We break down three fun commercials with VFX from Time Based Arts, Gramercy Park Studios and MPC that combine live action with CG characters and crowds.

Audi - Mechanics

Client: Audi Service
Agency: thjnk Berlin
Production Company: Radical Media
Director: Sebastian Strasser
VFX: Time Based Arts

Were any mechanics injured in the making of this commercial?: Not that we know of, since Time Based Arts crafted an array of CG characters based on performers in the spot to do many of the incredible stunts. Time Based Arts executive producer James Allen explains how their visual effects were done below:

The mechanic extras on set in Los Angeles were shot from multiple angles for reference and textures. Textures were then extracted by projecting the photos back on our models predominantly using The Foundry’s MARI. We also shot stills of some of the wardrobe back at the office in London for additional detail. At the same time we took photos of some of the team in the studio to create face textures - also a great opportunity to get ourselves into the ad! We modelled multiple bodies and faces shapes so the textures could be used on more than one model whilst avoiding too much repetition. Facial animation was done using modelled blend-shapes which also helped with removing repetition between the digital cast members.

For the clothes we completed texture variations, multiple dirt maps and about 10 - 40 colour maps which where then randomized by MiArmy crowd software. This helped on the big scale crowd scene for the final helicopter wide shot which was populated by nearly 8,000 characters.

Watch Time Based Arts breakdown.

Miarmy was the primary tool for all the crowd simulation. It offered a good set of features for all the animation we would require and in turn for the physics and rag-doll simulation which featured fairly heavily in the advert. We started off with creating a base set of actions (running, jumping, climbing etc.) which could be applied to all the agents and then it became a case of breaking up any animation that looked like a generic run-cycle.

So, on top of all the basic logic of avoiding each other and running towards a specific target, we also had, for example, some logic principles dictating that if the agents became too close they would jostle and swipe at each other which would in turn decrease their "health". This might cause them to stumble or trip over, and if their health dropped too low they would fall over and become a rag doll. In turn this could then cause other agents to jump over these fallen agents. Avoiding the classic rag doll look of the agents simply going limp was another challenge; for this we used Miarmy's Servo feature which allowed us to drive the rag doll simulation towards a target animation or pose so the agents would be simulated physically but we could also direct them towards more realistic and life-like reactions.

For any hero characters or close up shots we used Miarmy to get a quick overall simulation of the crowd but then we went in and corrected each agent manually. This included tweaking and re-animating specific agents, animating facial expressions and eye movement, and simulating all of the clothes.

Another challenge for 2d, was using runners and stunts from other takes to add into master shots, whether it be to pad out the crowd numbers or integrate some CGI to improve the compositions. Sourcing a performance from another take, stabilizing it, separating it from its background, tracking and comping it back into the master shot proved time consuming at times, but definitely helped bridge the gap between the live action source plate and the CGI throughout.

Betfair - Horse Racing

Watch the spot.

Client: Betfair
Agency: WCRS
Production Company: Papaya Films
Director: Brent Bonacorso
VFX: Gramercy Park Studios

Are the horses real?: Well, yes and no. Grammercy used a combination of 2D and CG elements for the horse heads, also working with a prosthetic horse head as a base to work from during filming. A real horse was filmed against greenscreen in angles that matched to the car plates. Effects artists added blinks, ear movements and a billowing mane to the model horse for certain shots, or comp'd in the greenscreen horse in Flame for others. Here extra dirt and flares were also added. But the hero close-up was an entirely CG horse combined with a car shot in a studio.

Greenscreen horse.
Greenscreen horse.
Horse heads added.
Horse heads added.
CG horse head.
CG horse head.
Final shot.
Final shot.

Asics - It's a Big World. Go Run It.

Client: Asics
Agency: 180 Amsterdam
Production Company Somesuch
Director Chris Sargent

Did the runners get tired climbing that mountain?: Some did, but many of the athletes in the spot were generated by MPC in Miarmy or via 2D crowd replication. Find out how the studio carried out the work in this breakdown.

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