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Big Block and Digitas Hit the Road for GMC

Big Block brings innovative design and film techniques to digital launch of 2015 GMC Sierra HD.

Santa Monica, CA -- Big Block and Digitas Boston were in high gear for the online launch of GMC’s 2015 Sierra 2500 Denali HD truck. It was essential that the design and content of their collaboration on GMC’s digital marketing for the Denali HD capture the attitude, refined luxury and powerful capabilities of this upper-echelon brand for a sophisticated buyer demographic.

Big Block and Digitas have enjoyed a longstanding relationship and previously worked together on the GMC account. The mandate for Big Block was to stay true to the brand, while bringing all they could creatively and technically to a compelling, new and content-rich Denali HD website.

Drawing on the skills of Big Block’s live action directors, design group, visual effects artists and editors, Big Block presented a spectrum of design options and next-level filming techniques to tell the Denali HD story and create a superb digital experience for potential buyers.

After scouting several diverse locations for the live-action shoot, the production took to the mountains, lakes and rivers of British Columbia, as well as the futuristic-looking site of The Very Large Array (VLA), 27 monumental radio telescopes located in New Mexico. Key elements of the Denali HD online campaign, like the planetary tracking dishes, modern architecture and arcing bridges, are visual cues to the truck’s precision and engineering.

Big Block directors Mark Glaser and Shaun Collings capitalized on the atmospheric and emotional qualities of the Pacific Northwest and Southwestern sites, shifting the campaign’s color palette to a moodier, more evocative range. Glaser’s stylized still photography, the foundation of the site’s exterior and color configurator, was shot with a Nikon D800 at the golden hour, so that the CG Denali HD, which Big Block’s visual effects artists would incorporate later, could be arrayed with lush lighting and reflections. Utilizing a proprietary rig developed by Big Block, a bank of 36 cameras were brought to New Mexico for the 360° location shoot. Big Block’s artists stitched the panoramic photos together and added HDRI lighting and reflections to integrate the CG model of the truck perfectly into the live-action background.

For the live-action shoot, the 2015 Denali HD was shipped to British Columbia for its first time out of Detroit. Glaser and Collings, who planned and co-directed the series of 12 website videos, focused on the truck’s impressive technology, performance and trailering capabilities, proof of GM’s “Never Say Never” approach to engineering. Collings, a creative director at Big Block’s design group BBDG, handled the design of the videos and the innovative look of the CG, animation and graphics-intensive segments.

Big Block and Digitas pushed the envelope with an adventurous decision to use a drone-mounted RED Epic camera to visually explore the truck from above and literally elevate the quality of the videos. The risk paid off with dramatic angles to make the most of the steep mountain inclines and expansive vistas. HeliVideo Pros, a Canadian aerial photography company known for shooting extreme sports, was brought in for the drone cinematography. The company’s pilot and navigator flew the eight-bladed octocopter while Glaser and Collings directed the camera footage from the ground. Also on site were Digitas executive producer Ben Raynes, art director Jamie Reily and copywriter Graham Shepherd, as well as GMC website manager Tim Aten.

Drone-mounted photography enabled daring views of the Denali HD descending a major grade with a boat in tow in the Trailering and Hauling video. Graphic overlays seamlessly appear over the truck without a disconnect from the actual vehicle or footage, allowing viewers to see the advanced integration between the diesel exhaust braking and position sensors in action. Aerial photography can also be seen on the StabiliTrak video as the Denali HD negotiates an obstacle on a bridge with the assist of stability control. For Digitas and Big Block, the goal was to create emotional, real life demonstrations of the truck’s technology and safety features without the use of sterile diagrams.

In several videos Glaser and Collings chose a handheld MoVi gimbal rig to allow the camera to flow quickly and effortlessly around the truck without the restrictions of framing or camera weight and movement. Their intent was to mirror exactly what a driver would see in the truck bed for the Cargo Box video and to take advantage of a boat launch in a spectacular lake setting for the Auto Locking Rear Differential demonstration.

“There have been so many exciting advances in live action filming techniques recently,” Glaser said. “Just a few years ago, the footage we captured for GM could only have been accomplished with a helicopter and a much larger budget. The gear we employed—the drone-mounted camera, the MoVi gimbal rig and Big Block’s proprietary 360° system, not only streamlined our production time and budget, but opened up a whole new dimension of creative opportunities. It’s very liberating.”

In the Performance video, Big Block’s visual effects artists, led by CG supervisor Randall Smith, take viewers on a journey that begins with a live shot of the truck’s hood executed on a precision arm. In a digital hand off to a CG camera, the shot flies through the moving parts of the engine, transmission and brake system, digital elements accurately modeled with GM engineering data. The cool color palette chosen for the Denali HD campaign also informs the animation of the particle dynamics of flames and pistons firing. The CG camera exits the wheel well and transitions to another live plate of the truck to bookend the sequence. GM engineers and product specialists reviewed and cleared all technical representations of the Denali HD videos.

“From the live-action shoot in British Columbia to exceptional design and CG animation, our collaboration with Big Block enabled us to push the Sierra work to a new benchmark,” said Digitas executive producer Raynes. “The outcome reflects the high engineering standards that go into the making of the Sierra, and ultimately engages with potential customers for an insightful look into this impressive vehicle.”

“These guys represent everything that GMC represents: innovation, craftsmanship, and constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s possible,” said Digitas creative director Marc Gottesman. “I and my whole team love working with Big Block.”

“We are one of the few studios who can do it all -- from cutting edge live action to design, visual effects and editing,” said Big Block managing director Kenny Solomon. “Digitas always pushes for a higher standard for GMC’s digital marketing strategy and were truly invested with us every step of the way. The results speak for themselves.”

Source: Big Block

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.