Mercedes: Day for Night Mercedes-Benz TVC

Vico Sharabani, is an award-winning Director and Founder/CCO of The-Artery in NY. He has just finished a new high-end TVC spot for Mercedes-Benz. The project had an intense schedule with just one day to shoot and day about 3.5 weeks from shoot to initial delivery including all editing, VFX and finishing in an ACES workflow. The shoot was done by DOP Oren Soffer, who has most recently finished shooting the upcoming effects-heavy feature film: The Creator. 

fxguide spoke with The-Artery founder  Vico Sharabani about his approach to the spots, given that he faced a wide range of technical approaches to solving the scripts. He discussed both why he went in the direction he did of shooting Day-for-Night and how the team achieved the final on-screen high-end cinematic quality.

FXGUIDE: Why shoot day for night? With modern sensors and a creative DOP – why not shoot at night?

Vico: There are both creative and production benefits for shooting day for night. From a creative perspective, the control we had over the exposure, visibility of detail, depth of field, camera position, drone flights, etc. was enormous, and that control is critical for me when I direct.

I wanted all the shots to be perfectly exposed, consistent, and feel effortlessly cohesive. Oren Soffer (Our DOP, who also shot the film The Creator) was the perfect collaborator to make the best out of this fast pace shoot day.

From a production perspective, a night shoot is significantly more complex, slower, and more costly. Add to that a car on the road in a remote location and liability kicks up. The day shoot allowed us to capture all the running footage with minimal crew on the road, in just a few hours while the lights were being set up in the studio, and such efficiency is a leading principle when we produce.

FXGUIDE:  The worse aspect of Day for Night is normally the sky, did you have to do sky replacement?

Vico: Definitely. Not only did our team at The-Artery replace the sky, but we rebuilt all the far backgrounds as dimensional matte paintings that included the sky, water, and town lights.

Sky replacement seems a trivial need, but stylistically I wanted to balance photorealism with a sense of fantasy. I envisioned a perfect night that looks photorealistic, yet epic and cinematic, without crossing the line into childlike fantasy territory.

Yuval Levy, our Creative Director, and Jim Lind, our designer, had a critical role in making sure that balance is maintained through all the shot designs from the opening frame. I’m very happy with the result, and we just heard that Mercedes-Benz Global picked up the spot to air in additional markets which is a wonderful complement.

FXGUIDE: Where all the lights all added digitally both to the car and in the environment in the background

Vico: Yes. I wanted full control over the headlights: from light intensity to the density of the atmosphere, flares, reflection off the road, and interaction with the environment. Our CG supervisor Dave Stewart effortlessly created the volumetric headlight setup on the way out to his summer vacation, and it was magical to see the visual impact of that solution as we propagated it to all shots.

FXGUIDE: Given how beautiful and art directed each shot is, why not just do a CG car?

Vico:  As you know, we’ve been creating CG cars for two decades; some of them you’ve covered here on FXGuide. Though, while CG cars are within our wheelhouse, every job has a larger set of considerations that impact the decision and approach.

In this particular case, we had to shoot the talent, so a shoot day was set up anyway, and we managed to shoot all the driving footage within a couple of hours while the studio was being set up with lights, so that was an extremely efficient approach. Not to mention, when covering a convertible, a CG car approach would also require CG people and blowing hair, which is an unnecessary complexity.

Also, we had only 3.5 weeks from shoot to delivery, so shooting the car was by far the fastest, most efficient way to cover the car, edit, approve, and execute the VFX in time, while still ensuring the clients could envision the edit right from the start.

FXGUIDE: I understand you were in post for about 3.5 weeks – what was your approach?

Vico: First and foremost, I decided to edit before shooting. I wanted the agency and clients to know every detail as I envisioned it, so there is little to no debate during the execution.

Editor Michael Elliot started working during pre-pro, since fitting 21 shots into 25 sec. while hitting the music cues had to be meticulously planned–to the point that we negotiated single frames per shot.

Articulating to the clients in advance what was needed from each shot was also important. That way, changing location, camera, or framing on the shoot day, was easily agreed upon as long as we preserved the intention and role of the shot within the spot.

CG components like the sunflower, sundial, etc. were built during the pre-pro by Joe Grundfast, so we were quite buttoned up from the get-go.

Our comp team created an ACES color workflow together with the colorist Jared Rosenthal using a bespoke LUT to allow for a quick preview of the day for night look, and we were off to the races.

Other than that, The-Artery VFX team is a tight group. Every individual that touched this spot is a star, and five of the team members have been working with me for 20 years and more, so it’s like a Ninja squad that can achieve the unimaginable when grouped together. Their collective experience, combined with the deep personal relationships, is a unique power that goes beyond any other structure I’ve ever seen.

FXGUIDE: Hey Vico, as a side point, the convertible roof goes up and opens while the car is meant to be moving (!)… wouldn’t it become a ‘sail’ and the wind would rip it clean off the car while it is being driven?

Vico:  I love that you ask about how the car roof opens while driving! It is an important feature for the clients to communicate. On the AMG SL you can open the roof while driving at low speeds  – Don’t try it on the highway at 60 MPH 🙂

We tend to talk here about the cinematic campaign, how beautiful it is, and how it was created, but the ad is essentially a product-demo in the disguise of a film. Balancing these two disciplines is an important achievement on its own

The-Artery is a highly effective design, animation, and experience media company in New York, known for its innovative high-end VFX and impactful campaign solutions. The Artery was founded in 2012 and it is a full-service creative studio that does high-end visual content for brands, feature films, commercials, digital experiences, and art installations. Their clients include HBO, Netflix, Hulu, Nike, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Focus Features, Pepsi, 20th Century Fox, MTV, Mercedes, Google, and Coca-Cola.