Culver City, Calif. - Hollywood-based prodco Smuggler recently turned to SWAY Studio to complete two VFX-driven spots unveiling the brand-new 2011 MINI Countryman. The spots entitled "Flow" and "The Last Spot" capture the versatile spirit of the newest family member, MINI's first ever 4-door and optional 4-wheel drive vehicle, designed for urban cruisers with an appetite for style and spontaneous adventure. With the first Countryman fleet already available in Europe, the spots began airing in that market starting September 6, 2010; The MINI Countryman does not launch in the U.S. until January 2011 so media plans are not yet confirmed.
The ambitious concept for the campaign, via BSUR Amsterdam, called for SWAY's CG expertise and proprietary Drive-a-Tron software. Led by VFX Supervisor Aaron Powell, SWAY cloned hundreds of photo-real MINI Countrymans to stage a riveting race though various Italian vistas and landmarks.
Directed by Brian Beletic, "Flow" embarks with a quartet of stylish urbanites cruising through Milan. Each obstacle and turn they encounter magically spawns a new Countryman, which splits from the pack until the entire city abounds with its red clones racing in an orchestrated adventure. The ensuing phenomenon traverses the countryside and coastline. The action culminates on a ferry at Lake Como where each vehicle, one by one, soars to the finish, seamlessly converging into the single Mini Countryman from which the spot began.
"Brian was amazing to work with," remarks VFX Supervisor Aaron Powell. "He came with a great energy and brilliant concepts of what he wanted to accomplish. Being a fan of our work and Drive-a-Tron, he looked to our expertise and let us run with it."
According to SWAY, all but 3 of the 317 vehicles seen in the spot are CG. SWAY utilized CAD data supplied by MINI along with reference photos to match the hero vehicle from the live-action shoot, surface for surface, detail for detail. For animation of all the driving sequences, SWAY employed its proprietary Drive-a-Tron software.
Crucial to director Beletic's creative concept, the premise of SWAY's job entailed fitting as many vehicles in the frame as possible, while exercising creative restraint to maintain a level of realism in terms of physics. The inherent challenge, from a VFX standpoint, was to make each unique vehicle look and feel realistic, particularly with the continuity of the vehicles separating and converging.
"The vehicles had to appear to be converging at will and not just crashing into each other. When you have 80 cars in a scene, it is about careful choreography, almost a dance between each of the cars. It was a tough balancing act, but we pulled it off," Powell said. SWAY's animation pipeline employed a range of other software: AutoDesk 3ds Max; V-Ray for rendering; Nuke and Flame for compositing; PTGui for HDRI reflection and lighting; and a variety of packages for tracking including SWAY's proprietary tracking software, Nuke, and PFTrack.
According to Powell, Drive-a-Tron was by far the most important tool in
"We wouldn't have achieved the motion realism of all the bounces, slides, and skids without it -- much less in a production timeline typical of most commercial work. If there is any project we've done in last two years that really showcases the capabilities of Drive-a-Tron, it's this project."
PRODUCT: MINI Countryman
Title: "Flow" (:30/:60)
CLIENT: MINI/BMW Group
Head of global advertising and social media: Robert Gocke
Global advertising: Piera Kaempf
ADVERTISING AGENCY: BSUR Amsterdam / Netherlands
Creative Director: Jason Schragger
Creative Director: Paulo Martins
Copywriter: Gian Carlo Lanfranco
Art Director: Rolando Cordova
Account Supervisor: Mia Drexl-Schegg
Account Executive: Thijs van Dam
Planning Supervisor: Stein Janssen
Agency Producer: Corey Bartha
PRODUCTION COMPANY: Smuggler / Hollywood, CA
Director: Brian Beletic
Partner & Executive Producer: Brian Carmody
Partner & Executive Producer: Patrick Millingsmith
Chief Operating Officer/EP: Lisa Rich
Head Of Production: Laura Thoel
Line Producer: Tim Kerrison
Post Producer: Franny Faull
ANIMATION & VISUAL EFFECTS: SWAY /Culver City, CA
Executive Producer: Jason Cohon
Visual Effects Supervisor: Aaron Powell
Compositing Supervisor / Senior Flame Artist: Pilon Lectez
CG Supervisor: Artur Sayan
Senior Producer: Alex Thiesen
Production Coordinator: Andrew Gilson
Flame Artist: Brad Scott
Flame Artist: Todd Hemsley
Nuke Artist: Lawrence Littleton
Nuke Artist: Scott Hale
Nuke Artist: Ken Littleton
Pre-visualization: Robert Glazer
Drive-A-Tron Operators: Cesar Chavez, Alexander Powell
Animator: Nathan Millsap
Color & Lighting: Artur Sayan, Cesar Chavez, Nathan Millsap
Photogrammetry: Andrew Swihart
FX Artist: Rob Valdivia
FX Artist: Steve Wang
Tracking Lead: Marco Maldonado
Tracking: Steve Hansen
Lead Roto Artist: Elissa Bello
Roto Artist: Kenneth Lui
Roto Artist: Billy Robinson
EDITORIAL HOUSE: Rock, Paper, Scissors / Santa Monica, CA
Editor: Adam Pertofsky
Executive Producer: Carol Lynn Weaver
Producer: Juliet Batter
Assistant Editor: Neil Meiklejohn
MUSIC: The Rumor Mill
SOUND DESIGN: Brian Emrich