Visual effects artists are often considered the masters of illusion, but sometimes even they need to get their heads around a complicated client brief. Such was the case with Honda’s new ‘The Endless Road’ campaign in which a CR-V drives – infinitely – through a never-ending spiral road. The Chris Palmer-directed spot via Gorgeous for agency mcgarrybowen makes use of the Droste effect, where a picture appears within itself – endlessly. To bring the spot and a never-ending location-specific experience to life, Palmer enlisted The Magic Camera Company to build a miniature road setting and Glassworks and FaTiBoo to complete the visual effects. We find out from Glassworks creative director and fxguide friend Jordi Bares how ‘The Endless Road’ was achieved.
The production considered a large amount of Droste effect reference initially, but Bares says “it was the three dimensionalization of the effect and doing it for real that was extremely challenging. For example, when you pass over a rock and the camera rotates the rock suddenly has to be a mountain – different sections and crossing lines were carefully planned and the design took in consideration these changing roles too. Even the vegetation was selected to make sure we were transitioning gracefully from one scale to the other and giving the viewer a seamless experience.”
In pre-production – a four month period – Bares and Palmer devised 126 layouts in an animatic. This would serve as a guide during the miniature shoot. That decision to shoot a miniature, rather than go for all-CG, was a bold yet ‘obvious’ choice for Bares. “It was obvious to go for a real construction and filming,” he says, “as this is the ethos and concept of the film. None of us wanted visual effects fireworks but rather a magical journey and working alongside these other artists and seeing their work made it blatantly obvious we did the right thing.”
“We used Houdini for all the planning – Andy Nicholas and myself,” adds Bares, “working side by side with the director for months and then we generated all the data for all the other departments from Houdini, then we moved to Softimage and Redshift to be able to do the light studies as the Glassworks setup is extremely efficient and natural.”
The Magic Camera Company constructed a 1:10 scale model of the desired road – matching a South Dakota Pigtail Bridge location. “The miniature footage was filmed taking in consideration motion blur, depth of field, lighting scenarios and the physical attributes of the camera rig,” explains Bares.
Glassworks then refined its own CG version of the set. “We compared the CG set we designed with the final construction by using photogrammetry software to validate the construction,” says Bares. “Accuracy was paramount and with the tiny error tolerances we had to make sure things were in the right place. Certainly we didn’t want a camera to cross the floor, for example. The best things is that it was built perfectly first time and was way more forgiving than expected at first.”
On the miniature set, the visual effects crew used Smoke and Houdini to ‘test picture against picture’. “We did some quick pre-comps,” notes Bares, “and once I saw the first pre-comp of the loop it was an incredible feeling of achievement, something the big team involved was surely as happy as me.”
Adding CG elements
Filling out the scenes, of course, were the cars and several animals. “We created two cars, rabbits, birds, squirrels, leaves and lots more that may not be visible,” says Bares, “but certainly we feel it adds to the final piece. The second part of the job (execution) was truly about adding detail as pretty much everything was closed from the original RnD stage. Cars, animals, etc were done in Softimage.”
Animating the CR-V proved challenging for surprising reasons, as Bares explains. “Animation-wise it was funny, we had tweaks on the car that were so fine we had to render just to be able to see them, hence the need for Redshift. It had to be constrained exactly to a particular length and speed in a certain time when the camera was in the right place. Mostly this was due to how the car would accelerate and decelerate during the curve and we used a sophisticated car rig to do the physics and bring those nuances up, and Andy even connected it to a car simulator steering wheel with flappy pedals, etc. It was great fun but the job was too precise so we only used at the beginning.”
Viewers who head to Endlessroad.eu can witness the spot on YouTube, personalized to their location using real-time data to show time of day and weather at that location. Glassworks devised various effects for these experiences, such as different lighting, rain and wind setups, plus integration with vegetation.
“We did different light setups and their corresponding passes,” says Bares, “then also their counterparts as we had to ‘rotate’ the footage as this was to be put ‘inside’ the current footage, so the amount of passes ballooned and lighting consistency had to be pretty accurate which meant tons of HDRIs and photogrammetry per pass!! We ended up with a huge set of images to crawl though but as we were aware of course we did prepare for it.”
At the compositing stage, artists would blend between one scenario and the other using a number of elements and one hero pass – the overcast one. “That proved valuable as the transitions were not linear and felt truly natural,” states Bares. “This was of course tested ahead of the shoot and in a way was surprisingly similar.”
To integrate the car appropriately, reference was acquired from controlled conditions. “Multiple references were always at hand to make sure we could double check we were truthful to the car,” says Bares. “During the shoot we used a toy car (a high end collectors one) as a reference so we could get an idea of what would look like.”