fxguide takes a look behind the scenes at the visual effects by Mikros Image and Digital Domain in two recent commercials for Evian and Nissan.


Arachna-kid

In an Amazing Spider-Man 2 / Evian tie-in spot that mirrors the beverage company’s previous successful ‘Evian Baby & me’ commercial, a hero Spider-Man kid riffs against a grown-up Spidey. Mikros Image crafted the CG baby for agency BETC Paris and production company Acne.

BETC had earlier developed a print campaign around the hero baby, which Mikros used for reference in building the required digital version. The studio worked on a previs outline of the action, and was able to utilize footage of grown-up Spider-Man in action from Sony as well as a live-action shoot. A dancer was also filmed for reference. And foreshadowing their upcoming work in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, five shots in the commercial featured a fully CG Spider-Man by Sony Pictures Imageworks.

“The brief was to get a ‘cute’ baby, neither too slim nor too chubby,” says Mikros CG supervisor Guillaume Ho of the hero baby. “We began modeling the baby in CG from the 2D designs we got from the agency. We had a couple of retakes to settle on the right length of arms, thighs, as well as the size of the head and hands, trying to get all proportions correctly. A lot of details helped express the cuteness of the baby - the size of his head, his plump thighs and short arms. It was very important that these details stand out and give him personality as his mask hides his little face and his emotions.”

the-amazing-baby-and-me-2Artists rigged the hero baby and then used blendshape deformers in “utmost positions and more natural poses so that the costume would warp as a real fabric,” explains Ho. “The challenge of animation then lay in creating a true character of the baby while mixing his small size with the dynamism of the dancer shot as a reference. As the baby has got his head all masked, this gets in the way of the ‘comedy’, as we can't see any emotions on his face. So we decided to book a great team of animators to get the best of the baby movements. Body expression of the baby had to be very accurate to face Spider-Man on the other side of the mirror.”

Lighting the CG hero baby was made possible with an HDR image from the set, as well as CG lighting. Mikros used Arnold for rendering. In order to deal with the obvious size differences between Spider-Man and the baby, Mikros ‘cheated’ the effect in the mirror. “On set,” says Ho, “we had decided to shoot short sequences with limited amplitude/extension of movement to anticipate the reflection movements. For example, when Spider-­Man takes a step, the logic would say that baby has to make three, but you have to keep to one to get the right symmetry of the reflection.”


Train ride

For ‘Commute’, a Nissan Rogue spot from Chiat Day and Critical Mass, Digital Domain and Mothership combined to depict a group of consumers escaping the traffic via some rather unconventional means. The spot was filmed in San Francisco and Oakland as well as on a bluescreen stage in LA, with DD fleshing out environments and placing the Rouge atop a train and around the city. The work also included visual effects for an online test drive of the vehicle called ‘Detour’.

Watch the TVC.

“The plan was to shoot as much practically as possible,” says Digital Domain visual effects supervisor Richard Morton. “We knew that the Rouge jumping off of a ramp and driving on the digital train would be CG, but the rest of it really came down to the location scout. For example, in the previs stage we didn't plan to add a CG building into the frame, to the right of the intersection prior to the Rogue jumping onto the train, but the location had a big empty lot there that just didn't work in the spot, so we added one.”

“We also previs’d that location to be more of a construction site and the Rogue would jump of a large dirt mound ramp, as in the old TV series Dukes of Hazard,” adds Morton, “but on the day of the shoot it was decided to make it more about a traffic jam and the ramp was switched to a concrete overpass. The location for Rouge on the train was the last one chosen, mostly because it's long straight stretch of road, buildings not too close to the road, and it's one of the only roads in San Francisco that didn't have trolly wires hanging above it.”

Watch an exclusive breakdown of the spot.

In order to replicate the live action areas for the train shot, in particular, Digital Domain had to create a virtual camera 50 feet off the ground. The problem was that the live action camera could only be 30 feet high, so DD embarked on a photogrammetry approach, shooting multiple HDRIs and photographs of the street. “We had an amazing police escort that took us up and down the street over and over in rush hour traffic to shoot the plates,” explains Morton.

NissanCommute_G_03“We shot this location twice so that the lighting would work well in both directions, we had to survey it twice also. Using the plates the specific scenes were determined for the cut. Using all the photography, we roughly reconstructed the entire street. We then reprojected the plates and photographs back on to the building's geometry. Then DD virtually rephotographed the digital location 50 feet in the air. We created matte paintings for all the windows and ray-traced new moving reflections. We added a CG traffic jam, pedestrians, platform, train and of course the Rogue. The fly through shot of the car had an additional blue screen plate that had to be integrated into the CG location.”

DD’s toolkit for the spot consisted mostly of Maya, V-Ray and NUKE. For the virtual test drive, the studio adapted the lighting so that it would work in all locations. “In the end we decided to light the car a little more studio like,” says Morton. “We reflected shapes of buildings into the Rogue but we colored them red so not to draw attention to them. For many shots we delivered render layers such as reflection and fresnel to the web developer.”


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