How'd They Do That Spot?

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A subtly arresting new European-market spot from a Korean agency compares a speeding, family-loaded Kia Carnival - it's a minivan - to a bullet train. As if that weren't sufficiently outrageous, the train, which figures quite prominently in the :30, is entirely computer-generated, along with most everything around it (see the spot at Directed by Richard Kizu-Blair of Complete Pandemonium, with effects by Radium, both San Francisco, "Express" presented serious creative challenges from the get-go.

"I think their initial take on it is the Carnival had the look, the styling and the luxury feeling of the bullet train," says Kizu-Blair of the creatives from Seoul's Diamond Ad Value, who required an interpreter. "The storyboards were typically Asian storyboards in that they didn't have a strong storyline; it's much more an image presentation. It's not so much that the van is going 100 mph; it's just an illusion to get the audience to pay attention." After getting tight shooting boards approved, Kizu-Blair and company went work on a stretch of road outside Vancouver. "Most of the shots are done at 25-30 mph, but the look of the van is supposed to be 90-100 mph," he explains. "So I had to do long takes, knowing that I was going to compress it that much."

Then the action shifted to Radium, where just about everything but the van was added. "All the skies are replaced," notes Radium visual effects supervisor Simon Mowbray. "We had to build areas of the landscape that didn't exist in reality. There's one big shot near the beginning, where the car and the train separate, with trees and bushes whizzing by. All that had to be manufactured." During the shoot, he explains, "we put some tracking marks out there because we had to do virtual camera tracking on everything, using 2D3 camera-tracking software from Boujou, so we could put the train and the skies and the other data elements in." The train was modeled using Form Z; animated and lit using Maya; and rendered via Pixar's Renderman. "It's very flexible," Mowbray notes. "You can write shaders to develop your own looks.

"The cut changed halfway through , which is really difficult on an effects spot, but we managed to pull it off," he continues, crediting Radium computer graphics supervisor Andrew Hardaway with much of this success. "I think the sheet metal on the train works correctly. We took a lot of reference stills on the location to make sure we had the right sort of reflections running along the train. and there was a lot of compositing with CG; we never really use CG on its own - we end up bringing it into Inferno and doing a lot of work to make it sit properly with the live action."

The van is always real, says Mowbray, but it's often heavily manipulated. For the spectacular low-angle posts-whizzing-by shot, "the posts are all CG; the car is real, but it was a very bouncy shot and we had to speed everything up 500 percent, which made it even more bouncy. So we ended up having to rebuild the car and add reflections to both the car and the train to make it appear that the poles are zipping down the middle. After the composites we added artificial camera shake to give it a sense of speed. The posts are actually an afterthought, not part of the original board. In some cases we added rail lines, or signal lights, but these things come up at the last minute. Luckily, the guys here can turn that sort of stuff around very quickly."

What was the time frame? "Post was three weeks, a very fast turnaround. We just had to crank. If the train could have been less photo-real it would have been a hell of a lot easier to manufacture - and it would have looked a hell of a lot worse. All the sheet metal on the train had to look real; it had to match the environment correctly. Doing that realistically is deceptively difficult; it requires almost the sensibility of a DP to light it properly."

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