Digital Domain Brings Inventive Visual Effects to Lexus

Digital Domain Brings Inventive Visual Effects to Lexus

A new ad campaign from Team One imagines how the innovative engineering of the new 2010 Lexus RX has reinvented the driving experience. Carl Erik Rinsch directed the :30 spots "City," "Assembled" and "Intersection," which feature fantastical visual metaphors brought to life by digital production studio Digital Domain.

Visual Effects Supervisor Jonah Hall oversaw a 30-person team at Digital Domain. The company leveraged its extensive knowledge in creating photo-real digital cars, as well as its expertise in modeling and animating highly detailed mechanical imagery. The project also brought some longtime collaborators together again, including Rinsch and cinematographer Claudio Miranda.

"We have a very close relationship with Carl and RSA, who in turn often brings Claudio on board as his DP, so we've all developed a sort of shorthand when we work together," said Digital Domain Visual Effects Supervisor Jonah Hall. "There's a lot of trust on-set and conversely, they let us do our thing back at Digital Domain so we can come up with the best solutions for the creative and technical problems at hand."

"City" opens on the RX sitting in traffic. But the vehicle has a secret weapon-XM real-time traffic monitoring that reveals driving conditions on the road ahead. Suddenly, massive cranes descend from the sky, picking up the offending traffic and lifting buildings from their foundations so the driver can travel unimpeded to his final destination.

During the live-action shoot, the RX was shot sitting in downtown Los Angeles, surrounded by about 10 cars. Digital Domain augmented the traffic by adding an additional 60 all-digital vehicles. The artists also did rig removal on three cars shot in-camera as they were being suspended by cranes, added the metal claws and dozens more CG cars also being lifted by the giant machinery. And because silver cars are notorious for acting as mirrors when captured on camera, Digital Domain replaced the RX with a digital version at the end, just before the vehicle arrives at an independent music store, also constructed entirely in CG.

In "Assembled," Digital Domain created a CG conveyer belt that transports automobile parts through a man's house, neighborhood and office, before robotic arms systematically assemble these elements-which originate not from a factory, but from out in the world-into the RX. "This spot posed an interesting challenge, because so much of the story lies in the conveyer belt we had to digitally create and insert into the scene," explained Hall. "When we showed Lexus the rough edit, they saw a series of empty rooms, the camera moving past an empty street and the in-camera RX at the end. We had to help them visualize the intricate choreography of the spot by doing a lot of animation tests and inserting them faster than usual. In the end, we were able to effectively communicate the agency's vision to its client, and Lexus was very pleased with the results."

In "Intersection," a man in an RX drives along a darkened road and just as he's about to collide with an oncoming truck, time stops still, his car kicking up a swirl of tiny CG ficus leaves that suspend and sparkle in the air. Men and women dressed in black serve as the metaphor for the RX's innovative features that help the driver to see better at night. The people silently approach the time-frozen RX and gently push the oncoming vehicle away before guiding the driver safely along his way. Miranda shot the near-collision using a Phantom camera-the tool-of-choice for capturing HD footage at high frame rates-and Digital Domain seamlessly integrated the high-speed photography with the regular-speed photography of the actors, meshing the shots together so that they appeared to exist in the same take.

The production team behind the Lexus campaign has had a long history. Rinsch and Digital Domain recently collaborated on a commercial for LG, while Miranda and Digital Domain helped bring to the screen "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which earned an Oscar nomination for Miranda and a Visual Effects Oscar for Digital Domain. In addition, the Lexus production team included production designer Donald Graham Burt, also recognized with an Academy Award for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

"The advertising industry is built on relationships and we've been fortunate to have developed many over the years that have led us to partnering across mediums," explained Ed Ulbrich, Digital Domain's President, Commercials Division and Executive VP of Production. "It's been exciting to participate in the crossover of storytelling techniques honed in the commercials arena with our work in features, and vice-versa."

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