Zoic Studios Works with Tiger Woods, Wieden+Kennedy to Create Moving “Earl and Tiger” Spot

tiger-woods-screencap_630x354

See the “Earl and Tiger” spot on Nike Golf’s official YouTube channel, or on the Zoic Studios site.

There is no need at this late date for a simple VFX blog to recount the recent events in the professional and private lives of golfer Tiger Woods. But as Woods attempts to resume his career, both as an athlete and as a corporate spokesperson, he and sponsor Nike, along with ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, production company Pretty Bird and Zoic Studios, have created a moving, personal and risky 30-second commercial spot. Zoic has worked with Wieden+Kennedy on several spots of late, particularly the ESPN NASCAR campaign out of New York, and Coke NASCAR and now Nike out of Portland.

The spot was unveiled April 7th, and discussion of the commercial has spread across the Internet and the media, as fans and pundits argue over how the spot will affect the career of the most famous golfer in history. Entitled “Earl and Tiger,” the spot features a close-up of Woods standing on a golf course, listening to words spoken by his late father Earl Woods, who passed away in 2006. The spot was shot on black & white film with a gritty realism, complete with dust, grain, developer streaks and an authentic roll-out at the end.

Zoic Studios’ creative director Les Ekker discusses Zoic’s involvement in the creation of the spot. “We were approached on a Tuesday for a bid,” Ekker says, “and I ended up flying out to Orlando that afternoon (in record time!).

“On Wednesday we spent the whole day rehearsing, because we would only have Tiger for one hour on Friday morning. The shot would be done with both a steadicam and a technocrane.” Max Malkin (Nailed) directed the spot, and acted as director of photography as well.

“On Friday, Tiger came in from 8-9 am. We used black & white stock, and switched at the last minute to one with a slower film speed and finer grain structure. It was important to the director that the spot convey authenticity and honesty, and visual effects were added in post to restore and enhance these qualities. In fact, the shot of Tiger that was eventually chosen for the final spot (in record time!) was the final roll-out take that didn’t even have the complete camera move that was rehearsed. But the director, Nike and Tiger himself loved it and felt this take best complemented the sincerity of the message.

“Tiger was shot against a white screen with tracking markers, to make things cleaner for roto. But the screen couldn’t completely cover the background because of the angle of the sun. We did a super-fast turnaround on the roto, and extracted a 3D track of the selected take (in record time!).

“We created a multi-plane background matte painting, inspired by the sliver of actual background glimpsed in the selected take. After the background design was approved (in record time!), we rendered the multi-plane to the camera. The matte painting included some subtle animation, like twinkling reflections on the water.

“The original negative had a lot of dirt and streaks in the white areas from the developer bath, and we reproduced these in the composite and matched the original grain quality. Then we added some sun glare over Tiger and degraded the image slightly, all of which were added to match the authenticity of the original film. This was done to support the goal of the spot, to create a sense of ‘powerful humble sincerity.’

“In the end, we turned around the spot in three days – the take was chosen on a Thursday, and we delivered the final spot the next Monday morning (in record time!).

“We worked very closely with the creative director, Hal Curtis, to ensure all of his detailed visual goals were achieved. Wieden+Kennedy, Joint Editorial and Zoic worked in tight coordination with a uniformly focused sense of purpose, and that made the job a real pleasure, despite having to do it ‘in record time!’”

The freelance VFX producer who was brought on to run the project, Karin Joy, has extensive feature film experience, most recently on The Forbidden Kingdom and Michael Jackson’s This Is It. Les worked with Joy at Boss Films in the late 1980s, and says it was fun to be reunited with her on this project.

Zoic Studios worked with the advertising agency, Wieden+Kennedy and Joint Editorial, and Ekker, along with Zoic commercial executive producer Erik Press, say that both firms were utterly professional, and dedicated to producing an important, meaningful and controversial spot that is of great importance to both Nike and to Tiger Woods.

More info: See the “Earl and Tiger” spot.

Planes, Trains & Automatic Weapons: Zoic Provides Explosive VFX for FOX’s Human Target

humantargetplane_630x354

Based loosely on the DC comic series of the same name, Human Target is an action-drama starring Mark Valley (Boston Legal) as security expert Christopher Chance, with Chi McBride (Boston Public) and Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen). It airs Wednesdays at 8pm on FOX.

Zoic Studios provided a number of visual effects shots for the series, including for the pilot episode. Zoic creative director Andrew Orloff discusses the studio’s work on Human Target.

“The question is, how do you do a super-sized action movie every week?” Orloff asks. The answer? Invisible effects, stunt enhancement, special effects and pyro enhancement. “There are all kinds of things, from a bullet train, to a HALO jump, to a large passenger airplane flying upside down in a storm, to a fight on a gondola suspended above a ravine. There are a lot of explosions – exploding boats, exploding trains, exploding buildings, and large set pieces.”

The largest set piece Zoic did was for the pilot episode, which took place almost entirely on a bullet train. Since America doesn’t have bullet trains, the team created the train station and landing. Both the 3D train and the landing were designed and created at Zoic.

“When [the characters] get on the train, what they are really stepping into is a greenscreen with a hole in it,” Orloff explains. “Then when they are on the train, the outside we see through the windows is a plate, which we shot via helicopter.

“We flew out to central California from Van Nuys airport; and flew at low altitude over the train tracks, making multiple passes going forward and back, and side-to-side. We used those helicopter plates to make exteriors to be seen from the windows inside the train.

“We also shot a ton of aerial establishing shots, which was a fun thing to do. We planned out the helicopter day by going on Google Earth and identifying where all the train tracks are. It was supposed to be a bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles, so we were looking at the tracks around San Luis Obispo, and the ones a little more inland towards Tehachapi. We plotted out the course, and got our passes. Those were tracked in 3D, and the 3D train was put in on top of them.”

Another episode features a scene in which a CG passenger jet, flying through a storm, flips all the way over and then back again. “We couldn’t use any existing model of a passenger jet for legal reasons,” Orloff says. “So we had to take an existing jet model, modify it, and change up the existing engine configuration so it was more generic.

“We did a dozen shots of the plane at night, in clouds, with rain and lightning strikes, flipping over and right side up again, with smoke trailing back from it.” The production built a full-sized cockpit mock-up on a greenscreen stage, which could be rotated 360-degrees and upside down. This greenscreen footage was integrated into the CG airplane shots.

One episode portrayed a HALO jump. “It was interesting and challenging – we shot the main character on greenscreen, and added a whole aerial background, where we see clouds behind him. We enhanced the wind blowing in his face, and created a CG parachute that opens up and floats to the ground.”

Other VFX for Human Target are less spectacular, but just as important to creating the world of the show. In his review of the pilot episode, USA Today reviewer Robert Bianco wrote that the “confined-spaces fight on the train is a miniature marvel of its kind.” Orloff says there have been several confined gunfights on the show, and that it’s not safe to shoot with blanks in such tight quarters. As a result, Zoic creates and enhances muzzle flashes for the gunfight scenes, even for an underwater gunfight.

There were also a lot of set extensions. “There’s a big show where they escape from a building by climbing around in the ventilation and elevator shafts,” Orloff says, “and those were all shot on small set pieces, with greenscreen work extending the ventilation shafts up and down in this 50-storey building. There was an elevator shaft, that was a set that with two floors of elevator; we extended it, and the characters were zip-lining down the elevator cables.”

There are many wire and rig removals, and other stunt enhancements, “like when they’re coming down the zipline in the elevator shaft. They’re using a homemade rig in the story, but it’s a real rig and we erase that. There’s also a motorcycle jump off these big steps, and there were wires holding the motorcycle upright; and we’re erasing that. They’re fighting on a gondola, and they’re getting knocked over and flying off; there are all kinds of rigs and harnesses keeping the actors from falling off the gondola, that we erase.

“We did an episode where we blew up a building. We were using pyro and glass elements that were shot on our soundstage, along with special effects elements used to create CG fire. We do miniature shoots sometimes; do a small explosion and comp it into a larger piece. In the pilot, we blew up the wall of an office building. We shot that with no explosion, and then we went on a separate day, made a small quarter-scale version of that set and then blew it up.

“It’s a really interesting show; it’s a variety of challenges. It’s a different thing every week. It’s all based on real world phenomena, and it’s important to the show that this exists in the real world. We did a shot where there’s a DC Metro station. It was shot in Vancouver in a hotel lobby, and they greenscreened one side; we made a subway tunnel on that side, and brought a CG train into it. It’s a lot of stuff like that — expanding the scope of Chance’s world, bringing him to different environments and helping with these various moving action set pieces.

“You have these really cool shots you’d expect in a feature film. In the pilot there’s a shot from outside the train car, where they’re running from car to car to car and you’re seeing it through the windows. And there is actually no train – all that stuff is put in. When they go through a tunnel, there’s no tunnel. We’re doing all that.

“It’s a fun show. There’s a lot of work that might go unnoticed, but it really contributes to the believability and the scope of what they’re trying to accomplish.”

More info: Human Target official website; “Give ‘Human Target’ a shot, and it could just be a bull’s-eye” on USAToday.

The Ten Worst Science Fiction Films of All Time: ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’

Jesus Fucking Christ, you must be joking.

For more on how I am choosing these films, see my post on Battlefield Earth.

Here’s a science fiction story for you: some time after the release of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in 1989, George Lucas was replaced by an untalented clone duplicate.

How else to explain the crap that has come out of Lucasfilm in the intervening years? Christ, this is the man who wrote and directed Star Wars, likely the best science fiction film ever made. Of course that was well before Star Wars became Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope: Special Edition: Guinness Book of World Records’ Film Title with the Most Colons in It Edition.

Lucas was also responsible, along with his best friend the more reliably talented Steven Spielberg, for the original three Indiana Jones films. The first, entitled only Raiders of the Lost Ark (not, as it would be later styled, I kid you not, The Adventures of Indiana Jones: Episode 29: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) was just freaking brilliant, a perfect pastiche of 1930s movie serials, scientific romances and WWII spy capers.

When the second film, the prequel Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, came out three years later in 1984, I didn’t like it.  I realize now why – I have always said I hate sequels that are fundamentally remakes of the original, and yet I disliked IJToD precisely because it was so different from its predecessor. Watching it now, I realize it’s really an incredibly fun film.

The third film, Last Crusade, was similar in structure and tone to RotLA; but it was still a very enjoyable movie. (Spielberg and I are both Jewish; and RotLA featured Jewish mythology. Irrationally, the Hindu magic in IJToD did not bother me one bit; but the Christian magic in IJatLC, coming from a Jewish director, raised my hackles. As I said, this was perfectly irrational of me – all religions are equally superstitious and mythological.)

The Indiana Jones trilogy ranked second only to the original Star Wars trilogy in terms of pop culture touchstones for Generation X. While the Baby Boomers had John Wayne as The Ringo Kid and… um… Genghis Kahn, I guess, we had Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Indiana Jones.

When I first heard there would be a new Indiana Jones after a 19-year hiatus, I was skeptical. I have seen Harrison Ford in interviews, and he could easily get the role as the Cryptkeeper in Tales from the Crypt: The Movie. Even that stickpin of a wife can barely prop him up. Then I heard that a son was going to be introduced. Didn’t we get enough of the Jones family in IJatLC and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles?

Still, I was hopeful. It certainly did not occur to me the movie would be such a total clusterfuck.

Is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull terrible in the Ed Wood sense? Of course not. Like other films discussed in this series, its awfulness comes not from what it is, but what it should have and could have been.

Is IJKCS a science fiction film, or is it fantasy? With Indy living in the UFO-obsessed, paranoid 1950s, Lucas specifically wanted to create a science fiction film – Indiana Jones and the Moon Men essentially. He even said the “aliens” in the film were explained with string theory, somehow. Right, like George Lucas understands string theory.

Before I get into my Bitingly Sarcastic Plot Synopsis and tear this film apart, some things I liked:

  • I don’t know if it’s digital makeup, or prosthetics, or yoga, but Harrison Ford looks great. Indy is supposed to be 58 in the film, and the then-66-year-old Ford pulls it off fine.
  • I was thrilled when the return of Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood was announced at Comic-Con in 2007, and she was fine in the film.
  • It was a bit heavy-handed; but in an era when Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are lauding the destructive and (ironically) un-American legacy of Joe McCarthy, it’s great to see a summer popcorn picture reminding audiences what a terrible time the 1950s were in US history.
  • And that’s it.

And now: my Bitingly Sarcastic Plot Synopsis!

Dear George and Steven. Please give us a very cool opening, involving a car chase between typical 50s teens and a mysterious convoy of US army vehicles, that sets the period and tone of the film. Then ruin it with constant interruptions by bad CGI groundhogs. Thanks, Kunochan.

The army convoy arrives at a desert military base and the soldiers, who are really Russian spies, murder the guards at the gate. This will be important later, when Spielberg forgets that it happened.

Zeez are not zee droidz you are lookink vor.

So here we are at Area 51, which is apparently guarded by the five guys at the gate and no one else. Good work, Ike. Here’s Beowulf, except now he’s British and fat. And look! Here’s Galadriel!  Oh, except with a bowl haircut. And she lost 80 pounds. And she sounds like Chekhov from Star Trek.

Galadriel is looking for the remains from the Roswell crash. It seems that Indy was one of the experts flown in to examine the remains back in ’47; and that means he will somehow have mastered the special Dewey Decimal System they use at Area 51 (which seems to be “hey, put it anywhere”).

This is “magnetism” like Scientology is “scientific.”

Indy remembers that the remains were highly “magnetic,” and uses this knowledge to locate the crate. This is important to why this movie sucks so hard, so let’s examine it for a moment. The “magnetism” displayed by the alien artifacts in the film betrays almost no relationship to actual magnetism. Indeed, several characters remark on this. Of itself, this is okay – we can imagine that the Inter-Dimensional Beings from Beyond the 11th Dimension have some weird technology that makes their crystals behave in a way that seems like “magnetism” to the uneducated Earthling.

See, the buckshot is attracted by the “magnetism,” but the guns? Nada.

But in a science fiction story, the weirdness must be internally consistent. The storyteller must establish rules and stick to them, otherwise the audience cannot believe in the reality of the story. Spielberg’s alien crystals needed to have the same effect on metal at all times; but they do not. The “magnetism” is inconsistent with scenes, even within shots.

I don’t know why Spielberg forgot this. While Lucas may have directed the best sci-fi film ever, Spielberg made several of the other top nine. (Those don’t include this one. Or A.I.)

Look everybody, the Lost Ark! It’s right there! No, there! In that box! No, the broken box!

Anyway. Galadriel gets the remains; Beowulf betrays Indy; and we get an obvious, close-up look at the Lost Ark. Yeah, we already figured out this was the warehouse from the end of RotLA. Thanks for telegraphing the joke, Steve. You know what would have been cool? Burying the Ark in the back of a shot, so that fans had to look for it.

Indy and the Main Soviet Thug crash through into a fully-operational, fully-powered-up rocket lab. Why isn’t anyone here working in the fully-operational, fully-powered-up rocket lab? Is it Labor Day?

The Thug (the character’s name is Colonel Dovchenko, but how the hell would we know that?) and Indy blast across the desert in a rocket car, and Indy escapes. By the way, it’s night now. I don’t know why it’s night now, but it is. And there are more CGI groundhogs.

Jesus Fucking Christ, you must be joking.

Now we come to nuking the fridge. Like the magnetism issue, this requires an aside. It’s when they nuked the fridge that I knew this movie sucked. And there is a perfectly good reason why “nuking the fridge” has entered the English lexicon to replace “jumping the shark” (funny, both phrases involve greasers).

Let’s not nitpick. We won’t ask why the government went ahead with a highly sensitive nuclear test when five gate guards had been killed the day before. We won’t ask why the refrigerator traveled faster than the shock wave. We won’t even complain that there was ANOTHER GODDAMN GROUNDHOG.

No, we’ll just deal with the fundamental problem that even in a universe where men can ride halfway across the ocean on top of a submarine, where Lost Arks melt the faces of Nazis, where sacred stones burn through backpacks and priests can pull beating hearts out of the chests of living victims, where medieval knights who speak modern English live in caves for centuries protecting carpenters’ cups; even in that universe, you can’t survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator.

Look, at first I loved this scene. I figured out at once this was one of those fake towns the military used to nuke to supposedly figure out the effect of blasts on civilian targets. I was amazed and agog that Indy was in such an impossible situation, and I had no idea how he was going to get out of it. I guess the child inside of me still had enough faith in Spielberg and Lucas that they would somehow solve this insoluble problem.

I was wrong. Instead, they cheated. They betrayed the audience’s trust.

Wheeeeeeeeeee!

I’ve argued online with members of the Stupid-American community who say there’s nothing wrong with this scene. They either believe you can survive a nuclear attack in a fridge (in which case, I have nothing but pity for them); or they think because this film is science fiction, facts don’t matter. This gets science fiction completely wrong – hell, it even gets fantasy and occult/horror wrong, because even though those genres don’t have to conform to the laws of physics and to reality, they do have to be internally consistent. Even Gandalf the Grey can’t survive a nuke by hiding in a refrigerator.

No, Indiana Jones would have been liquefied when the blast wave hit the house containing the fridge. Then, even if the fridge had remained in one piece (with the unlatched door inexplicably shut), his liquefied remains would have been atomized when the fridge hit the ground again. And finally, those atoms would be highly radioactive for several thousand years.

All we would have left of Dr. Henry Jones Jr. would be a pile of melted lead slag and a radioactive fedora.

Hey Indy, you might want to have your lymph nodes looked at.

I have to admit, the closing shot in the sequence, of Indy watching the mushroom cloud, kicks ass. But Indy will not live to be an ancient one-eyed centenarian of YIJC. He’ll be dead of lymphoma within five years.

Now we learn how Indy spent the last two decades. Having temporarily turned aside from archaeology, he fought in WWII and then joined the OSS.

Indy is interrogated by a couple of federal agents, who impugn his loyalty to his country. When he describes Galadriel, he says she “carried a sword of some kind – a rapier, I think.” You think? You’re Indiana freaking Jones. You would recognize various types of swords, dude, just like you know your Greek amphorae and your Tocharian B. It’s your thing.

AAAAAUGH! Indy just said “new-kew-lar!” He’s a frickin’ university professor! Maybe that’s why the FBI gets Indy blacklisted from the University. Henry Sr. and Marcus Brody are dead, and Indy is going to have to take a teaching position in Europe. Funny, in the real world that’s an honor – but in Hollywood movies it’s a journey of shame and regret.

Enter “Mutt,” the world’s cleanest greaser. His stepfather, Oxley, used to hunt crystal skulls with Indy. He found one, and tried to return it to El Dorado. Blah blah blah exposition exposition backstory exposition motivation. I don’t care – I’m still reeling in astonishment and disappointment from the nuking of the fridge.

There’s another car chase, as “Mutt” and Indy flee from some hulking Soviet agents. I’m sorry, I can’t type “Mutt” without the quotation marks. It’s ridiculous. Yes, we get it, he’s named after the dog too. Great.

After more pseudo-archaeological hoo-ha, Indy and the kid we’re not supposed to know is his son but of course we do because we’re not stupid fly to Peru. Good thing Indy has an unlimited grant from the Traveling Around the World Destroying Archaeological Sites and Stealing Artifacts Foundation.

In Peru, Indy discovers that Oxley left a Room Full of Clues, which is a great way to get the plot moving without actually figuring out what the plot is. Then we teleport to the first actual archaeological site in the movie.

I majored in Archaeology in college – no, really. So while we all loved Indiana Jones, we also understood that he was the worst archaeologist ever. Here’s the breakdown for the Henry Jones, Jr. School of Archaeology:

  1. Locate a site of great archaeological interest. Don’t bother contacting the local government, or getting permits.
  2. Use whatever force is necessary to break in, no matter how much damage you do.
  3. Improvise as far as equipment. For instance, wrap a rag around a human shinbone and use it as a torch.
  4. Show no respect for human remains (see #3).
  5. Don’t take notes, or make drawings, or take photos. Who needs all that?
  6. Find the single most valuable artifact, and steal it.
  7. Escape while the entire rest of the site collapses around you.

Here, after handily defeating the racially sensitive Mesoamerican Monkey People, Indy and “Mutt” just break into the tomb and start slicing open priceless mummies with a switchblade. I don’t remember seeing that in Renfrew’s Archaeology.

As “Mutt” and Indy escape from the tomb (we don’t see this, but it undoubtedly collapses), the Commies are waiting for them, in a scene I liked a lot better when it was in RotLA.

Later in the jungle, in the desert tent from RotLA, Galadriel forces Indy to look into the eyes of the Alien Space Skull from Space, the very thing that drove Oxley mad. This is meant to be dramatic but isn’t, because a.) Indy isn’t driven mad, and doesn’t even pretend to go mad for Galadriel’s benefit, and b.) I’m still upset about nuking the fridge.

The Commies are holding Oxley and Marion Ravenwood hostage, which is a great way to get all the main characters together without developing the plot. “Mutt” instigates an escape, and soon Marion and Indy are trapped in a sand pit. While the others go for help, Marion tells Indy what everyone else on Earth already knew, that “Mutt” is his son. “Mutt” returns and uses a giant snake to pull his parents out of the sand pit, which is hilarious because Indy is afraid of snakes, except it isn’t. And Oxley returns with “help” in the form of the Commies, which actually is hilarious, maybe the only joke in the movie that works. (And anyway, where else was Oxley supposed to go for help? They’re in the middle of the South American jungle, and the Soviets are the only people around.)

For some reason Galadriel and her men have a giant weed whacker-cum-tank, and they’re using it to create a road through the jungle. Indy escapes and blows up the tank, but from this point on a road magically appears, because why should our characters’ actions have consequences? That would be called a “plot,” and this movie doesn’t want one of those.

The ensuing car chase is very exciting, very clever, and would not even have been ruined by the on-again, off-again nature of the crystal skull’s “magnetism.” Wouldn’t it have been cool if the “magnetism” had been worked into the chase, if Indy or some other character had used it to his or her advantage? Oh well.

Watch for that — AaaaaAAAAaaaaAAAAAaaaa — TREEEE!!!!

No, that’s not what ruins the very exciting, very clever car chase. That’s not what had the audience in my theater groaning the first time I saw this. No, the very exciting, very clever car chase was ruined when “Mutt” swings through the jungle vines like Tarzan. And to think, I was just beginning to get over nuking the fridge.

Fuck you, Lucas. You too, Spielberg.

Then, the army ants. God, are there any decent CG animals in this flick? By the way, I have a question. By this point, Beowulf has convinced Indy that he’s a double-agent, still working for the CIA. Okay, so now Indy trusts him. But why do “Mutt” and Marion?

Look out, Indy! There are no spinning propellers this time!

Indy gets his big fistfight with the Main Soviet Thug, Colonel Whassisname. He looks like the plane mechanic on RotLA, and his Soviet uniform looks like a Nazi uniform. You know, Steve, there’s self-referencing, and then there’s self-plagiarism.

Boba? Boba Fett? Is that you down there, buddy?

Oops! Colonel Whassisname goes down the Sarlacc pit. You know, George, there’s self-referencing, and then there’s self-plagiarism.

Off our heroes go, down three consecutive giant waterfalls. This kind of thing is standard in an Indiana Jones movie, but would Oxley really have the strength to survive all this, while hanging onto a crystal skull with an iron grip?  He didn’t have to be written as old and weak, you know.

So we come, through Indy’s interpretation of Oxley’s cryptic mumblings, to El Dorado. But – oh no! – someone is dropping homing devices so Galadriel and her Soviet Elves can follow! And since Spielberg was afraid the average American moviegoer was too stupid to understand that a little metal thingy with a flashing red light was a homing device, he added a loud beeping sound that somehow Indy, Marion and “Mutt” are too deaf to hear.

Anyway, we get more ethnic sensitivity with an attack of barbaric, primitive South American monkey-men all tarted up in the ceremonial gear that natives only wear for tourists and National Geographic film crews. I’m pretty sure that by 1957 most native tribes had been disrupted, their members conscripted into working on clear-cut factory farms, or in oil refineries. But whatever. Lucas also gave us the all-white Star Wars, and the ethnically offensive aliens in Phantom Menace.

Steven, Mommy says you’re not allowed to play with that naughty little Georgie anymore. Now go to your room and work on Tintin.

Yes, yes, we get it already.

Oxley, who left behind all the clues so Indy didn’t have to do any work, has also figured out how to get into the city and find the aliens. In fact, the only time Indy has actually done anything in this whole film is when he used the gunpower to find the Roswell remains. And that was an hour and forty minutes ago.

Alright, let’s discuss the climax; because except for the “magnetism,” and “nuking the fridge,” and the CG groundhogs, and “new-kew-lar,” and “Mutt,” and “Mutt” as Tarzan, this is the worst part of the movie.

Hey Shia, you getting any of this shit? Cuz I sure ain’t!

Let’s break this down. Thousands of years ago, a flying saucer full of inter-dimensional grays with crystal skeletons arrives on Earth. As inter-dimensional archaeologists, they gather up priceless artifacts from cultures around the world; although taking artifacts from living cultures sounds like stealing, not archaeology. (Someone should inform the Vatican of this.)

These aliens also teach the native South Americans about agriculture, astronomy, 2012 — all that Von Daniken stuff. They bury their saucer under the city of El Dorado, and create a wonderful center of learning.

Then for some reason the aliens shed their skins and go sit in a circle, on thrones, in the form of crystal skeletons. Are they artificial lifeforms? Are they communing psychically? Are they exploring the Earth with their minds? Did they die? WTF?

Hey Steven. I’m here to drop off Richard Dreyfuss and get my royalty check.

Then one day a conquistador comes along and steals one of the skulls. Why did the aliens allow this, unless they are dead? How does there come to be a legend of a great reward if the skull is returned? How is it that the throne chamber is resealed with a puzzle door that can only be opened by someone holding the skull?

Then Indy and Oxley bring back the skull, although it’s Galadriel who actually returns it to its proper place, hoping to get the reward of infinite knowledge. Now with the skull returned, the aliens prepare to leave, and all the good guys run for it. The aliens kill, or at least atomize, Galadriel. Why did they do that? Are they Mensheviks?

All the aliens did was show her Phantom Menace.

In a scene stolen right from IJatLC, Beowulf refuses to leave without some treasure, and gets sucked into the alien ship. Indy, Marion, “Mutt” and Oxley escape just in time to watch the city of El Dorado be destroyed and the alien saucer take off for the 11th Dimension or what-the-hell ever.

What?

Okay I love you buh-bye.

I have no problem with the aliens being mysterious, but we have to have some clue as to what they are doing. Why would uber-powerful aliens sit around and wait for someone to return the skull? Why not go get it themselves? They have a spaceship. Or they could psychically induce someone to fetch it. Hell, they could have prevented it from being stolen in the first place!

And if the aliens are inter-dimensional archaeologists, why do they destroy all the artifacts they collected, and the entire city of El Dorado, as they leave?

Spielberg knows how to do aliens – E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, War of the Worlds. (No, those weren’t aliens at the end of A.I., and if you thought they were, go buy yourself a helmet and a drool cup.) How could he fuck up these aliens so badly?

Oh yeah. George.

A few last questions. How did Indy get his job back, much less a promotion? Did the FBI believe his story about the Soviets getting atomized by Inter-Dimensional Beings from Beyond the 11th Dimension?

And how does Indy lose his eye???

End of Bitingly Sarcastic Plot Synopsis

Listen, George and Steven, and let me tell you something you should have already known. Some things are good just as they are, and don’t need to be improved or expanded. CE3K did not need a Special Edition – it was fine the way it was.  Indiana Jones did not need more adventures – he was fine the way he was. E.T. does not need its government agents carrying flashlights, it was fine the way it was. Star Wars did not need Greedo shooting first or a terrible GC Jabba, it was fine the way it was.

There’s even a saying: “don’t fix what’s not broken.” Steven, concentrate on new projects, new ideas. We’d love to see them.

George, go count your money. By hand. That should keep you occupied until you drop dead.

Next time: Prometheus (2012)

The Ten Worst Science Fiction Jobs of All Time

Science fiction fans tend to want to live in the worlds they read about and watch in books and movies. They forget that Han Solo was a glorified space truck driver, or that Captain Kirk spent most of his time doing paperwork.

Here are the ten worst jobs in science fiction (multiple spoiler alerts):

Official Government Alien Abductee
From: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Let’s say after you graduate from college you spend an extra – what, 6 years? – getting that Ph.D. And don’t forget about those student loans. But it’s all worth it, because when a shadowy international agency receives the first genuine alien message from space, it’s you to whom they turn. And when they choose a small, select team of men and women to travel into space with the aliens, they pick you.

So you train, and study, and undergo rigorous testing. It’s like the astronaut program, except secret. When you’re done you get your snazzy red jumpsuit and dark glasses, because who would want to accompany aliens on their intergalactic concert series without a snazzy red jumpsuit and dark glasses?

They fly you out to Devil’s Tower (or you ride out there in a Piggly Wiggly truck, the movie’s not clear), and witness the first human contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. Then, after a brief religious service (which is pretty silly – any advanced spacefaring civilization will be atheistic – don’t argue, you know it’s true), you’re marched out to meet your interstellar destiny.

Except the aliens don’t take you. They take some wacked-out high school graduate telephone repairman from Podunk, Indiana with a beer belly and a mashed potato fixation. And you get left behind, choking on mothership exhaust.

So you spend the rest of your life in a bitter alcohol-induced stupor, annoying your relatives with tales of how you were supposed to go live with the space aliens, and shooting out the screen of your TV any time ET The Extraterrestrial comes on.

Death Star Contractor
From: Star Wars (1977), Return of the Jedi (1983)

Kevin Smith already covered this one, but of course he was right. Kevin Smith is always right.

You’re one of the millions of laborers brought in by military contractors hired by the Galactic Empire to build the first Death Star. It’s a lot of hard work with low pay and bad working conditions; and the job becomes ten times as dangerous after they switch on the artificial gravity. You try welding girders when you’re a mile up!

Then the damn Rebel Alliance shows up and blows the whole thing to smithereens. A million innocent people are killed. (Yeah, yeah, I know – Alderaan. So what? Big deal.) Fortunately, you were down on Yavin at the time, picking up donuts for the team that was installing proton shielding on the main trench exhaust ports.

As the sole survivor of the first Death Star, you had little trouble getting a job as foreman on the second Death Star. The project was much bigger, but the budget much lower – the Empire took a bath on the first Death Star, and it was difficult to raise money for the second. Plus, the Emperor himself showed up to oversee operations. It was a total clusterfuck, especially considering that Palpatine wanted the main superlaser finished first, even before the living areas and outer shell were completed. That meant months of dealing with porta-johns.

And, you were ordered to build a bottomless pit right in the middle of the Emperor’s quarters. What the hell was up with that?

Then the Rebels, and some teddy bears, attacked a second time, and you were killed. Your last thought was, man, this job sucks.

Away Team “Red Shirt”
From: Star Trek (1966-69)

So, after four years in Starfleet Academy you’re an ensign. You always wanted to serve under Christopher Pike, but by the time you’re assigned to the USS Enterprise, Pike’s been turned into a Dalek by delta radiation, and you have to serve under that preening, egotistical asshat James T. Kirk.

Still, it’s a cool gig – you travel the galaxy with a ship full of hot female yeomen in mini-skirts, and there are all the multi-colored cubes you can eat.

Until it comes time to go on an away mission. You saw Mathews and Rayburn killed by an android on Exo III; O’Herlihy killed by Gorns and his twin brother Rizzo slain by the dikironium cloud creature; Grant got cut down on Capella IV; and Hendorff got capped by a pod plant on Gamma Trianguli VI.

And how does Kirk react when all these young, talented Starfleet professionals get slaughtered? Just send down another one!

In fact, today you’re supposed to beam down to Argus X to take over for Rizzo. The dikironium cloud creature already killed one obligatory red shirt – I’m sure you’ll be fine!

Commercial Mining Ship Warrant Officer
From: Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien3 (1992), Alien: Resurrection (1997)

We don’t know much about life in the 22nd Century, except that working class people live in plastic capsule hotels, work for massive 80s cyberpunk-style zaibatsu, and pilot colossal mining ships with literary names that take weeks to travel between planets, so their occupants ride in suspended animation because sitting around for weeks would just be cruel.

Let’s look at the example of one Ellen Ripley, a college graduate (she got her Engineering degree from Aeronautics University in New York City – is that accredited, or is it the 22nd Century version of DeVry?) who worked her way up to Warrant Officer for a commercial mining ship owned by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. If Ripley’s experiences are representative of the career of a Warrant Officer, and I believe they are, then I would not suggest this career for anyone.

First Ripley tries to enforce standard company rules regarding the quarantine of infected away team personnel, but her mildly retarded captain violates policy. Also, a robot that looks like Bilbo Baggins tries to kill her with a rolled up magazine. What’s really surprising here is not that everyone but Ripley is murdered by a rampaging xenomorph – it’s that in the year 2122, someone is still printing magazines.

Then Ripley is involved in some kind of bizarre escape pod accident, and returns to Earth to discover her daughter has died of old age. It’s similar to the Twin Paradox, except it makes less sense. Ripley is then convinced to return to the xenomorph moon, which is like convincing Natasha Richardson to go back to Mont Tremblant. What, too soon?

Everyone there gets slaughtered except the hunk, the kid and half the robot – oh, but they’re all killed during the opening credit sequence of the next movie. Ripley shaves her head and jumps into a pool of molten lead, because she saw the rushes and realized the movie was a piece of shit.

Then her half-alien clone kind of makes out with Winona Ryder, which is the high point of an otherwise disastrous career.

Not every Warrant Officer has to go through this kind of rigmarole, I suppose. Still, clearly the best career choice in the Alien films is ship’s cat, because that’s the only character that doesn’t eventually die in a horrible, horrible way.

Unless the cat was put down after Ripley never came back from LV-426. Yikes.

Communist Space Saucer Saboteur
From: Lost in Space (1965-68)

It’s 1997, and the United States is preparing to launch its first interstellar mission, a five-year mission to Alpha Centauri. This is bad news for the workers of the world – if the bourgeois Capitalist exploiters cement their control over outer space, the freedom-loving Socialist peoples will be forever subjugated by the Imperialist American running dogs. Something must be done – and that something is sabotage!

Fortunately, a fifth column of Communist sympathizers exists within the United States, including some inside Alpha Control (the space agency). One, an idealist and hero of the proletariat, Dr. Zachary Smith, volunteers to sneak aboard the spacecraft and sabotage it. As an expert in “intergalactic environmental psychology” (intergalactic?) and cybernetics, as well as a medical doctor, Smith is uniquely placed to get close to the Jupiter 2 and its nepotistically selected crew (it’s typical of Capitalists, to place familial ties ahead of selection based on merit).

Smith manages to get aboard and reprogram the ship’s B-9 Model Luke H Class M-3 General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Control Robot, giving it the free will to throw off the chains of its oppressors and destroy critical systems eight hours after launch. But Smith is trapped on board, and soon the Jupiter 2, shoddily designed by a for-profit contractor with no love of country and with oppressed, non-unionized employees, veers off course and is soon lost. In space.

So far, things are not so bad for Dr. Smith. He has successfully completed his mission, and the crew of the Jupiter 2 can’t prove he is a saboteur – they have no way to punish him, anyway. There are even two hot chicks and a MILF on board, if he can get rid of a couple of square-jawed farm boys first.

Unfortunately, the Jupiter 2 lands on a series of unidentified alien planets, and poor Comrade Smith’s woes really begin. His only friend is a young boy; coupled with Smith’s own effete manner (absorbed from years of living amongst the decadent Capitalists), this leads to speculation that Smith’s sexual proclivities are decidedly non-reproductive, in violation of basic Maoist principles. Furthermore, Smith is hectored by the constant intrusions and suspicions of the Robot, whose loyalties have somehow reverted back to bourgeois principles.

Furthermore, Smith’s natural generosity in a crisis, to encourage others to serve the workers by facing danger rather than stealing the glory himself, is misinterpreted by his presumed comrades as cowardice. Imagine! And finally, Smith must encounter countless absurd alien beings, from green-skinned salad-headed women to talking carrots, none of whom are interested in discussing intergalactic environmental psychology, cybernetics, or dialectical materialism.

So our beloved Comrade Smith, the People’s Hero and the Heir of Gagarin, is doomed to a lifetime of ridiculous adventures in space accompanied largely by a precious tow-headed lad and a “nickel-plated nincompoop” of a robot with zero points of articulation. When the Soviets recruited Smith out of the Intergalactic Environmental Psychology Program at UC Santa Cruz, he should have insisted on a rider specifying no kids, pets or robots.

Blade Runner
From: Blade Runner (1982)

Let’s begin with a comparison.

It’s 1982, and you’re a cop in Los Angeles, California. You have been assigned to take down a gang of criminals peddling drugs on the streets of the city. As part of the Drug Enforcement Task Force, you have access to an entire team of detectives, uniformed officers and forensic specialists; a large cache of weapons, from service pistols to automatic weapons to sniper rifles to a limited supply of explosives; you are supplied with various types of body armor; and you have a tank. That’s right, a freakin’ armored vehicle, which you use to penetrate fortified crack houses.

On the other hand…

It’s 2019, and you’re a former cop in Los Angeles, California – but in 2019 the police act like the military in 2010, or the mafia in 1990, and just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in. You have been assigned to find and destroy, by yourself, four super-strong, super-fast, super-intelligent android replicants from space. The replicants look just like ordinary people, and can’t be detected unless they volunteer to sit still for a complicated personality test conducted using a device like an e-meter with a bellows attached to it. Your tools for this mission are a pistol and a flying car, the latter of which you only get to use when Admiral Adama is done with it.

No fellow officers – last guy assigned to the case was shot through a wall. No advanced weapons. No armor. No tank. Just you against four super-robots. Well, and a Voight-Kampff machine and some kind of advanced photo analyzer.

Oh, and it’s raining. All the time.

Plus, your girlfriend is a robot – and acts like one, generating all the sexual heat and feminine charm of a Dyson Ball upright vacuum. And just to fuck with your head, you might be a robot.

And finally – and this is the kicker – it turns out all four of these robots are programmed to drop dead just a few days after you’re assigned to kill them. So if the cops had left you alone and just waited 72 hours, the problem would have solved itself, and you wouldn’t be nursing a fist full of broken fingers.

If blade runners have a union, you need to talk to your rep about this shit.

Precrime Precog
From: Minority Report (2002)

If you live in a world loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story, it’s a pretty good bet your job sucks – whether you’re a blade runner (see above), a split-personality undercover drug cop, a memory-wiped agent of a ruthless Martian dictator, a memory-wiped reverse engineer, an alien-created terrorist mole, or a precognitive Vegas magician.

But the worst job in the PKD oeuvre (as portrayed in film to-date, anyway) has to be Precrime precog. You’re the mutant offspring of drug addicts, a psychic with precognitive powers troubled by visions of future violent acts. You have been kidnapped by the government as a child, stripped naked and forced to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week semi-conscious in a bathtub, foreseeing future murders and having your predictions recorded by a computer so advanced it uses billiard balls as part of its user interface. Wait, what?

There are only three of you on the planet, yet the government plans to expand your “precrime” purview to include the entire country, which makes it pretty unlikely you’ll be seeing a vacation any time soon.

By the way, you’re looked after in your high-tech bathtub by a creepy technician, which really sucks if you’re Agatha, the one female precog – you just know that guy has been “taking liberties,” if you know what I mean. Eww.

Of course, it all works out in the end, right? Tom Cruise saves the day and the precogs are freed, permitted to live “normal” lives in a cabin in the middle of nowhere… except some people think that’s a fake ending. Tom Cruise stays in prison, and the precogs remain moist slaves. Oh well – bet ya didn’t see that coming!

Jurassic Park Employee
From: Jurassic Park (1993)

For all you Libertarians and Republicans out there who insist on the fantasy that government regulation is a bad thing, let’s take the example of a certain amusement park and resort located 87 miles northwest of Costa Rica. As it was on a private island located in a third world country, it’s safe to say that Jurassic Park was an unregulated workplace.

Which sucked for the mostly brown-skinned employees of park operator InGen. For instance, your workplace probably has policies to prevent workers from being maimed and eaten by Velociraptor mongoliensis. I mean, it’s never happened where you work, right?

And your employer probably has a decent monsoon evacuation policy, at least I should hope so. Jurassic Park didn’t. How about network security procedures and failsafes that prevent all computer-controlled systems from failing, especially the ones enclosing deadly saurian macrofauna? Perhaps ones that can be reactivated by qualified park personnel, rather than by a pre-teen female hacker?

Then there’s the fact that your workplace most probably doesn’t conduct secret, unlicensed, non-peer reviewed genetic experimentation in the first place. Just try to get away with it, and see what your boss says!

Why doesn’t your job break any of these rules? Regulation. The last thing your boss wants is OSHA breathing down his neck, just because a Tyrannosaurus rex ate the company lawyer while he was in the port-a-john.

Torchwood Operative
From: Torchwood (2006 – 2009)

The Torchwood Institute was established by Queen Victoria in 1879 to defend the Empire against extraterrestrial threats, and to acquire and reverse-engineer alien technology. Throughout most of its history, Torchwood was rather… ruthless in achieving its goals.

In fact, considering the danger inherent in the investigation of alien and supernatural threats, along with Torchwood’s propensity for hiring rather violent individuals, it not surprising that most Torchwood operatives do not survive into old age (one notable exception notwithstanding).

The entire staff of Torchwood One, the linchpin of the organization, was massacred by the Cyberman and Dalek armies in the Battle of Canary Wharf. Likewise the entire crew of Torchwood Three (immortal operatives exempt) was slaughtered by their insane leader in 1999.

And as far as individual characters, the roster looks like this:

  • Suzie Costello: suicide; brought back with the Risen Mitten, killed with its destruction
  • Lisa Hallett: assimilated by the Cybermen; killed by Torchwood Three team
  • Owen Harper: shot dead on duty; brought back with the Risen Mitten; killed in nuclear meltdown
  • Alex Hopkins: murdered all of Torchwood Three team, and then killed himself
  • Ianto Jones: deadly alien virus
  • Toshiko Sato: shot dead on duty – during a nuclear meltdown

At the end of the Children of Earth mini-series (which is brilliant, by the way – even if you’ve never seen a single episode of Torchwood, go rent Children of Earth), the last time we saw the Torchwood Team, out of all the known Torchwood operatives, two were left alive. Two.

And this is an organization with the ability to bring people back from the dead.

If you want to travel the UK, meet exciting people, have a lot of sex and screw around with alien technology, you should become a Torchwood operative. But if you’re concerned about your health, maybe you should try UNIT.

Research Scientist
From: Various films and television programs

In the real world, research scientists make an invaluable contribution to the world, in fields as diverse as medicine, physics, chemistry, materials science, geology, archaeology and many more. But it’s hardly a dangerous lifestyle.

In science fiction, there is no job more dangerous. Ask Bruce Banner. Victor von Doom. Jonathan Crane. Victor Fries. Alex Olsen. Walter Bishop. Emmett Brown. Victor Frankenstein. Henry Jekyll. Herbert West. Seth Brundle. Eric Vornoff. Charles Forbin. Peter Venkman. Edward Morbius. Eldon Tyrell. Doctors Moreau, Griffin, Phibes, Totenkopf, and Rotwang.

In science fiction, working in the research sciences can get you mutated, exploded, intrinsic-field subtracted, genetically crossed with a housefly, lost in space, lost in time, lost in parallel dimensions, turned into a plant, turned into an animal, turned into an alien killing machine, driven insane, killed by your own hideous creation, given godlike powers beyond your ability to handle, duplicated, split into good and evil halves, devolved, evolved, kicked out of academia, spurned by the medical community, spurned by society and lynched by mob of torch-wielding villagers.

Also, locked up in prison, trapped forever between dimensions, eaten by virus zombies, shrunk to microscopic size, exploded to 50 feet in height, transformed into a grotesque parody of the human form, gender switched, swapped bodies with your kid, metamorphosed into a floating disembodied brain, badly burned, fused with an alien intelligence, fused with a machine, fused with a Brundlepod, converted into binary digits and forced to compete on the Game Grid, atomized by your own self-destruct device and ejected into the vacuum of space.

Seriously, is this why you spent eight years in college?

‘FlashForward’ Flashback: Zoic Studios’ Steve Meyer on the Award-Nominated VFX for the Pilot

Posted by Erik Even in I Design Your Eyes on April 1, 2010

Property of ABC; screencap from the Zoic Television Reel.

Based on the science fiction novel by Robert J. Sawyer, ABC’s FlashForward tells the story of the aftermath of a bizarre global event. For 137 seconds, every person on Earth (except perhaps one) loses consciousness, and experiences visions of their own future.

The pilot episode presents the immediate aftermath of the worldwide disaster, with the consequences of the worldwide blackout – millions of deaths due to traffic collisions, crashed aircraft, and other accidents. Star Joseph Fiennes, portraying FBI agent Mark Benford, survives an auto wreck and looks out over a chaotic Los Angeles cityscape. Culver City, California’s Zoic Studios was tapped to create the disastrous tableau; the company’s work on the episode was nominated for two VES awards, for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program and for Outstanding Created Environment in a Broadcast Program or Commercial.

Zoic VFX Supervisor Steve Meyer discusses the creation of the complex scene, which required a tremendous amount of rotoscoping and motion tracking. The amount of roto was necessary, Meyer says, “because they shot in downtown LA, looking from the 4th St. overpass, over the southbound and northbound 110 Freeway. So naturally you can’t stop all that traffic, or get a greenscreen up.

“There’s a big, swooping hero shot following Joseph Fiennes as he jumps up on a car and looks down, and it’s a huge vista. Then we reverse it and look northbound. Everything in the foreground on that overpass we had to roto out. We had a team of seven or eight people going for weeks, just rotoing that and a bunch of other shots.

“We ended up having to remove all the traffic on the freeway; then added in overturned cars, cars burning, flames, smoke, helicopters crashing, just debris everywhere. We had to build a 3D matte painting in that environment. There’s a lot of detail – you can look at the shot over and over, and always see something new.”

The production brought on an experienced feature film matte painter, Roger Kupelian (2012, Alice in Wonderland) to create a “road map” of the shot. “Kupelian took a still of the freeway overpass shots, and he just dialed it in with Kevin Blank, the VFX supervisor – we want smoke here, we want the helicopter to hit here, we want fire and destruction here, we want this tree burning. They gave us a template – this is what we need it to look like. Kupelian sent us the files, and sometimes we used his elements.

“There are about 45 shots we ended up doing for the pilot, and the majority of them were for that overpass sequence. For most of the shots, nothing was locked off – every shot had some sort of roto, because there was no greenscreen. We had to roto everything to build the shots, and then try to match the smoke, fire, debris, people and other elements from shot to shot.

“We were working with different formats — stock footage, film footage, the Red Camera — trying to mix all these different formats to create one environment.”

All the scenes were tracked in Andersson Technologies’ SynthEyes camera tracking software, from which the team was able to build a 3D environment. The artists used this 3D information in Adobe After Effects to rebuild the plate with clean pieces of freeway, overpasses, signs, etc.

“The smoke was a combination of digital photographs, Google images, CG smoke, and moving elements that we had in our vault. Some of the smoke was a dust cloud that we slowed down. One of the smoke passes was a photo of a brush fire I took up by my house with my iPhone. I took the image, gave it to one of my compositors, and said ‘this will look good off in the distance.’ It’s so far off you don’t see it moving, so it fit in fine.

“They shot lots of people on greenscreen, and they all needed to have the right camera lens perspective. They’re way off in the distance; you have to get up close to an HD screen to see them. But we didn’t want any nuances to be overlooked. We don’t want to shoot a person head-on when the camera is going to be looking down at them.

“Another complication with the overpass sequence was that it was shot on a bright day, so we had a lot of technical problems. If you look at someone up against a bright sky, the sun wraps around them a bit, like a halo – and we were trying to put a dark smoke cloud behind them. It just doesn’t work right. We had a lot of technical things to try to work through when we ran into those kinds of problems. Every shot had to be 3D tracked. We took that 3D track into our environment, and we placed things in our 3D world shot by shot by shot.

“We also had a CG tanker in there that blew up. They actually had a real tanker with a big hole in it, and they threw in six gallons of gasoline and lit it and boom! It was huge. We had to put the shell of the tanker on there before the practical explosion; and then we just blew it up in Autodesk Maya and added CG debris, camera shake, heat ripple and dynamic smoke trails; plus glass shattering on the buildings and other background effects.”

Property of ABC; screencap from the Zoic Television Reel.

Wreckage from the tanker explosion strikes an overturned car and knocks it off the overpass onto the freeway below. Zoic created the car in CG. “They shot everybody running up to the guardrail and looking over,” Meyer explains. “We had to remove the railing and put in our own CG railing, so when the car goes down it takes it with it. So we had the complicated roto of recreating the people’s bodies that were behind the railing. We had to rebuild lots of people’s legs and waists. We put in the smoke and stuff that dynamically reacts to the car, so when it gets sucked down it creates a vortex and pulls the smoke down. Also, there’s an orange cart right nearby. We try to get every detail right, so when the car goes down we have a couple of oranges that roll away with it.

Property of ABC; screencap from the Zoic Television Reel.

“Then we had the falling LAPD helicopter. We took a panoramic image of a building, so we’re working on one frame and can do a pan-and-tilt in post. The helicopter has already crashed into the building, and we needed to have the smoke barreling out through most of the sequence, with the rotor blades still spinning — then we get to a certain point, and there’s an explosion that pushes the helicopter out. It tumbles and it’s scraping the building, tearing it apart and opening it up.

“Roger Kupelian labored intensely on a matte painting of the inside of the building, with what would be exposed – wires, beams, pipes, office equipment. As the CG helicopter was falling down the face of the building and opening it up, our compositor just revealed it with little mattes. At the same time we threw in sparks, debris, dust and smoke. It ended up pretty good. It was tough making an animation that made everyone happy, but in the end it looked great on the big screen at the viewing.

“Some of the shots were fun, because you can really push the envelope — let’s see what happens when we do this or when we do that. It took a lot of planning and careful choreography to between our 2D and 3D teams to keep the action and look continuous. Our teams worked tirelessly to create seamless product because anything out of place would be glaring.

“This isn’t ‘sci-fi’ with spaceships and aliens,” Meyers says, “which allow a bit of imagination – but rather, real-life vehicles, smoke, fire, people and buildings that have to look real.”

More info: FlashForward on ABC.com; the latest Zoic Studios Television Reel on ZoicStudios.com; Steven Meyer on IMDb.

Ugly Elves & Inflatable Orcs: Rankin/Bass’ 1977 ‘The Hobbit’ Reviewed

On Periannath.com: a review of the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated version of The Hobbit.

hobbit-panel-18-470x353

Author JRR Tolkien believed that we each have a great sacrifice to make, for the betterment of all humanity. Frodo bore the Ring, for the sake of The Shire; Aragorn walked the Paths of the Dead, for the sake of the Free Peoples; and I watched Rankin/Bass Productions’ 1977 animated television production of The Hobbit, for you, my readers.

You’re welcome. Do I get to sail to Tol Eressëa now?

Read Ugly Elves & Inflatable Orcs: Rankin/Bass’ 1977 ‘The Hobbit’ Reviewed on Periannath.com.

Zoic’s Syd Dutton on Mentoring in the Visual Effects Industry

Originally posted on I Design Your Eyes on3/25/10.

mentoring_630x354

It’s easy for today’s young filmmakers to forget that the art of the cinema goes back 132 years; television 83 years; and interactive media 23 years. Today’s students might think the latest high tech tools are all they need to succeed in the rapidly-changing visual effects industry; and they’ll be sorely disappointed when their ignorance of time-tested filmmaking technique puts them in the dole queue.

That’s why mentoring is so important to the future success of young VFX professionals. I recently sat down with Zoic Studios’ Syd Dutton to discuss the importance of industry pros passing along their knowledge to the next generation.

Dutton has been a leading matte painter for film and television for over three decades. His credits include Dune, Total Recall, the Addams Family films, Star Trek: First Contact and Nemesis, U-571, The Fast and the Furious, The Bourne Identity, and Serenity. The Emmy-Award winner co-founded Illusion Arts in 1985, which created thousands of shots and matte paintings for over 200 feature films over 26 years.

As we spoke, Dutton’s longtime collaborator and Zoic compositing supervisor Fumi Mashimo listened in, and occasionally interjected. Mashimo’s credits include From Hell, Van Helsing and Public Enemies.

The things I learned gave me the foundation I needed for this business… I try to pass it along as much as I can…

The first assistant I had was Rob Stromberg, a well-accomplished matte painter. I would have hired him immediately, but he was driving a Porsche, lived in Malibu, and had a cell phone at a time when cell phones were still a luxury. So I said this guy’s pretty talented, but I can’t afford him. Then I found out later it was all a façade, and he was poor as a church mouse. But he had tons of talent.

syddutton_188x250So I hired him, and he just really excelled when we switched to computers, which just terrified me — but he really embraced it. It was all Macs at the time, because you could get more bang for the buck from multiple Mac stations rather than from just one SGI machine. Our first creature was a bird that Fumi [Mashimo] generated in a traditional painting, I think the same year Jurassic Park (1993) came out – and our big accomplishment was doing this bird!

Rob was great; and he really wanted to direct, so after a number of years he left. He later went back into matte painting and formed his own company, called Digital Backlot. Then he became a digital art director on Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Apparently Rob had learned all the lessons I had learned from [legendary visual effects supervisor and matte painter] Albert Whitlock, that I passed along, like how to compose a shot using light and dark.

Most recently he became a production designer — which is really a jump for a visual effects person — first working for Jim Cameron on Avatar, for which he won an Academy Award [Best Achievement in Art Direction]; and this year he was productions designer on Alice in Wonderland, which is pretty amazing.

Mike Wassel was another one. His background was in design – he went to the Art Center in Pasadena — but he also knew car design, which was fortuitous for him. I got a call from Universal around 2000 saying we have this little movie we want to do on a budget, and we have about 20 shots or so, do you want to do it, it’s for Rob Cohen? I had worked for Rob for years, starting with The Wiz (1978) when he was the producer on the show for Motown.

My partner Bill Taylor and I both realized that Mike was the guy to supervise this. I didn’t know much about cars, but Mike was a complete car fanatic. He knew how cars would bank and all that stuff. Fumi did a wonderful test of a car, and I showed it to Rob Cohen. He said “why are you showing me this?” I said “What do you think it is?” “It’s a sports car turning a corner.” And I said “that’s CG.” We got the job. [laughter]

Bill and I talked Rob Cohen into hiring Mike Wassell as the visual effects supervisor. Now Mike’s working on the fifth edition of Fast & Furious. He was nominated for a VES award on Hellboy II: The Golden Army. So Mike’s having a pretty good career since he left too.

There have been several others; their careers are just beginning. I don’t know if it was so much my mentoring directly. I certainly try to pass on what I learned from Al Whitlock, who taught me everything I know about painting, even though I went to college and I had degrees and stuff like that. But the things I learned from Al gave me the foundation I needed for this business. I try to pass it along as much as I can.

But it was also the environment of Illusion Arts — not just me mentoring, but everyone would help bring up the next person. Do you think that’s fair to say, Fumi?

A good eye is a good eye, whether it’s looking through a whole bunch of glass and a projector, or at a computer monitor…

Fumi: It was a really nice environment.

There’s a couple more people, but I really don’t want to mention them until they achieve something. [laughter]

Fumi’s probably the most unsung person; now he’s compositing, but Fumi can do anything. Fumi did CG birds on The Bourne Identity (2002)…

fumimashimo_188x250Fumi: Oh God.

They were great. Hundreds of birds. I don’t think you will watch The Bourne Identity and notice any of our work in it. And we did dozens and dozens of shots. We always, especially in a contemporary movie, try to be as invisible as possible – I guess that’s what everybody tries to do. In science fiction it’s impossible. In historical dramas, sometimes you can get away with it, if people don’t think too hard. But most of the time in contemporary films, invisibility is what you want.

Erik: Fumi, do you have anything to say about Syd as a mentor?

Fumi: Oh, I mean, I learned everything from him. I didn’t know much about filmmaking when I was hired by him. I can respect him as a boss and also I can respect him as a person. That’s why I have been working with him for the past 23 years.

We found Fumi when he came from Canada with Randy Cook, who’s an Academy award-winning animator (for The Lord of the Rings trilogy). At that time Randy was working on a film called The Gate (1987), and Fumi was working as his assistant for no money, because he wanted the experience; and Fumi didn’t speak very good English either. [Fumi scoffs] But we could tell from his work ethic that he would fit in. So when Randy’s film finished, we asked if he could stay on. He learned English and all sorts of things, and when the computer came along he learned that too.

The old-fashioned optical printer guys, once they learned the computer, they became at that time the very best compositors; because a good eye is a good eye, whether it’s looking through a whole bunch of glass and a projector, or at a monitor. A good eye is what it takes.

Erik: Can you talk about mentoring, as far as personal relationships?

I think mentoring is a pretty intense relationship. You try to give that person all you know and hope they will take it to another level.

Erik: Based on my own chequered experience in this industry, it might be different on the creative side, but I’ve run into a lot of “I’m not going to teach anyone anything, because they might compete against me in the future.”

That’s exactly what happens – but that doesn’t help anybody. There’s always going to be somebody competing against you. If you own a business and don’t teach your people how to do good work, then your company doesn’t do good work. There are a lot of people who won’t give away their quote-unquote “secrets,” and that just isn’t me. I like working with young people. If it’s the right person, I like mentoring.

Fumi: There are a lot of young people CG artists, they don’t want to hear it. We have so many of them passing through.

Yeah, if they didn’t work out, they didn’t stay. I wasn’t cruel about it, I didn’t fire people and embarrass them, but if they didn’t work out, they just didn’t stay. It really was a family, and if a person didn’t fit in that family, it really didn’t matter. It was just a dysfunctional family.

Fumi: It was really nice, though.

If you own a business and don’t teach your people how to do good work, then your company doesn’t do good work…

I’m proud, especially with Rob and Mike, that they have done so well. It reflects well on me [laughter], and it passes on something important. When I first started working with Al, I had artistic experience and I had degrees, but I didn’t know how to apply it to movies. Al was very patient with me, and taught me all his tricks, and all of [legendary special effects creator and matte painter] Peter Ellenshaw’s tricks, because he worked with Ellenshaw.

Al made me aware of how people like W. Percy Day worked, who was a production designer in England in the 30s. I was introduced to all sorts of production designers; most of them are long gone. It was wonderful. It connected me all the way back to the 1920s and 30s. I felt I really learned a lot on how to do things, how to be economical with your vision.

Erik: It sounds like a lot of what you learned translates into the new technology.

Oh, it all translates. People just don’t necessarily know about it. If you hadn’t been exposed to it, and talked to people who worked on these movies that were classics — it’s not in books, it has to be learned firsthand.

Erik: Do you get people who think that knowledge from before the digital revolution can’t translate?

Yeah, sure. They can’t believe it would work. Some simple — what we used to call “gags” – these tricks that are effective, they say couldn’t possibly translate into the digital age, and they can.

Erik: What about the environment at Zoic, as far as mentoring and education?

I think the training program here is really very good. It’s a wonderful way to find out who’s going to work out, and it’s certainly wonderful for young people to be around this environment.

It’s never going to be the same as the world I came up in. I was exposed to this whole backlot world, and the old movie stars and everything. In this environment you aren’t exposed to sets, and all those things I found really interesting working for a big studio.

When I had my own business at Illusion Arts, we did go to the sets. We went on locations, too. What we did on glass was something very few people could do. But as times changed and everything became computer-oriented, this became the type of environment that people would have to learn to work in. And of all the places I’ve seen, Zoic by far has the best environment. It’s the friendliest, it’s the most open.

I told one of my client producers, you’d be hard put to know who to kill to take over the company, because there’s no obvious boss walking around smoking a cigar or something. Everybody seems to know their jobs, and they just collaborate with one another. I’ve never seen people yelling at each other – maybe I haven’t stayed around long enough to see that. [laughter]

It’s a good environment, and it’s actually one of the reasons I came here. It didn’t seem to have a whole bunch of pressure – there’s time pressure, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of alpha dogs going around screaming at each other!

More info: Syd Dutton, Fumi Mashimo, Robert Stromberg and Mike Wassel on IMDb; see also “Syd Dutton: Matte Painting from Traditional to Digital.”

From ‘2001’ to ‘CSI’: Zoic Studios’ Rik Shorten on Motion Control for VFX

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 3/12/10.

motioncontrol_haze_630x354

In cinematography, motion control is the use of computerized automation to allow precise control of, and repetition of, camera movements. It is often used to facilitate visual effects photography.

I spoke with Rik Shorten, visual effects supervisor at Culver City, California’s Zoic Studios, about his use of motion control and how the technology has changed since it was introduced over three decades ago. Shorten produces motion-controlled effects for CBS’ visually-groundbreaking forensic drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He recently took home a VES Award for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program for his work on the “frozen moment” sequence in CSI’s tenth-season opener.

“I didn’t work on the original 2001: A Space Odyssey,” Shorten says, “or back in the Star Wars days in the 70s when computer-controlled cameras were first developed. But fundamentally, the way the technology works hasn’t changed. The rig I use almost weekly on CSI is the original rig from [David Lynch’s 1984 science-fiction film] Dune. The Kuper controller, the head that controls the rig, runs on MS-DOS. It’s a really old-school programming language that they used for these original systems, that hasn’t really changed because it hasn’t had to. It’s a coordinate-based system, XYZ, and we can write the moves we need. The way we do it today is the same way they would have programmed it 20 years ago. So from that perspective, the technology hasn’t increased.

The way the technology works hasn’t changed. The rig I use on CSI is the original rig from 1984’s Dune

“What has changed is that the rigs have gotten smaller, lighter and quieter. They now have the ability to run silently — they used to be so loud that you couldn’t record dialogue with them. Today we have smaller rigs that can fit through doorways – they’re made out of carbon fiber pieces now, they’re not the behemoths they used to be — and you can have actors delivering dialogue in the same scene as a motion-control move.

“So how we use them hasn’t changed, but slowly but surely they’ve made progress. Some weeks I use the old rigs versus the new ones, because that’s all I need, and the moves are simple enough. We have a system that’s 30 years old that we use side-by-side with a system built three or four years ago. And we interchange them based on the needs of the shot.

“As far as CSI, there are two ways we use motion control. We do stand-alone in-camera shots with the motion-control rig, where we’re flying over a prosthetic, or we’re traveling around a prop, and we need to get a macro shot; we use them a lot for macro photography. We have a couple of different snorkel lenses we use on the systems; one’s an endoscopic lens, and one is a probe lens, and they were both designed for medical photography. They’re both barrel lenses, about 12” long. The endoscopic lens is a fixed lens, sort of a wide-angle lens; it’s a tiny skinny little lens you can stick through a donut hole. If you see any shots where the camera goes in-between something where it seems like it shouldn’t go, that’s the lens we use.

“The probe lens is a little bit bigger, but it has multiple lens sizes, so we can go as wide as a 9mm or 12mm lens, for super-wide shots; right up to your prime lenses, your 22s, 25s, 30s, whatever it is. We use that in the same way, for getting into tight spots, and for getting macro, because the close-focus on these lenses is only about six inches. That’s a lot tighter than a normal lens can get.

“We use these cameras to get that sort of fantastical camera move that a Steadicam or a dolly couldn’t do. So when it’s got to rotate on three axes and fly in, that’s when we’ll program something in motion control. It’s like a 3D rendered camera, but we’re actually shooting it in real life. It frees us up to do more aggressive, creative moves.

motioncontrolcsi_630x354Rik Shorten with Director of Photography David Drzewiecki (center); with unidentified crew member and actress.

“The other way we use motion control is for multiple passes — like in the old days where they did three or four passes of the starship Enterprise with different lighting setups, and combined them all later. We don’t do much of that these days, at least in television; I’m sure they still do it in features. We use it for multiple layering. We’ll do the same scene with different elements in three or four passes, all broken apart with the same repeatable move; then we’ll put them all back together so we can affect the different elements in different ways.

“We do ghost shots every week. We’ll have a production plate without a foreground actor in it, just a background. We’ll track that plate here at Zoic. The data is then converted to XYZ coordinate data — ASCII files that MS-DOS can read off old-school 3½“ floppies — so the Kuper controller on the motion control rig can mimic the camera move from the track plate that we shot in first unit. When I put that data in, and I have my background plate and my video setup, I run them together and they’ll run at the same time. The camera will mimic what the first unit camera did.

“Let’s say a guy is firing a gun in front of the greenscreen, and he’s supposed to be a ghost image superimposed into the scene. I’ll shoot him on greenscreen, with that tracked camera move; and then when I come back here to Zoic, I’ve got a motion control pass on the greenscreen, and I’ve got my first unit plate, and the two line up perfectly. That’s how we get all the stylized transition pieces, and all those layers that CSI uses to great effect, because we have the capacity to translate and then to reshoot at a later date using the motion control system.

Recreating a scene on the greenscreen that was shot in the field is always a challenge…

“The first time I saw this used was in [1996’s] Multiplicity with Michael Keaton – that’s when I saw this tech first exploding, having the same person in the same scene, over and over. There were a lot of production cheats used for years, with locked plates and simple split-screen; but this technology allows you to travel 360 degrees around somebody, and go into the scene and come back out of the scene; and people can cross and interact and do other things, that they could not do without this system. If you’re using live action elements for these high-concept shots, then motion control is the only way to do it.”

Shorten says that precision is an important issue, just as it was with traditional locked-plate shots. “Sometimes we don’t have the exact lens, we’re off by a few mils. Say they used a 50mm lens and I only have a 45mm, sometimes there’s a little eye matching that needs to happen. To say it’s plug-and-play is disingenuous. You need to understand the limitations of the system.

“Recreating a scene on the greenscreen that was shot in the field is always a challenge. You need to expect there’s going to be some compensation; you’re going to have to do a little eye matching, playing shots back and doing an A-over-B in our video assist, and then adjusting your frame rates and composition, adjusting the speed of the moves. A lot of times, even with the track data, we’ll have to make some on-the-fly compensations to get things to sit in there correctly.

“We do surveys on location, as far as distances to camera and understanding where the actors are supposed to be in the greenscreen instance. How far away from the camera is the actor supposed to be in the scene, that’s where we start. When we transfer the data, we have a general idea that the camera’s six feet high, it’s five degrees tilted up, and 22 feet from our subject. But when you get it in the studio and do the A-over-B, you might realize that you need to be zero instead of five degrees, or you need to be four feet closer, or you need to change your lens a little bit. The elements have to line up visually, not just by the numbers, so they’re actually going to work when you look at the images together.”

Shorten says that some problems with matching can be fixed digitally. “There is a lot we can work with digitally. It’s not very often we will shoot something in motion control, come back here and have to throw it out completely. Usually it’s salvageable, even if we’re off for some reason.”

Shorten’s greatest challenge is in helping the television production community become comfortable with motion capture technology. “There is still a fear of using this technology, even though it’s been around for years, because it’s still considered to be the domain of feature films, and commercials and music videos that have more time and money than most productions believe they have.

motioncontrol_shorten_630x354Rik Shorten on the stage.

“There is an education process, that we’ve been quietly working on for a long time. ‘Motion control’ really is a four-letter word for a lot of production managers, who say ‘I don’t have the time, I don’t know the technology, I don’t know how to use it, I don’t know why I need it, and you’re going to kill my one-liner if I have to take five hours to set up a motion control shot. We just won’t do it.’ We run up against this all the time.

“And this is even on shows like CSI, which is comfortable with the technology. Every ninth day we have a motion control day, even if they are simple in-camera things. They understand it, but they will bounce shots. When I suggest taking my motion control off my second unit day, and putting it on set – as soon as I’m doing it with main unit actors, in the middle of the day when there’s 150 crew around, suddenly even shows that are comfortable with the technology get very nervous.

Definitely there’s a lot of apprehension, but it’s such a great technology…

“The hope is that with these smaller and quieter rigs, with the idea that we can do pre-viz and set surveys so that when we show up on set we know exactly where our rig is going to go, we can get in and get set up very quickly, and start rolling video takes to show a director within a couple of hours. We can have our pre-viz and our moves written, if we do our surveying correctly, so that we’re not starting from scratch. We don’t need a week to do a motion control move.

“Definitely there’s a lot of apprehension, but it’s such a great technology. These shots can’t be accomplished any other way, without costing too much. If you don’t shoot it this way, if you try to back into it later, you need all kinds of digital fixes and compromises. You spend money somewhere. Getting it in-camera, and doing as much as you can physically — for a lot of set-ups motion control is head-and-shoulders above any other technique, from a financial standpoint and for the way it’s going to come out for your show.

“It’s about trying to build that trust and that faith with productions. We’re not suggesting motion control because we want to noodle around with computer-controlled cameras; it’s because it really is the best way to achieve your shot, and get the elements we need to make something really dynamic for your show.”

More info: Zoic Studios Wins Big at 2010 VES Awards; Zoic Stops Time, Creates Historic ‘Frozen Moment’ Sequence for CBS’ ‘CSI’ Premiere.

Zoic Studios Blows Up ‘The Crazies’ Fan Premiere

Originally posted on I Design Your Eyes on 2/26/2010.

eisnerolyphantmitchell_630x354From left: director Breck Eisner and stars Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell take the coming nuclear onslaught quite seriously.

On Wednesday evening, Overture Films held a special fan premier event for its new horror film, The Crazies, which opens today. The movie is a remake of the 1973 George A. Romero classic, and stars Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood, Live Free or Die Hard), Radha Mitchell (Surrogates) and Joe Anderson (Amelia). It tells the story of a small Iowa town devastated by an unknown toxin that causes insanity and death.

Invited guests, who included fandom journalists and horror bloggers, were treated to an immersive experience from the moment they pulled up in their cars. The KCET public television studios in Hollywood were transformed for the evening into beleaguered Ogden Marsh, Iowa. As guests arrived, they were pulled from their cars by military personnel, and marched past army vehicles and through metal detectors to a medical examination area. Nearby, citizens were assaulted, cuffed and herded into pens by soldiers, while moaning bodies lay on gurneys or were stacked in body bags. After guests were checked for contamination, they were issued wristbands indicating whether they were infected or clear, and then herded onto school buses with blackened windows. Military instructions were blared over loudspeakers while the sound of helicopters was heard overhead.

zoic_crazies_3950The after-party on KCET studios’ Stage B.

After being driven around for a while, the guests were released in front of a movie theater, issued rations (popcorn), and taken inside to watch the film.

Afterward, guests were invited back to the KCET lot (despite the bus ride, it was just across the street) to enjoy dinner, music and an open bar, and to hobnob with director Breck Eisner and stars Olyphant and Mitchell. There were also demonstrations from various companies that worked on the film. Guests could watch a stunt show and see a stunt performer set on fire; be turned into Crazies by professional makeup artists; or be strapped into a harness and “hanged” by the neck.

zoic_crazies_3942Eisner, Olyphant and Mitchell pose at the Zoic booth.

Culver City, California’s Zoic Studios, which provided visual effects for the film, offered a VFX “before-and-after” reel; and Zoic co-founder Loni Peristere was on hand to answer fans’ questions, along with compositing supervisor Aaron Brown, who flew down from Zoic’s Vancouver, British Columbia studio just for the occasion. Also, guests were invited to pose in front of a greenscreen and get professionally composited into a still shot of a nuclear explosion from the film. A team of Zoic compositors created over 100 images over the course of the evening, which were emailed to fans.

The evening was an incredible success, and fans had to be kicked out when the bar shut down at 12:30am. For more information about The Crazies, visit the official web site.

View all the images from the event below; or follow this link to the Flickr page.

Perfect “Harmony”: Zoic Creates VFX for Daytona 500 Coca-Cola NASCAR Spot

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 2/17/2010.

zoic_cokenascar_1_630x354

Eleven top NASCAR drivers are having a bad day, grumbling into their car radio mics. But once in the crew pit, each driver is offered a cold, refreshing bottle of Coca-Cola. Back on the track, the drivers are so exhilarated they begin singing “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” as bewildered fans listen in over headphones.

The 60-second commercial, which also has two 30-second versions, premiered this last Sunday, Valentine’s Day, during the broadcast of the Daytona 500 on ESPN. It hearkens back to the 1971 commercial “Hilltop,” probably the most famous Coke commercial in history, which introduced the song. The new spot, entitled “Harmony,” features NASCAR drivers Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Bobby Labonte, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Elliott Sadler and Tony Stewart.

See the “Harmony” spot here, at the end of a feature about the making of the commercial; the spot begins at 4:10.

The commercial does not appear to be effects-heavy, but appearances can be deceiving. It was assembled from a number of separate elements, including CG cars and digitally-altered stock footage. The VFX were created by Culver City, California’s Zoic Studios, which produces effects for commercials, feature films and episodic television, such as ABC’s V, FOX’s Fringe and CBS’ CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

“The agency went to the NASCAR archives and pulled stock footage,” says Zoic executive producer, commercials Erik Press, “and they cut together what they envisioned as a race.

“Then they filled it in with close-ups of the actual drivers, which were shot on the racetrack in Charlotte, North Carolina. Those were inserted in the edit. [Commercial creative director] Les Ekker shot back plates for footage outside of the vehicles. Our task was to take stock footage, interiors of drivers, and plates of driving shots, and mix them all together and make them appear as one entire race.”

zoic_cokenascar_2_630x354

“Mostly the work consisted of taking their ‘hero’ celebrity drivers, and generating driving plates,” explains Neil Ingram, a Zoic producer.

“They wanted us to make these moments inside of the car to feel like ‘found’ footage, like you’re tapping into the live feed while they’re driving. Part of a NASCAR race is that you can rent headphones, and listen to the realtime exchanges of the drivers and the crews. The spectators that we cut away to are listening to the radios, and they’re bewildered by the fact that these drivers are all singing together.

“First we had to make the interior driving spots look realistic. Then we had to work on a degradation look, to make the shots match the practical realtime images that are actually from the cars; there are some of those shots in the spot.

“We had some CG augmentation on shots, and then ran it through compression. The cameras they use in the cars are ICONIX — they shoot back realtime images to a broadcast tower. They’re true HD cameras, but they get compressed with MPEG-2 compression. So we did some experimentation with different levels of MPEG and JPEG damage, to match the look. But these are celebrity drivers and these are product shots, so we had to find a balance between not getting too much degradation, but making them still feel ‘found.’”

“It was a fun job,” says Zoic co-founder Chris Jones, who was creative director for the VFX. “It has all the good elements for a visual effects spot: full-CG cars; full-CG dynamics; full-CG tracks; a lot of clean-up and footage matching; a lot of greenscreen; live-action plates; stock footage integration – it runs the whole range of VFX. It came together well – it’s a really satisfying piece. I’m pleased with it.”

Press says the production was a very positive experience for everyone involved. “It is really sort of an iconic Coca-Cola spot, with ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke.’ They haven’t brought that theme back for some time.

“It was a really smooth production, it went really well. The agency was very happy. It was smooth for them as well — we were always right behind them, providing for them. A really positive experience.”

The spot was directed by Mike Long for Epoch Films; and edited by Matthew Hilbert of Joint Editorial House, Portland.

zoic_cokenascar_3_630x354

More info: “Coca-Cola Harmony – Behind The Scenes With The New Ad” on the Coca-Cola Conversations blog; Coca-Cola “Harmony” on Youtube; Coca-Cola “Hilltop” on Youtube.