The spot proceeds exactly as the original film scene: the outlaw duo sits along the rim of the Grand Canyon in Louise's 1966 Thunderbird convertible, a swarm of squad cars, snipers, and police helicopters lined up behind them, compelling them to floor the gas and take a suicidal run off the cliff edge. This time, however, the stand-in actresses don't agree to a suicide pact, but discuss lunch options as Thelma browses through her smartphone on the Bing search engine looking for someplace nearby. When they find a three-star restaurant on the opposite rim, they floor it, clearing the canyon and zooming away to safety.
"Though this was not originally planned as a post-heavy spot, every shot ultimately had work done," said EP Mike Pardee. "Beginning with pre-production, we planned each shot for the optimal on-location execution that would help us accurately recreate the look and feel of the original movie."
Much of the work focused on matching the grain of the original film. To fully sell the look and feel of a theatrical release and to further ensure the proper aesthetic, Asylum delivered the completed spot which was then printed to film, then ran back through the telecine process. “The production team chose the oldest film stock they could get, but it was still much less grainy than that used on the actual film 20 years ago. We didn't want to bake too much grain into the footage as we still needed to do lots of compositing work and pull keys on hair and so on. CG elements certainly required a grain match in compositing but most of the grain came from this additional print/telecine process,” explained Zach Tucker, VFX/CG Supervisor.
“One of the differences between a theatrical release and broadcast work is that broadcast is never put back on film. If the footage is shot on film it goes through a telecine process and stays digital from then on. Usually when we have finished our spots we go straight to tape and then it is aired. To help sell the theatrical feel of this spot we decided to actually put it back on film like it was a print going to the theatres, then we telecined that print at Company 3. That additional transfer back to film adds another level of the organic feel of film such as grain of the stock and how it responds to light. We put our hands on it one more time here at Asylum for a final touch and some re-composites of the content in the screens of the phones to make sure Microsoft was getting a clear representation of their mobile Bing interfaces.
Compositor Tim Davies tackled many continuity and cleanup tasks in Flame. He doubled the number of police cars by adding several in CG, fixed broken flashing lights in several shots, and made sky replacements behind hair with no bluescreens, among many other effects.
The image of the Thunderbird soaring over the canyon - the freeze-frame ending of the original movie - provided particular challenges. As the production company could not simply launch the car off the cliff as Director Ridley Scott had done in the original production 20 years ago, Asylum had to generate a realistic looking car from scratch in CG.
A 3D reconstruction team scanned the car prior to shooting and then delivered it to Asylum, who then added an undercarriage, shaders, textures, lighting and rigging and animation of a flying hubcap and flapping body panel to match the original film footage. Heavy dust textures were painted to cover the body with a believable dust and dirt layer. Modelling, rigging, animation of the Thunderbird, dust and lighting were done in Maya, rendered in Renderman. Textures were done in Photoshop.
Gunther Schatz created CG dust as a fluid sim to create interaction of the car with the launch point on the cliff. Unable to capture bluescreens of the actresses for compositing into the flying CG car, Zack Tucker shot a few plates of two female Asylum employees with similar hair colours with a 20'x20' bluescreen, a few work lights and a Canon 7D camera, then tracked, stabilized and composited them into the CG car using the Flame.
Recreating the flying car's backdrop required special efforts as well. Instead of burning through loads of film for a nearly impossible plate shot to match the original movie's angle, lighting and camera, Zack acquired hundreds of stills with a Canon 5D Mark II, exposure bracketed to +/- 2 stops in RAW format, from several vantage points in a helicopter, keeping a printed frame of the movie on hand as reference. They were stitched using PTGui Pro software.
As it was difficult to get to the exact position needed for the stills from within the helicopter, Matte painter John Hart later needed to pull apart the foreground cliff edge off the combined panorama and repositioned it to more closely match the original film. He then painted in additional cliff edge features at the launch point where, 20 years ago, the crew had built a launch ramp and dressed it to look like an extension of the cliff. John Hart also patched and painted in missing sections around the edges as well as the sky and ballpark color correction. The 18k panorama was then matchmoved in Flame to the same shot from the movie. Tim Davies then tracked that new plate for a 3D camera and rendered our car and dust to match accordingly.
The scenes of the actual car leaping off the cliff, done ramp to ramp, and landing on the other side, done ramp to ground, required Asylum to pull the car and any dust and debris off the plate and composited them over the stills taken of the skies and the far side of the canyon. Taking stills enabled Asylum to build the high res panoramic plate of the canyon so that they didn't have to commit to a camera move on set. In compositing, they were then able to choose a perspective and horizon line that best worked with the footage of the car jumping for an accurate, satisfying trajectory and composition. Asylum added additional CG dust to integrate the two elements and maintain continuity with the original movie.