Award-winning visual effects design company a52 detailed its role in bringing a sensational new ad to life for advertising agency Team One and the 2008 Lexus RX350. The spot entitled “Pop-Up” was directed by Stylewar through Hollywood production company Smuggler, and is set to debut in high-profile network and cable broadcast coverage this week.
Like its widely acclaimed predecessor spots from earlier this year “Hospital” and Hydrant,” “Pop-Up” stylishly relates the Actively Safe features of the new Lexus RX350. The visual components of this campaign have been lavished with detail. “Hospital” and “Hydrant” were crafted by MJZ director Nicolai Fuglsig to relate each story in a single unedited shot. In another sensational campaign facet entitled “RX in Window,” life-sized RXs were presented crashing through real-world storefront windows in key U.S. cities. Triggered by pedestrians passing motion sensors near busy intersections, the imagery subsequently repaired itself, clearing the broken glass to reveal a pristine RX.
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a52’s artists have played important roles in each of these campaign elements, and as explained by Jon Pearce, Team One’s creative director on the campaign along with Gavin Lester, “a52 was immensely important in conveying the ‘reality’ of a giant pop-up book. We wanted the spot to feel as real as possible. What we found in the course of production was that building a pop-up book over 20 feet tall to accommodate a full- sized Lexus was physically impossible. To be more exact, the book could have been built that large, but the weight of the pop-up extensions would have been too great, and turning the pages on a book that large at a rate that could accommodate a 30-second spot was problematic.
“As a result,” Pearce continued, “production built a giant, full-sized book frame for green screen, with tabs and wheels that could be manipulated by actual stage hands. And the actual pop-up book with moving parts was a mere six feet high, which was then married to the green screen frame at a52. The guys at a52 put complete heart and soul into making the effect as lifelike as humanly possible. As with all intricate effects jobs, passion is the driving force that usually propels the end result beyond merely convincing to something quite amazing.”
a52’s project team included producer Sarah Haynes, VFX supervisor Andy Hall, lead Flame artist Raul Ortego, VFX artists Kirk Balden, Tim Bird, Mike Bliss and Brandon Jolley, CGI lead artist Dan Gutierrez, and CGI artists Chris Janney, Kirk Shintani and Kevin Clarke. Haynes and Ortego detailed their team’s steps in bringing “Pop-Up” to life.
First, Stylewar and director of photography Toby Irwin filmed the background actors operating the 30-foot book frame on a green screen. Next, they shot each page of the miniature pop-up book opening and closing, as well as the animated movements within the pages. Using the movements of the actors for timing, Ortego re-timed the live-action of each page to match each other and the actors’ movements.
Flame and Smoke were used to rotoscope out the different pop-up pieces, which were then composited together in Flame. For the city scene, a52’s CGI artists recreated every visual element in Maya – using high-resolution stills from the shoot as textures – and tracked them to the live-action using boujou for final compositing in Flame. For every action of the book, a52’s artists either recreated or re-timed them to ensure a seamless feel to the storytelling. Live-action passes taken of the hero Lexus to capture reflections and shadows were also combined in Flame, and virtual holes were created for the pop-up book’s pages – also in Maya, tracked with boujou – where the Lexus appears. Additional touches by a52’s artists include Maya-created tabs and wheels for the book, the book’s shadow, the page edges and thickness, and the entire cover page and binding. Final Flame flourishes include reflecting the book in the floor, as well as color-grading and addition of logo and titles. Smoke was used to assemble the final versions for lay-off.
a52’s Ortego cited some of the challenges he and his colleagues faced in putting all the pieces together. “It was like a puzzle,” he said, “because in a pop-up book, all the elements are connected, and in this case, the pieces were all shot as separate elements. Another challenge was that it needed to appear as just one shot, which meant we had to keep all the layers moving during 30 seconds. Also, because the post was done in HD, the render times were very long. In the end, though, I think all the layers (more than 120) blend together seamlessly to simply communicate the idea of the commercial.”