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Making Commercials: Ring of Fire

Zzzt. Hyundai’s new i20 transforms into a World Rally Car and rockets across harsh terrain, warping in and out of sight.

By Michael Fickes

Most car commercials put viewers to sleep. A car drives down the road, first in this direction, then in that direction. When viewers have seen the car from every angle, cut to the logo.

Here’s a car video concept that won’t put viewers to sleep, from Hyundai. It isn’t a commercial; it is a 0:30 that introduced Hyundai’s new World Rally Car (WRC) at the Paris Motor Show in 2012, a car slated to enter the 2014 WRC Series. WRC racing is a series of 13, three-day off-road races over different, difficult terrains.

Andrew Denyer, owner and executive producer with Los Angeles-based LIMEY, the production company that shot the video, assembled a team for the shoot, which took place in South Korea.

The traveling crew included LIMEY Director Scott Weintrob, Director of Photography, Darran Tiernan; and John Myers, executive producer, VFX supervisor and partner with Santa Monica-based Ring of Fire, the visual effects house on the project. Denyer served as executive producer and line producer. “We traveled with a slimmed down crew and hired when we arrived,” he said.

In South Korea, the team had to scout for itself when some recommended locations proved inaccessible for a loaded down production crew.

The team selected four locations: a dirt surface beside a mountaintop lake, a road that runs through rice fields, a section of a Hyundai test track and a green field dotted with dozens of small, shallow ponds.

Zzzt by the lake

commercials (2)

[Above Top] John Balbi mounting a camera inside the car.
[Above] Milo Motion Control WRC Lake Opening shot.

The opening scene aimed to show a new i20 Hyundai transforming itself into the WRC. The plan was to pan around the rally car with an ARRI ALEXA camera atop a Milo motion control rig with a motion memory head – to memorize the camera move.

The camera move data went to an animation house in Germany. There, animators recreated the i20, which was not available for the shoot, and animated the camera’s pan around the car using motion control data from the repeatable head.

The edit would intercut the footage with a series of fast flicker cuts, making it appear that the i20 was changing into the WRC, back to the i20, and finally into the rally car. A sound effect resembling static – “zzzt” – would accompany each flicker cut.

At the end of the first scene, the rally car spins around in the dirt and takes off down the road.

Across rice fields, through a typhoon and into a pond

The second scene shows the car racing along a winding road through a rice field with red dust billowing in its wake. Next, the car flies along a disguised Hyundai test track, where it is pouring down rain.

In the final scene, the rally car churns through a marshy wetland crashing through ponds and beds of reeds.

Jump ahead

The key visual effect shows the rally car vanishing from the road and then reappearing, almost instantly, a hundred yards or so farther down the road. It happens a couple times in every scene. The repeating effect enhances the sense of speed.

“To create these effects, we shot a reference scene without the car,” said Myers of Ring of Fire. “Next, we shot the rally car going through. Then we shot another car, painted a flat black and covered in a black wrapping. Finally, we shot the rally car again.”

To make the car disappear, jump forward and reappear, Ring of Fire artists combined the passes. “We used Flame to create an articulated matte reveal and matte,” Myers explains. “We animated the mattes to disappear and reappear over the course of five frames.”

To enhance the effect, Ring of Fire added layers of particles and a concussion or zzzt effect when the car disappears and reappears.
In the end, the rally car itself makes the piece succeed. It is fast enough and tough enough to make the sci-fi effects believable and makes you watch, instead of fall asleep. See the spot at www.ringoffire.com.

March 20, 2013