the left and right were practical. The base of the pole in front of the robot is practical and that went up and joined the bridge. We chopped off that front column and put the robot in there. We projected matte paintings of broken bridge above the robot. The debris underneath the robot’s head was CG. The smoke was 2D practical smoke composited in with a matte painted sky.”

A later scene saw the vehicle driving past a meteor crater with a volcano in the background. For this shot, the car was filmed motoring past a lake area at Universal with only concrete in the foreground and trees behind. Various concepts included a split submarine – suggesting perhaps a catastrophic flood as the cause of the mayhem – but, as with the rest of the spot, the suggestion that there had been widespread deaths was kept to a minimum.

The downed robot before (left) and after.

“We actually matte painted in a big crater using Nuke and an environment without a volcano at first for that shot,” notes Walsh. “Then the agency asked for a volcano and a flying meteor, and they wanted more still, so in the crater we added a massive meteor by doing a rough model and matte painting it up. There were some effects coming out of the cracks as particles. Then all the rest is 2D smoke coming out of the volcano and over the scene.”

Another signature scene, and part of the apocalyptic imagery, was the final rainstorm of toads. “The kind of action it needed to have had to be very specific, but we also didn’t really want to end the spot with a bunch of dead toads,” comments Hodgson. “So it was really a thing where there had to be enough life in the toads that they bounce – they’re happy toads at the end of the day.”

Filming at Universal (left) and final shot with volcano and meteor crater.

Production filmed a clean plate and Method animated the toads in Maya, relying on a previous asset created for a feature film and various cycles to have the creatures fall and then right themselves. “That end shot with the vehicle logo was actually extended because originally we couldn’t have anything go over it as the final shot, but it now features one of the toads bouncing on the hood and sliding down the front,” says Hodgson. “It was a nice balance between happy frog and ugly toad.”

Sister studio Company 3 carried out the grading work on ‘2012’, only needing to make slight adjustments to what were already quite monochromatic-looking plates. “I think one of the early decisions in having a dirty truck was a really good decision, too,” notes Hodgson, “because then all the matte painting and CG work and grading was based off that.”

Original plate (left) and final shot with added toads.

In the end, Method completed a feature-film looking TVC in six weeks, out of its LA office, while also collaborating with Method Sydney on a number of the shots. “We really enjoyed doing photoreal backgrounds combined with some cool CG stuff,” concludes Walsh. “But it wasn’t ever too in your face – it’s more of an observational piece.”

VFX Credits

Method Studios LA
Sr. VFX Supervisor – Rob Hodgson
VFX Supervisor / Creative Director – Benjamin Walsh
CG Supervisor – Jason Schugardt
VP of Production – Gabby Gourrier
EP / Head of Production – Stephanie Gilgar
VFX Producer – Krystina Wilson
VFX Coordinator – Anastasia Von Rahl
Lead Compositor – Dominik Bauch
Lead Lighter – Kevin Sears
Tracking Supervisor – Fabio Zapata
Compositors – David Parker, Nicholas Kim, David Lockwood, Jodi Tyne
Concept Design – Chris Sanchez
Matte Painting – Dylan Cole, Ev Shipard, Chris Sanchez, Zach Christian
Roto / Paint – Daniel Linger, Jason Bond, Deluxe Digital – PUNE
Modeling – Lersak Bunuperadah, Greg Stuhl, Alex Whang
Texture – Frida Sahono-Jozwik, Jamie Wheater
FX – Jonathan Mack
Rigging – George Saavedra
Animation – Benjamin Mattern
Lighting – David Lo, Chris Brown, David Godwin
Tracking – Tom Stanton, Luis Rodriguez, Daniel Erikson, Apirak Kamjan, Del Depierro,
Editorial – Julia Macmullen

Method Studios Sydney
VFX Supervisor – James Rogers
EP – Andrew Robinson
VFX Producer – Jayne da Costa
Matte Painting – Mike James, Danny Janevski, David Woodland
Senior Compositor – Gabriel Reichel
Roto – David Orman, Ben Tanti


Cheetahs do prosper

For ‘Cheetah’, a Hyundai spot directed by Daniel Kleinman via agency Innocean, MPC realized a CG cat for shots of it taking on a Veloster Turbo in a desert race. When the cheetah is left in the car’s wake, the animal quickly gives up but then turns on its owner in disgust.

“Our brief was – let’s put the fastest animal on Earth in a race against this car and then it had to leave the cheetah in the dust,” says MPC producer John Attard. “The cat would jump out at first to start the race, but then it would see just how fast the car is, but then just stop and turn around and non-verbally say, ‘Are you kidding me? You made me race this thing?’. And he gets a bit upset with his owner. We tried to make the animation of the cat going for the guy playful, rather than murderous.”

Production filmed the scenes with a real live cheetah named Tango, with the initial plan for MPC to re-create a digital animal for any shot that Tango could not perform. On set, the visual effects team took camera information from the ARRI Alexa and captured survey data and necessary HDRIs. “We also took the cat and walked it on a leash through all of the shots so that we could get a good look at the way the fur was reacting to the lighting in that particular instance,” says Attard.

Ultimately, MPC was required to reproduce several more shots than first intended, with the live cheetah used mainly for close-ups. “We had hoped to get the shot of the cat jumping out of the cage,” notes Attard, “but Tango was very domesticated. So every time we opened the cage, it took two steps out and purred in the sunlight.”

To construct its digital cheetah, MPC relied on previous work done for a background cat in the Narnia films and swathes of reference material, including Tango himself. “We went through a lot of footage of cheetahs to see the way they moved,” says Attard. “We watched their long strides and muscle deformation and the way they use their long tails. The movements you see in our animation are not purely aesthetic – the tail of a cheetah is essentially like a rudder. When a cheetah needs to turn very quickly in another direction, it just sticks its tail out 90 degrees and it acts as a rudder to turn it around. So we followed that.”

“Also,” adds Attard, “when cheetahs turn or change direction they are always in complete control, unlike some other animals which can stumble. We created a series of run cycles going from one particular speed to say a walk cycle with all that in mind.”

The cage-jumping shot was filmed with a clean plate without the cage and one with it in frame. MPC roto’d the cage with the aid of a CG version that was then used to cast realistic shadows on the digital stand-in for Tango. The studio’s in-house fur and hair too, Furtility, was then used to groom the cheetah.

And even though MPC had a CG cat at its disposable, the shots were always aimed at staying within the realms of the story the spot was trying to tell. “The idea was,” says Attard, “that if we could have shot the cheetah and we had a cat that was perfectly trained to do whatever we wanted to do, that was what our CG cat would do. It was very important that all of the motion we did with the cat was feasible and that we had reference for it to do that.”

VFX Credits

Executive Producer: Asher Edwards
Producer: John Attard
Production Coordinator: Stefano Salvini
VFX Supervisor: Dan Sanders
VFX Creative Director: Jake Mengers
VFX Team: Dan Sanders, Steward Burris, Dominic Edwards, Michael Wynd, Mark Gethin, Brinton Jaecks, Fabio Zaveti, Andrew Roberts, Daniel Kmet, Krystal Chinn, Katerina Arroyo
Telecine: MPC LA
Colorist: Mark Gethin

2 thoughts on “Breaking down the Super Bowl spots – Part 1”

  1. Pingback: Super Bowl 2012 Break Down | CGNCollect

  2. Pingback: Breakdowns de los anuncios de la Super Bowl 2012 en FXGuide - CICE

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