In our LAB+ series of articles we are giving production companies, post houses, music houses, CG & VFX artists, an opportunity to demonstrate transparency in their technical set of skills bringing to light their most interesting projects and collaborations.
SHP+ 的LAB+系列还在进行中。在这一系列的文章中，我们为制作公司、后期制作公司、音乐公司、CG&VFX 艺术家等，提供了一个展示他们技术能力极其透明的机会，以介绍他们最有趣的项目和合作。
SHP+ continues with SPONSORED series of articles by JUICE, a renowned polish Visual Effects & Sound studio that very soon will open its new office doors in Shanghai.
This time we’re inviting you to behind the scenes of Buick Electra — a fully remote post-production of a mostly CG auto commercial for China.
The SAIC holding company wanted to take “would-be” drivers on a 150 second imaginary ride through a universe of fantasy worlds that finally converge in reality. Production house Qianxi Media and JUICE post-production team were up to the task. The reality of the project starting at the height of the Covid-19th pandemic meant JUICE team couldn’t follow the traditional workflow. They had to deliver the results without a team of SFX supervisors working alongside the production team on set, marking and mapping objects in real-time, and adjusting as the production progressed.
HOW TO CREATE A MOSTLY CG AUTO COMMERCIAL WITH FULLY-REMOTE POST-PRODUCTION?
In a series of dream sequences, the main character is fantasizing about her perfect car while floating between different CG worlds. To seamlessly integrate the footage with CG environments the team had to give extra attention to lighting and reflections. At the same time JUICE had to make up for the fact that some shots were done in studio due to Covid-restriction, which involved heavier CG.
Director Li Zimo loves to scatter light off different surfaces in his minimalistic designs. In other words, a nightmare scenario when shooting lots of green screen. Generally speaking, green screens and reflective materials like the car’s coating and character’s clothing don’t mix quite well.
The motion board presented by the director had quite a lot of minimalistic references with only one or two prominent elements that lead the scene. This effectively put all eyes on the nuances of each shot.
To achieve smooth flow of the video and make seamless change from one environment to another the director planned for a lot of creative transitions already at the step of the initial motion board. One of the challenges of a creative transition is the fact that sometimes it is not fully clear which object should help make the transformation.
JUICE team prepare a 3D layout where they could position the props and account for all the big character movements on set as they set up their cameras and plotted their movement. This helped them to anticipate almost all of the problem areas and deliver precise camera and lighting instructions to the production team.
In a scene where the woman’s hand was playing with the celestial rings of one of the planets to make the interaction feel credible and the light play —realistic, the team was shooting a hand against a black backdrop while shining on it with a laser beam.
Choosing a matte white suite with silver accents for the character’s outfit for the fencing scene was a less time-consuming compromise.
But the actual Buick had an extremely reflective coating, which meant the team had to deal with a ton of green spills. With the exception of the final rooftop scene that featured the real car, JUICE used a 3D model which helped eliminate spills.
For the rooftop scene where the team had to make up for the missing reflections, JUICE came up with oversized LED screens for projecting the sky HDRI’s. Due to the time restrictions, the production had the sky printed on large vinyl canvases instead.
It meant recreating most of the elements in the shot in CG, as glossy floor and water on set simply attracted a ton of unwanted reflections from the white ceiling and the supporting stands.
In order to solve visual challenges the decision was to push this dreamworld beyond any physical constraints. For the energy sphere containing the actress, JUICE combined the structural feel of a glass bubble with a golden hair light then surrounded everything by filaments of light reminiscent of coronal-mass-ejections and a touch of Tesla-ball internal lightning.
They created two kinds of light vectors: one set that felt more organic and tangled more freely with the hand and another set of more engineered vectors that both built the outline of the dashboard and then adhered to it.
他们创造了两种光的载体: 一种感觉更有组织，与手更自由地纠缠在一起; 另一种更工程化，它们勾勒了仪表板的轮廓，然后依附在上面。
animated light vectors
Revealing the surfaces that make up the car interior against the dark space was a subtle dance as the team didn’t want it to look like a rough mask. They solved this by combining the render of the interior with the golden glow, as if emanating from the contours, and the FX revealing mask assisted by a fluid shape.
manually animated countour lines
In the energy ball outburst scene the first stitch is covered by the burst itself while keeping the same camera movement, then the imaginary nebula surface transforms into the planet rings
To help the transition happen more organically we defined a visible plane in the center of the scene.
Then we created a special particle simulation for the nebula look, and inside this nebula we placed the transformation of the plane that helps fit in the planet rings.
Light-to-grid transformation called for a dramatic transition from the more “stripy” structure of the car lights to the more grid-driven structure of a wheel which transforms into a tunnel as it rotates. Here’s how JUICE tackled it：
rom rigid to curving and fluidy
from curving to rigid
to the spokes of a wheel
to the segmented structure of a tunnel
A glowing light grid scattering in the tunnel
The rigid stripes that make up the car lights had to transform into an abstract spiral with curved lines – like in the reference:
构成汽车灯的刚性条纹必须转变成带有曲线的抽象螺旋 – 如图所示：
At the same time we had to stay within the framework of the wheel grid that came next.
In addition to unifying the rotation movement throughout the entire shot we also preserved the glow of the lights that scatter in the tunnel.
This scene is also transitioning the story from the dark space, which we can glimpse in the background, into the clean white space.
The director also wanted to use supersonic waves created by the car as a transition effect. Where the sound barrier is broken, one environment was supposed to be broken and give way to another. The director’s reference was quite clear, however the dark background made the effect stand out.
Working with a near-white environment, the team couldn’t rely on classic air flow so they relied on the gray tones in the background and in the car to help the air waves, compounding the effect by distorting the environment to intensify the final effect.
Tackling first ever fully remote post-production meant grueling nights pouring over previews, extra meticulous attention to details and creative solutions to make up for the absence of production team on set. The result is a fantasy world of Buick Electra brought to life with certain production adjustments, but no compromise on the original idea.