Psyop tested to perfection

For ‘Tested To Perfection’, a Castrol TVC for the company’s newly reformulated EDGE motor oil, Psyop was called upon to help create an elaborate test track complete with giant engine parts and a hero made of oil going through its paces. We talk to Jamie Scott (2D lead and co-vfx supervisor) and Tony Barberi (technical 3D lead) about their work on the spot.

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fxg: What did they decide to shoot for real for the commercial?

Jamie Scott: Our creative directors, Eben Mears and Anh Tuyet Vu, certainly wanted it to be shot as much in-camera as possible. We went to Patagonia [in South America] and shot all the backgrounds. And then we also wanted to make the machines and the oil as photoreal as possible. We knew we’d have to create the track and the oil character, which we called “Lee”, short for Liquid Engineering, in CG.

Tony Barbieri: Just about every single shot had a backplate, except maybe a few of in the giant loop, but even here we took some of the plates that were shot and created our own backgrounds from them.

fxg: What kind of design and R&D went into the look of Lee?

Barbieri: We did some initial tests using deformed geometry in Maya, with basic joints and non-linear deformers, and having the animators use that rig and animate the curves on him. But we weren’t getting the fluid look the directors were after. So some of our guys did some more tests in XSI using ICE and running a simulation along some geometry.

Scott: I think Lee actually ended up a little more basic than perhaps what we originally thought it would be. I’d seen some early frames where the oil had much more animal characteristics. As the process went along, it became a lot more realistic and fluid and flowing.

Barbieri: Yeah, originally in the brief they wanted him to be this playful, never resting character that was always itching to go and wanted to get through all the tests. But we found that it was looking a little cartoony and wasn’t really sitting in the plates too well. The other thing was they wanted the character to feel solid. They wanted him not feel like water or too fluid or too liquidly. It had to have almost a head and a center mass. So that’s why the front of Lee is a little bit more solid and he gets more fluid-like as he goes back – it’s almost like his speed is pulling him along and stretching him out the way you see in the commercial.

Scott: It was a real balancing act in a way – he was supposed to symbolize the characteristics of oil, be viscous and fluid but also be tough, so he had to have all those elements of that character. Also, there were too looks – an oil look and one like titanium – for two different markets.

fxg: In the end, what were the tools you used for the oil look?

Barbieri: In 3D, we animated everything in Maya and then we would send the character to XSI where our guys were using ICE to do the simulations. They would do the sim, match the timing to the animation from Maya or re-create or adjust it if need be. Then they would send back a re-meshed simulated Lee, which we shaded and lit using mental ray. The shader for the titanium-looking oil character was a custom shader that gave those rainbow effects that go through him and some of the reflections. We would then send this to compositing and they would make it look more beautiful.

Scott: From a compositing point of view, we went about this in a very different way to how we would normally do it. The footage would normally be transferred and color-corrected by the telecine facility. This time the directors went to a colorist and they set a look, before outputting a flat pass. They generated a CMS file. Everything that was done in Nuke for pre-comping and everything that was rendered actually had the flat look. In the Flame I would then apply the CMX pattern, which would replicate the look they set in the color-correct session. So that meant we worked with a flat pass right up to the end, rather than the color-corrected footage.

fxg: Were you using a typical HDRI set-up?

Barbieri: The HDRIs were taken from the actual locations, although some of these were large and broad so they’re often the best guess of the reflections you would realistically get in the area. In a few shots, we used the HDRIs from other locations, although all of these were from Patagonia.

fxg: Let’s talk about some of the other CG builds in the spot, like the loop and the rock machine. What was your approach to the machines?

Barbieri: Well, the directors and designers would create concepts for these and we then had a traditional approach really to modeling them, texturing them and lighting them using the HDRIs, and then rendered them in floating point, and composited them. We modeled most of the giant loop before the edit was ready, as well as the cam shaft machine. The rock dumping scene was revised a little later on. We changed that slightly from what was originally planned – the first iteration didn’t quite feel big enough, and it wasn’t really standing out in the shot. It ended being a machine with three boxes dumping rocks out with Lee coming through.

Scott: Also, when we first modeled the machines, because they were so big, some of them were 50 foot long, if you didn’t divide those surfaces up into smaller surfaces like panels and different materials, you didn’t get the sense of scale. So that was one thing we had to work on – making them more complicated and adding stairs and ladders and nuts and bolts. Also they didn’t want the machines to feel old. Sometimes a way to fit in CG to environments is to add dirt and scratches and weather it, but because this is supposed to look like a high-tech testing facility, we couldn’t use those old tricks.

fxg: How were the rocks and dust done for the avalanche machine?

Barbieri: Well I guess it’s two words: Miguel Salek. He’s our effects guy on the rocks and dust. We did the machine in Maya without the rocks, although there were a few stand-in rocks to give a general overall speed of the shot, and then he did a simulation of the rocks falling down the hill. We gave him just rough geometry and timing and he took care of the rest. He also did the dust for all the shots.

Scott: It was actually pretty cool because everything was already there, but then when he added the dust simulations it was amazing how much they bring up the quality of every shot.

fxg: What were some of the compositing challenges of the spot?

Scott: The guys lighting the scenes were doing pre-comps in Nuke, so by the time they were getting to me the shots were at least 75 per cent there. Then it was just balancing everything, and using a lot of tricks. One challenge was that we actually had a couple of shots that were quite flatly lit – the close-up of the rocks falling and when Lee is flying directly away from camera. When we composited everything, those shots didn’t quite fit into the edit, so we ended up faking some shadows and flipping some mountains around. We basically took the back-plate and artificially changed the lighting in a way to make the shots look better.

fxg: The spot is tightly edited and it feels so quick, but there are also so many details. How much time did you have to keep adding things in?

Barbieri: Yeah, we really went for a lot of those details, like the shot where Lee enters the colander, the jet engine turbine machine. Originally we didn’t have any fences or anything in front of that machine, but we were looking at the shot thinking it needed something more and the directors requested more details. Because we had dedicated people to each section, we could add in the fences and the little caution sign at the beginning. We did that only really a couple of days before delivery. Our scenes ended up being pretty light because we had the plates in the background, so our render times were really low. We could render almost the entire :30 in one night, which is pretty good for us.


Project: Castrol Tested to Perfection
Spot title: Tested to Perfection

Client Company: Castrol Limited

Agency: Ogilvy and Mather NY
Executive Creative: Director Sung Chang
Creative Director: Craig Mannion
Art Director: Andreas Hoff
Art Director: Lukas Lund
Executive Producer: Melanie Baublis
Associate Producer: Dave Lambert
Managing Director: Kurt Lundberg
Marketing Director: Al DeDona

Production Company: Psyop / Smuggler
Director: Psyop
Psyop Creative Directors: Eben Mears, Anh Tuyet Vu
Psyop Executive Producer: Lydia Holness
Psyop Producer: Crystal Campbell
Psyop Assistant Producer: Justin Romero
Smuggler Executive Producer/Partner: Patrick Milling Smith
Smuggler Executive Producer/Partner: Brian Carmody
Smuggler Executive Producer/COO: Lisa Rich
Smuggler Executive Producers: Allison Kunzman, Laura Thoel
Smuggler Live action producer: Michael Schlenker
Director of Photography: Linus Sandgren
VFX Supervisors: Joerg Liebold, Jamie Scott
Designers: Anh Tuyet Vu, Jordan Taylor, Tae Kim, Jon Saunders
Editor: Cass Vanini
Storyboard: Artist Ben Chan
Cobra Commander: Tony Barbieri
Previz: Jae Ham, Gooshun Wang, Jason Vega, Chris Santioanni
Modeling: Anthony Patti, Alek Vacura, Dan Fine, Tony Jung, Jordan Harvey Entae Kim and Ihsu Yoon
Rigging: Jordan Harvey and Zed Bennett
Animation: Gooshun Wang, Jae Ham, Eban Byrne, Pat Porter, Michael Shin
VFX: Miguel Salek, Eban Byrne, Todd Akita
Lighting Team: Anthony Patti, Cody Chen, Jeff Chavez, Denis Kozyrev, Aaron Baker, Dan Gregoras and Russ Wooton, Alvin Bae, Entae Kim
Lighting Pipeline Technical Director: Jonah Friedman
Lead Tracking: Joerg Liebold
Tracking: Bogdan Mihajlovic
Lead Compositor Jamie Scott
Compositors Nick Tanner, Adam Flynn, Kirk Balden
Roto Filaments

Live Action Company: Goodgate
Executive Producer: Philip Bolus
Producer: Gordan MacKinnon

Telecine Company: Smoke and Mirrors
Colorist: Ben Eagleton

Music: Q Department
Producers: Kelly Fulton, Peter Gannon

Sound Design Company: Jafbox Sound
Sound Designer: Joseph Fraioli
Executive Producer: Joseph Fraioli

Sound Mix: Sound Lounge
Mixer: Phil Loeb