Evolutionary Tale
March 31, 2011

Evolutionary Tale

Motion Theory director leads viewers on Darwinian pursuit for Audi
Motion Theory director Mathew Cullen recently wrapped "Footsteps," a beautifully cinematic 60-second cinema spot for Audi via Venables Bell & Partners.

The spot leads viewers on a heart-pounding Darwinian pursuit across time, covering 300 million years of biological and technological evolution in just one minute. The lesson: Progress is more than a philosophy; it’s a force of nature.

Featuring a sweeping motion-control camera shot over lush landscapes, visual effects from sister company Mirada, and seamless editing from Motion Theory, "Footsteps" is airing in cinemas. A 30-second version appears on television.

The goal was to craft a powerful experience that collapses 300 million years of human progress and technological evolution into an unbroken 60-second journey. The spot opens in primal pursuit—chasing evolving prehistoric tracks across changing terrain. As we gain momentum, each new set of tracks rapidly tells the story of mankind’s natural and technological development—before arriving at the final stage: automotive evolution. Here, we realize what we’ve been chasing—automotive technology advanced to its pinnacle: the Audi R8.

Through Mirada, head of VFX John Fragomeni led the creative team of DFX lead Andy Cochrane, CG lead Marion Spates, and Flame lead Frederico Saccone. The team built upon the realism of the live-action footage—which included capturing practical effects, such as the rainwater-filled footprints and the trailing tracks of a galloping horse— and enhanced the breakneck pace and blended evolutionary leaps. The result is a seamless pursuit that heralds Audi as the apex of the phenomenon of forward motion that pushes technology and human society forward.

“Everything we do at Mirada is rooted in design, and Audi was no exception,” says Fragomeni. “To guide our final look, we designed photoreal style frames, and then we built an accurate previs for camera lensing, movement, and timing prior to the shoot.”

Previs—done in Autodesk’s Maya—was an especially crucial phase, Fragomeni notes, as the core idea was to create a single, seamless camera move that takes viewers through the entire spot. “Normally, we would address this challenge using motion control. However, the shooting schedule did not allow for this due to the considerable number of location changes,” he explains. “Our previs served as an essential study and template for our timings and linkage points across each of the transitions in our story.”

In the final post stage, the VFX crew used the full visual effects toolkit to enhance the beautiful live-action footage that Cullen had captured. “But these types of spots don't truly come to life without a gifted visual effects team, which included matte painters, roto artists, trackers, 3D effects artists, and compositors,” says Fragomeni.

The opening prehistoric volcanic landscape was a combination of projected matte paintings and volumetric smoke and mist from Side Effects’ Houdini, which was used for the atmospherics and the volcano smoke plume. “Houdini was the 3D tool of choice, and it was applied to create photo-real dirt, dust, debris, and leaves,” Fragomeni says. Likewise, it was used for the vegetation in the environment, along with set extension and enhancement.

The evolution of the footprints was central to the story, and most of them were captured in camera and then treated in 3D and in composite to enhance the look and detail.

Camera tracking was done using Andersson Technologies’ SynthEyes.

All compositing was done in Autodesk’s Flame, which was necessary for all of the delicate integration of the CG and matte-painting elements, and essential in seamlessly blending each live-action plate together to create one unbroken camera move to take the audience on this fantastical journey in time.