• Big Buoy - Nothing to see here: why invisible cars prove the ultimate VFX product

Nothing to see here: why invisible cars prove the ultimate VFX product


Now, I should explain what I mean by invisible cars. I’m not talking about 007’s Aston Martin V12 Vanquish in Die Another Day. Nor am I referring to my beloved Citroen C4 Picasso VTR+ in beige-now that was a car that gave me a complete cloak of anonymity. I could have driven past a bus queue, wound the window down and slapped everyone in the face and they would have been completely bemused by what must have seemed like a ghostly apparition floating down the street.

No, what I’m talking about, is the invisibility of post in most car ads. The works of unsung, nerdy heroes going above and beyond to create the enviable, seamless commercials that sell consumers the dream, go viral on YouTube and make brand profits soar. “Typical!” I hear you say-another post house MD rattling on about VFX. But bear with me…

Sprouting from an editing background, I’m a sucker for a great storyline in a commercial. The best ads always engage the viewer from the very beginning, immersing them in the storyline and the characters and products that feature, until they reach a satisfying, justified conclusion. They speak our language. Volkswagen’s ‘Tiguan Horses Laugh’ commercial is a brilliant example of how comedic ads can translate into any language.

Above: Volkswagen’s ‘Tiguan Horses Laugh’ campaign

As is the case with the majority of these funny ads, the viewer becomes completely entranced by the humour of the spot, leaving not a moment spare to compute the fantastical components behind it. They don’t think about the SFX of laughs created in a sound booth as the poor bloke tries to park his horse box, or the CG workflow behind our horsey pals. And quite rightly so-that’s how it should be. The most successfully crafted campaigns feature the artistry of unseen heroes-the dark horses (see what I did there), executing flawless, undetectable work.

Take Range Rover Sport’s ‘Dragon Challenge’ campaign, for instance, for which we were the post company. Sam Brown shot this on the Tianmen mountains in China, where he set up multiple cameras to capture this onetime event. A big part of the clean-up, therefore, was the removal of camera crews and drones from shots, to ensure that the whole film ran through without any distractions. Shot on multiple different cameras from an ALEXA to a GoPro, the project was also filmed across five days, during which there were several different weather conditions…including mist. Introducing Mark, our colourist, who was able to neutralise all these elements, giving the impression of a single day shoot and providing an overall consistent aesthetic.

Above: Range Rover Sport’s ‘Dragon Challenge’ campaign

Flawless car ads are the result of the hours of work that go into the removal of unsightly cables, crowds and tyre marks, not to mention the countless occasions the wrong colour, wheels or, indeed, entire car, turns up on set. In this case, cars may have to be re-coloured or re-imagined in post, but in extreme cases the entire car is rebuilt in CG using model-specific CAD data.

2019 plays host to a myriad of viewing platforms across multiple channels and devices. Branded content is big, big business and now more than ever, we need to adapt every end film to be outputted across a range of mediums, including social channels, digital, TV and cinema. We can now barely imagine a world where we can’t watch Love Island on on our train journey home. The great thing about this is that social media is such a powerful asset to brands that so many more people are seeing us (or not seeing us). Range Rover’s ‘Speed Bump’ campaign from the very same ‘challenge’ series was extremely effective in terms of engagement-our work was seen by a whopping 29,386,980 viewers on YouTube alone! Again…If you can’t see what we’ve done, we’ve done a good job.

Above: Range Rover Evoque’s ‘Speed Bump’ campaign

Of course, it’s great to have the power of filmic post effects at our fingertips, too. Jaguar’s ‘British Villains’ campaign plays on quintessentially British miscreants and takes us back to cinema to aid the narrative, which in turn would have been supported by an immense VFX team. What a great ad, it had such a huge scale to it and it was immaculate in its execution!

Above: Jaguar’s ‘Villains’ campaign

As technology continues to thrive, it’s apparent that at some point in the future, all cars will most likely turn electric and A.I will become relevant amongst many of our workflows. But can a computer really conquer the man vs machine debate in terms of perfectly executed post? Lexus ES’ ‘Driven by Intuition’ campaign, for which we completed the edit, grade, VFX and sound, challenged an A.I.bot which was fluent in all the award-winning car ads from the last 15 years, to write the script for the campaign. It blows my mind that the A.I wrote a script from the car’s perspective, as if it were alive. An inanimate object wrote a story from the perspective of another inanimate object-brilliantly scary! Yet human craftsmanship remained as important as the storyline throughout, so I think we’re safe for now.

Above: Lexus ES’ ‘Driven By Intuition’ campaign

So, like Harry Potter, we have the ability to make ourselves invisible to those whom it is important that they see no trace of us. I leave you with Vauxhall’s ‘Little Dads’, for no reason other than that I love it, as I put my cloak on and sleek off into the back room to join the rest of my invisible friends.