Asylum Helps Draw The Porsche Family Tree
October 28, 2009

Asylum Helps Draw The Porsche Family Tree

Asylum, in collaboration with ad agency Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago and @RadicalMedia Director Jeff Zwart, completed a VFX feat for a new TV spot introducing the Porsche Panamera--the first four-seat sports car from the carmaker. The elaborate, technically challenging commercial was the perfect showcase for Asylum's vast VFX capability, says a company representative.
Family Tree features a stampede of more than 50 classic Porsche cars accelerating across an open plain. Ever-shifting camera angles -- from overhead panoramas to driver-seat views -- capture the onward momentum of the pack as one car, the Panamera, weaves its way through the crowd. Interspersed with these ground-level angles is a bird's-eye view of the collection etching tracks in the landscape to progressively create the branches of the Porsche family tree.

"Porsche is a company synonymous with excellence: they have an incredible history, universal brand recognition, and extremely high-quality products. Working with C-K and @RadicalMedia to execute this grand vision for Porsche was a real honor," notes Asylum EP Michael Pardee. "This project was a challenge on many different levels, but our team came together and produced something really special."

Coordinating several vehicles in 57 separate shots presented myriad challenges for Asylum. Each scene needed to be camera tracked perfectly to provide exact camera data to create a realistic landscape. The cars had to be matchmoved and rotoscoped in every shot so that the tracks in the surface and the dust could be procedurally generated from each vehicle. The tracks laid in the surface were crucial to the story, allowing us to see where other cars had already been and, by curving the tracks away from the pack, suggesting the direction the cars moved to form new branches, giving credibility to the end reveal -- the formation of the family tree. All previsualization was done to scale using satellite views of the set at El Toro Airbase to coordinate the action on the tarmac.

A realistic-looking desert plain, with tracks and dust trails from the speeding cars, had to be created in CG for the 50 live-action cars to live in. All the environments, tracks, dust, and previsualization dynamics were done in Houdini for its scalability and procedural capabilities. Houdini's Digital Assets allowed Asylum to modify the look of the terrain, tracks, and dust in a single shot, quickly propagate the changes to all shots and handle pre-composites of certain elements prior to handing them off for compositing.

Most of the shots required adding additional cars and some needed cars removed and replaced with CG cars. A number of different techniques were utilized to achieve this task.

Live-action cars were rotoscopd from other takes, stabilized, and retracked into new plates. Hi-res photos of each car were taken and relit before being animated to create certain shots and CG cars were modeled and animated to replace unwanted cars or to populate shots with too few Porsche models. Every car in the commercial, irrespective of being from the original shoot or being added digitally, was modeled and matchmoved so the crew had digital assets to generate tire tracks and dust. Animation and matchmoving the cars was done using Maya software.

Asylum incorporated sun, flares, shadows, dust, and tracks to each scene to balance the lighting irregularities caused by the sunup-to-sundown shooting schedule. The Paint and Roto department had an enormous task of extracting a large number of cars from their original backgrounds. The Paint team needed to remove camera vehicle reflections, tracking markers and runway markings that were either reflected in the cars or removed from their shadows. Matte paintings were created in Photoshop, with camera tracking done in Syntheyes and roto handled in Silhouette v3.4. Final compositing and integration was done on the Flame.

"To prepare for these multiple challenges, Asylum was involved in extensive pre-vis and on-set supervision ensuring the smoothest integration of the VFX with the photography," says Asylum's CG supervisor Zach Tucker. "We built a system to animate cars that included procedural systems for car dynamics and tracks being laid on the surface, allowing us to quickly visualize the number, year, make and model of cars needed in each shot. Finding the correct balance between live action and CG was tricky. The spot always had to be believable, or we would have failed. Once all of the elements were created and refined, it was quite an undertaking to mold the imagery into a place which was both consistent and convincing."

"We worked closely with both the director and C-K to ensure that we succeeded in achieving both the look of the commercial, including which cars were showcased in which shots, and delivering a spot that convincingly told the introduction story of the newest member of the Porsche family and the heritage that inspired its creation," says Asylum's VFX supervisor Tim Davies. "The launch of the Porsche Panamera was definitely an exercise where Asylum's expansive array of talent was utilized across each and every department. Everyone had a major role and every department delivered seamless work."

The Creds:

Client: Porsche Cars North America
Spot Title: Family Tree
Air Date: October 15, 2009

Agency: Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago
Chief Creative Officer: Marshall Ross
Associate Creative Director: Rick Hamann
Copywriter: Gary Doyle; Rick Hamann
Art Director: Matt Spett; Luke Partridge
VP/Director of Broadcast Production: Sergio Lopez

Production Company: @Radical Media
Director: Jeff Zwart

Post Production: Asylum
Visual Effects Supervisor: Tim Davies
Executive Producer: Michael Pardee
Producer: Mark Kurtz
Coordinator: Jennie Burnett
Bidding Producer: Michael Hanley
CG Supervisor: Zach Tucker
Compositor(s): Tim Davies, Jonathan Hicks, Tim Bird
Lead Technical Designer: Jeff Willette
Lead Modeler: Greg Stuhl
Modeler(s): Toshihiro Sakamaki, Josh Robinson, Lersak Bunuparadah, Chad Fehmie
Animator(s): Samir Lyons, Michael Warner, Michael Shelton
Texture/Tracker: Ryan Reeb
Texture: John Hart
Tracker(s): Eddie Offermann, Michael Lori, Lauren Van Houten, Michael Maker, Tom Stanton, Ian Doss, Danny Garcia, Apirak Kamjan
Lighter(s): Aaron Vest, Austin Das, Sean Durnan
Effects Animator: Jens Zalzala
Lead Roto: Elissa Bello
Roto(s): Hugo Dominuez, Laura Murillo, Daniel Linger, Jason Bidwell, Stephanie Ide, Scott Baxter, Midori Witsken, Mark Duckworth, Zac Chowdhury, Huey Carroll, Chris Cortese, Bethany Pederson Onstad
Matte Painter: Tim Clark