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VFX and color for new BT spot via The Mill

UK telco BT wanted to create a television spot that showcased the WiFi capabilities of its broadband hub and underline its promise of “whole home coverage.” Sonny director Fredrik Bond visualized a fun and fast-paced spot for agency AMV BBDO, and a The Mill London was brought onboard to help with VFX and color. It is called Complete WiFi.

In the piece, the hero comes home to find it full of soldiers, angels, dancers, fairies, a giant and a horse — characters from the myriad of games and movies the family are watching simultaneously. Obviously, the look depends upon multiple layers of compositing, which have to be carefully scaled to be convincing.

They also need to be very carefully color matched, with similar lighting applied, so all the layers sit together. In a traditional workflow, this would have meant a lot of loops between VFX and grading to get the best from each layer, and a certain amount of compromise as the colorist imposed changes on virtual elements to make the final grade.

To avoid this, and to speed progress, The Mill recently started using BLG for Flame, a FilmLilght plugin that allows Baselight grades to be rendered identically within Flame — and with no back and forth to the color suite to render out new versions of shots. It means the VFX supervisor is continually seeing the latest grade and the colorist can access the latest Flame elements to match them in.

“Of course it was frustrating to grade a sequence and then drop the VFX on top,” explains VFX supervisor Ben Turner. “To get the results our collaborators expect, we were constantly pushing material to and fro. We could end up with more than a hundred publishes on a single job.”

With the BLG for Flame plugin, the VFX artist sees the latest Baselight grade automatically applied, either from FilmLight’s BLG format files or directly from a Baselight scene, even while the scene is still being graded — although Turner says he prefers to be warned when updates are coming.

This works because all systems have access to the raw footage. Baselight grades non-destructively, by building up layers of metadata that are imposed in realtime. The metadata includes all the grading information, multiple windows and layers, effects and relights, textures and more – the whole process. This information can be imposed on the raw footage by any BLG-equipped device (there are Baselight Editions software plugins for Avid and Nuke, too) for realtime rendering and review.

That is important because it also allows remote viewing. For this BT spot, director Bond was back in Los Angeles by the time of the post. He sat in a calibrated room in The Mill in LA and could see the graded images at every stage. He could react quickly to the first animation tests.

“I can render a comp and immediately show it to a client with the latest grade from The Mill’s colorist, Dave Ludlam,” says Turner. “When the client really wants to push a certain aspect of the image, we can ensure through both comp and grade that this is done sympathetically, maintaining the integrity of the image.”

(L-R) VFX supervisor Ben Turner and colorist Dave Ludlam.

Turner admits that it means more to-ing and fro-ing, but that is a positive benefit. “If I need to talk to Dave then I can pop in and solve a specific challenge in minutes. By creating the CGI to work with the background, I know that Dave will never have to push anything too hard in the final grade.”

Ludlam agrees that this is a complete change, but extremely beneficial. “With this new process, I am setting looks but I am not committing to them,” he says. “Working together I get a lot more creative input while still achieving a much slicker workflow. I can build the grade and only lock it down when everyone is happy.

“It is a massive speed-up, but more importantly it has made our output far superior. It gives everyone more control and — with every job under huge time pressure — it means we can respond quickly.”

The spot was offlined by Patric Ryan from Marshall Street. Audio post was via 750mph with sound designers Sam Ashwell and Mike Bovill.


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