With the fanfare of the Olympics over, a buzz still remains over the new Chevy “Disappear” spot, which was created by ad agency Campbell-Ewald and directed by Eric Saarinen of TWC. VFX company Ntropic was commissioned to create the complex and intensive VFX in the :60 spot.
Using time-lapse techniques, the spot showcases the evolution of a gas station over the years, culminating in the reveal of Chevy’s electric Volt car in 2010, a symbol of the company’s commitment to fight for the environment.
For Ntropic, the spot involved a high level of detail to the visual effects typically reserved for feature films. Ntropic Creative Director/Lead CG Artist/Set Supervisor Andrew Sinagra worked very closely with Saarinen in pre-production, using CG to determine the exact layout and design of each gas station, as well as the concepts and vignettes prior to shooting. Ntropic also studied extensive reference material for fonts, wardrobe and signage from the different eras for accuracy in the final product.
“We wanted to balance the spot so the viewer felt a continuing progression of time with all of the activity that would take place, but still be able to concentrate on our hero vignettes, which truly captured each iconic time period,” explains Sinagra. “There is also the varying concept of time throughout the different elements. The background mountains, gas stations and vignettes are each moving at their own rate. Each one is designed to tell the story of progress while maintaining all the key moments in each section.”
The piece was created through a single lock-off as if someone truly planted a camera back in 1920. This created some interesting challenges for design and layout on how to best showcase each gas station with its ever-expanding size while still being able to feature the Chevy Aveo, Tahoe, and Volt without ever cutting or moving the camera. There was also the continuing discussion of how much was too much.
“This is a beautiful high-concept spot,” adds Nathan Robinson, Ntropic Creative Director, “and one that we knew people were going to watch frame by frame. You cannot possibly catch everything in one view. We reviewed the spot one frame per second to make sure the visual elements would stand up under close scrutiny. The most rewarding part has been the comments on YouTube – people really take notice of the smallest of details.”
The five-day production involved a two-day time-lapse shoot in Wyoming for background plates; two days in Los Angeles against an exterior greenscreen for all of the foreground elements such as cars and people; and a one-day shoot in Detroit for the Volt prototype. Shooting the foreground elements posed a particular challenge because the lighting conditions needed to match as time evolved for each element. Saarinen wanted to use real sunlight to illuminate the foreground elements.
To meet this challenge, in previsualization Ntropic determined that they would have a sun cycle of roughly two days so each time period had to be shot linearly in its appropriate section of time. In addition to lighting challenges, elements were shot at different frame rates. Some of the background elements were shot between 1.5fps to 6fps while hero foreground vignettes were shot at 24fps with the knowledge that many frames would be discarded.
“Every frame in the spot is handpicked,” says Sinagra. “We knew there would only be a few frames devoted to each element. By shooting at 24fps, we could pick and choose the exact moments in time that will tell the story. Eric was so great on set. The CG for the gas stations was happening simultaneously as we were shooting so he would provide elements for me as needed. The creatives at Campbell-Ewald were very involved and hands-on through the entire process. They were as passionate about the details as we were. We went through a lot of iterations to hit the fine points in the spot.”
“We were really excited about this concept,” concludes Robinson. “The complexity and condensed timeline of the VFX was an opportunity for us to show what we’re capable of. We’ve worked with Eric Saarinen on several campaigns now. Creatively, we’ve gained his trust and he knows that we’ll make the right decision. We look at the piece as a whole – how the film looks, how the sound is incorporated, and how they play together – rather than just from the VFX perspective. It was a nice validation to receive praise from the Campbell-Ewald creatives for the work that we had done.”
The final stages involved one week of edit and four weeks of postproduction. The technology utilized by Ntropic included Autodesk Maya, Shake, After Effects, Silhouette, Flame, Inferno, and Smoke.
“Disappear” began airing during the Olympics Opening Ceremony.
Spot Title: “Disappear” :60
Ad Agency – Campbell-Ewald
Creative Directors – Michael Stelmaszek and Robin Todd
Art Director – Bob Guisgand
Copywriter – Duffy Patten Producer – Joe Knisely
Production Company – TWC
Director – Eric Saarinen
Managing Director – Mark Thomas
Executive Producer – Steve Ross
Producer – Craig Repass
Production Designer – Sean Hargreaves
Editorial – Beast
Editor – Igor Kovalik
Assistant Editor – Amanda Elliott
Executive Producer – Valerie Petrusson
Producer – Ashley Hydrick
VFX – NTROPIC
Creative Directors – Nathan Robinson and Andrew Sinagra
Executive Producer – Dana Townsend
Producers – Kara Holmstrom and Esther Gonzalez
Lead Inferno Artist – Nathan Walker
Inferno Artists – Dominik Bauch, Maya Korenwasser-Bello, Matt Tremaglio, Jesse Boots
CG Supervisor – Peter Hamilton CG Artists – Deb Santosa, James McCarthy, Dustin Zachary, Javier Bello, Thomas Briggs, Robert Hubbard
Compositors – Marie Denoga, Ed Anderson
Telecine – Company 3
Colorist – Mike Pethel
Music – Amber Music
Composer – Soviet Science
Executive Producer – Michelle Curran
Producer – Patrick Oliver
Ntropic is a boutique VFX company with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Since opening its doors in 1996, the studio has thrived on creating 2D and 3D visual effects for cinematic high-concept work from feature films such as “Underworld Evolution” and “The Matrix Revolutions” to commercials for Nissan, Mercedes, Coca-Cola and Kohl’s to music videos for My Chemical Romance, Justin Timberlake and Green Day. A staunch believer in creative collaboration and integrating all aspects into the whole, Ntropic partners with filmmakers to envision and design shots, and incorporate music and sound design.