Artists at New York visual effects house Rhinofx like to say they hate CG, but what they mean is they hate cheesy CG. One possible reason they take this position is to empathize with their clients who have been burned by visual effects houses' promises of "photoreal" effects. But recently Rhinofx has been developing a relationship with auto manufacturers and proving a propensity for eye trickery in car spots. The shop's efforts tricked the eye of the Ford Motor Company which was exploring the possibility of a more efficient means of producing the scores of regional commercials made annually. In the end, the Ford job would be the biggest in Rhinofx history.
Ford wanted to create usable and highly professional footage of all its models to support the local dealers' commercial production. But between the major redesigns that come every three or four years, automobile models undergo several subtle changes each year and that means shooting new footage every time at great cost. Ford was looking for an alternative.
"We digitized every car," says Rhinofx director Arman Matin. "We set up a stage and piece-by-piece scanned every car. Sometimes, we had to remove the part from the car. Other times-in the case of the nameplate and the tire treads-they were photographed and modeled in the computer. It is a lot of painstaking work."
And even though we might like to think that right after the scanning process a perfect 3-D model appears on the screen, it doesn't. It's only the first step. "If the part is shiny, the laser doesn't work," Matin continues. " We can only scan the shape and then add its properties later." But if the process stopped there, Rhinofx would still hate CG because it would look too perfect. Each car would need flaws-the kinds of flaws the human eye takes for granted. "With a real car, people try to get rid of imperfections by polishing to a high sheen, getting the lighting just right and so on," says Matin. "In CG, we start with perfect and add little imperfections to make it more photoreal. When they are not there, it just doesn't look real."
"When you look at bad CG," adds Rhinofx partner/executive producer, Rick Wagonheim, "there is no gradation, and the shine is even all the way around. When you have a panning camera in a live action shoot, the light hits objects a little bit differently as the camera moves. It accentuates the imperfections, but nobody thinks of it as an 'imperfection' because we see it everyday and accept it."
By the end of the three-month job, Matin and his team created 90,000 frames of photorealistic imagery or 100 seconds for each of the cars. If something like a fender is redesigned next year, Rhinofx artists will scan it and substitute it for the old one. When dealers create their local spots, they can drop in the very slick library footage or even use it to create an entire spot. It's win-win (unless you're a live-action director).