MPC's knack for making the impossible look easy is on full display in a pair of Mercedes-Benz spots via Merkley + Partners and Smuggler cirector Adam Berg. The MPC team put together an impressive array of motion control, CG, and other effects for the new campaign.
The commercial, titled “Unchained,” features a Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG four-door set in a nighttime desert, clusters of chains strung from the car's rear doors to nearby boulders. As the vehicle accelerates from a stop, the chains clang behind before drawing tight and yanking the rear doors off in a violent, slow-motion explosion of glass and steel. When the C63 spins to a halt, it has been transformed into a sleek two-door: the 2012 C-Coupe.
“Unchained” was shot on film and digitally using the Phantom camera, which required extensive 2D work to marry the formats. "We basically needed to make the clean Phantom footage look more optical and atmospheric, like the film," states MPC VFX supervisor/lead Flame artist Jake Montgomery. "We partly achieved this by adding smoke, dust, light effects, and film grain."
However, the most difficult task was compositing the 2012 car and 3D elements onto a fast moving, non-repeatable 2012 Mercedes-Benz C63. "We were unable to break the doors off the brand-new car; therefore, we needed to plan careful blend points for the action to take place. In doing the CG, it was a fine balance between giving the chains some interesting dynamics and making them look right, physically," continues Montgomery. "The real chains were less interesting in the references, as it was impossible for them to move and whip as much due to their weight. We wanted to make ours look as interesting as possible without breaking the realms of believability."
In the spot “Passing Through,” a Mercedes-Benz C250 power slides toward the camera in super slow motion. The camera passes through the passenger window and pans across the car's redesigned dashboard in one seamless shot before exiting the driver's side window to capture the Mercedes-Benz continuing its slide around a city street corner.
MPC started the project by creating a 3D previs animation sequence before shooting, defining the timing, framing, and camera movement with the director and the agency. The studio shot the 30-second sequence in three parts—the approaching car, the camera passing through the interior, and the shot of the car drifting away—at 1000 frames per second using a Phantom camera, then recombined the footage in postproduction.
While the first and third segments required close coordination with the stunt man, it is in the interior pass-through that MPC's magic shines. "We shot this segment using an impressive camera movement called 'motion control,' which is a mechanical arm controlled by a computer that lets us create any camera movement and reproduce it as many times as we want in different locations and conditions," MPC MD Andrew Bell adds.
"The art department re-created a portion of the Mercedes-Benz's interior—the front seats, dashboard, steering wheel—against a greenscreen, leaving off the roof and doors. In this way, we were able to shoot multiple plates and simulate the same stunt-driving position as the camera passed from one side to the other. We rotoscoped, reassembled, and reanimated these different passes in 2D in Flame in order to maintain the camera movement at the driver's vision."
Once the three distinct segments were ready, MPC re-timewarped, restabilized, and recombined each plate in 2D in Flame to re-create one smooth and fluid movement. "In order to complete the outdoor-indoor-outdoor transition, we had to re-create the car and the background in 3D using HRDI pictures that we grabbed on the shoot and from the 3D CAD model of the car that Mercedes-Benz gave us. We match-moved each shot and composited them all in Flame. The greatest challenge was to re-create significant deformation of the focal length and fixed huge parallax issues in 2D for each transition into a long, crazy 180-degree camera movement," Bell concludes. MPC finished by re-creating and adding smoke, dust, flying leaves and other elements.