Published on Monday, 20 October 2014

 

Arsenal FX Gets Down and Dirty with Lexus All-Weather Drive

Arsenal FX, specialists in commercial visual effects, post and finishing, has contributed wintry visual effects for a national, 30-sec spot for Lexus that explains ‘The Point of All-Weather Drive’.  
Viewers watch a series of Lexus GS, LS and IS sedans driving through city streets at night during winter as the drivers negotiate falling snow, icy surfaces, snow banks and slush. The cars stream effortlessly past while the photography manages to show off their power, luxury craftsmanship and automation despite the intense weather conditions. The “What’s the point of having a luxury sedan,” the voice over asks, “if you can’t drive it all the time?”

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Winter Atmosphere

Lead Flame artist Matt Motal developed the post pipeline design for ‘The Point of All-Weather Drive’ project so that Arsenal FX could go through a quick look development to help define their client’s vision. This allowed the team to present a number of different concepts to their client early while they decided on a visual style. Matt also assembled the team of Arsenal FX’s 2D/3D artists and matte painters to work in unison.

He said, “Once our client’s vision had taken shape, we designed a workflow that specified where our artists were needed and then streamlined the process. Our artists started with animation tests, which were modeled after we received the client’s approved concept art. Our 2D/3D artists refined their techniques on a select few shots, which allowed us to get new versions to our client quickly. Once a few shots were approved, our artists could then apply the same techniques to all shots, minimizing revision time.”

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Arsenal FX partner and senior flame artist Terry Silberman said, “The VFX concept for this spot was to take the live action plates of the various Lexus models driving through a winter city environment, and make the scenes look even colder and icier. After some research, we decided that the best visual approach would be to create a lot of atmosphere in each shot by combining a range of elements. These included ground fog, background haze, wispy ground particles, snow flurries, volumetric headlight beams and water mist.” 

Dynamic Fog & Ground Particles

As Terry and his team were not involved in the shoot, when they received the locked edit from the agency, they began tracking each shot in the edit and rotoscoping the main elements such as the car and various background objects. The artists then created dynamic fluid simulations in Maya to produce ground fog that could be animated to envelope the car as required in each shot. While Flame drove the post and invisible effects on this project from the conform through clean-up and fixes to finishing, versioning and deliverables, Maya was used for key simulations and lights, plus Nuke for compositing and integration.


They also developed a separate, wispy, ground particles simulation that was activated by the car passing. Because the particles needed to swirl dynamically through the fog, the particle system was driven by the fluid system to achieve the final simulation. The challenge was gaining enough control over both to achieve the look they wanted in the final images. Meanwhile, matte paintings were created for clean-up of artefacts in the background streetscape - lights, signage, video crew and so on - as well as the cars themselves to remove sensors, water streaks and change the centre console control.

Lighting the Look

In compositing, Terry and the team used Z-depth passes from 3D as mattes to blur, colour correct and alter objects that appear further away or closer to camera, to create some of the atmosphere and background haze. This way, they could use the roto-scoped elements to create a more realistic light fall-off for the objects farther from camera.

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Several layers of snow flurries were added to help add a sense of speed. In Maya, the team also created realistic volumetric headlight beams that, in the composite, would interact with the other atmospheric elements. Finally, they built a high frequency mist particle system for the headlights to illuminate. “This really sold the authenticity of the CG headlights and snow elements,” Terry said.
 
Compositing was where Terry and the other artists developed a look that could be used across each shot that would make the whole spot feel cohesive and believable. This work, done mainly in Nuke, included the integration of all the CG elements, plus colour corrections on the car. They also added light blooms and flares that would be present in the atmosphere of a real-world, icy environment.

The commercial was launched on 1 October 2014. You can see it here.               www.arsenalfx.tv

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