DIRECTV turns up the heat in their latest installment for their "Frozen Moment" series of commercials directed by Noam Murro of Biscuit Filmworks for Grey. As with the previous spots, "Ice Cream" and "Steel Cage", MPC's goal remained the same: to allow the Director the maximum degree of freedom during the shoot to enable him to focus on the performance and storytelling rather than being caught up producing a boring technical exercise.
This was MPC's first project working with director Noam Murro, and to his credit he totally trusted the technical approach for the visual effects requirements of the shoot. His primary aim was to develop the drama of the firefighter saving the child, and while focused on advancing his story he remained totally collaborative with the VFX needs.
This script was certainly the most challenging of the three. The VFX needed to be integrated in a location full of fire. Jittering light came from everywhere, smoke and debris filled the air... and of course the live-action fire had to be matched with a 3D generated stand-in that was capable of freezing! The key point was to obtain as much as possible in-camera and without motion-control, to see what really does happen when a house is engulfed by fire.
Biscuit Filmworks, in collaboration with MPC LA's Production Designer Bruce McCloskey, MPC LA's DOP Simon Duggan and the team from Full Scale Effects, produced an amazing shoot. Setting fire to three rooms of a two story house on a sound-stage - repeatedly - was quite a sight. The set had to be totally engulfed in flames with the fireman in the middle, often having to evacuate the stage for up to an hour between takes waiting for the smoke to clear. The pressure was on MPC while on-set to validate each plate in terms of its compatibility with the visual effects requirements.
Back at MPC awaiting the offline, tests were being conducted to develop the computer generated flames. The results were positive and the team was confident that Maya Fluids would do the trick, and when the first offline finally arrived they were not disappointed. The edit was amazing. The computer generated FX had to be matched to the real live-action performance, and in the process the MPC LA team became quite expert about how many different types of fire can be seen in one burning room!
The first step was to construct a replica of the sound-stage sets within Maya and track the camera in 3D for each scene. This ensured consistency between shots by maintaining a known scale throughout the commercial. There were many multiple takes that had to be re-aligned and composited together with the addition of both live-action and computer generated smoke, debris, and light effect plates.
For the frozen moments a parallel approach was taken with the 3D department taking care of both the fore- and mid-ground while 2D took care of the background. This was essential to emphasise the parallax between the elements within each scene while the camera moved around the hero fire-fighter. The tracked CGI set also enabled the addition of matte paintings to enhance the look of the burning, incandescent surfaces, while 2D plates of fire were composited with displacement and then positioned on different cards, along with the 3D fire, within the set to enhance the depth of each scene. The floor of the bedroom and roof of the lounge room were reconstructed in 3D to provide the broken floor along with all of the frozen fire, debris and smoke. This was also a good opportunity to test all of the new 2D/3D features integrated within the 'Flame' and 'Nuke' compositing packages.
The fluid simulations to generate the 3D fire elements were both enormous and time consuming, adding pressure to the computing and storage resource within MPC LA, but some pretty conscientious effort by the Engineering Department managed to see it through. Overall this production went very smoothly. The team knew there was an enormous amount of work to do but the exceptional shoot footage crafted with a fantastic edit gave a clear view of our target. Playing with fire was very interesting - the task was a bit like a painter painting with fire and light to design each shot.
The pipeline included matte painting with Photoshop, four Maya artists, two Nuke and one Flame.