Cape Town, South Africa-based VFX, animation and post house BlackGinger recently completed work on a Mazda 3 commercial that takes an historical look into the car-maker’s evolution.
To help tell the story of Mazda through the years, BlackGinger added CG elements, including cars, to live-action footage. “Much research went into recreating every aspect of classic cars that are no longer available,” explains Darrin Hofmeyr, animation supervisor at BlackGinger, “namely the Le Mans winner and the three wheeled Mazdago. We took great care to match the CG cars to the originals.” Check out the spot here.
But it wasn’t just the cars that needed attention — the locations these vehicles were driving through needed to be as accurate as they could be in order to tell the story of Mazda. This involved a mix of physical sets, matte paintings and stock footage.
With a lot of work to be done, BlackGinger needed to manage its large team efficiently and communicate across multiple departments effectively. They called on the production management tool ftrack to make sure the process went smoothly. “Fine details of the schedule had to be planned well in advance and agreed to by all parties,” says Hofmeyr. “To this end, ftrack’s notifications kept artists up to date with any changes to the live-action footage, to the edit and the directors’ notes. Everyone had instant access to updates.”
But they called on ftrack for more than just notifying people of changes: “Review processes required tight turnaround times too,” reports Hofmeyr. “Our VFX supervisor was able to check, comment on and approve pre comps and versions directly and immediately in ftrack.”
This was a complex job, with different types of shots mixed together, so it meant a lot of work on film, animation, CG and other areas.
BlackGinger’s pipeline uses a wide range of tools. For the Mazda job, the studio called on The Foundry’s Nuke as the backbone, Side Effects Houdini for effects, Autodesk Softimage and The Foundry’s Modo for modeling, as well as The Foundry’s Mari and Adobe’s Photoshop for texturing and finishing.
Once the commercial was in its final stages of post, there was still a lot to do. According to Hofmeyr, “We introduced film and video textures and artifacts that accurately represented the look and feel of archival footage. Whether it was adding film grain, video ghosting or archival aging, we worked to strike a careful balance to make the resulting commercial feel seamless and authentic.”
When it came to working on the CG vehicles, things had to be photorealistic from every angle, meaning a crucial modeling and texturing phase to create a strong platform for lighting and shading artists.
Building CG Cars
“Since we didn’t have the real car to photograph, finding detailed references was a big challenge,” says Hofmeyr. “We had to rely on schematics and images found online. In the end, we were literally modeling nuts and bolts. Even the windscreen wiper had all of its clips and mechanisms in fine detail. Fortunately we use Modo as our modeling weapon of choice. Its substantial tool-kit helped us to turn out a clean, detailed 165k polygon model.”
Close-ups made for another important element: texturing. The 787B prototype race car, for example, ended up layered out over 20 UV tiles, each map — except one — being 4K. The one in question? Housing the close-up portion of the car, it was actually switched out for an 8K map. BlackGinger artists also used the Mari 3D digital painting app to deal with these highly detailed assets. In particular, its patch resize tool really helped to capture fine details like scratches.
“Due to schedule constraints, assets were created upfront so that we could work with any of the multiple possible camera angles,” explains Hofmeyr. “We worked on this for three weeks before the shoot. While the edit was in progress, selects were sent through so that we could start planning shots. We knew that the shots may or may not have made the cut but this allowed us to start with lighting setups and rough layout. All Flame work, final lighting, rendering, matte painting and other compositing had to be done within eight days of delivery of plates.”
The ability to use ftrack’s plug-ins meant the use of other tools was as seamless a process as possible, as Hofmeyr said: “The ftrack plug-ins we adapted for Nuke and Houdini were great for asset tracking and helped to keep the artists up to date with the latest versions of each asset, minimizing errors. They could quickly identify assets that were out of date and update them with a simple click.”