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Big Block Creates Futuristic Drone Squadron for Subaru

Bicoastal digital production and design studio Big Block produces a live-action shoot, virtual obstacle course and animated drone fleet for “Subaru WRX STI vs. the Drones.”

Santa Monica, CA -- Bicoastal digital production and design studio Big Block produced the live action shoot, virtual obstacle course and animated drone fleet for the television, cinema and online commercial “Subaru WRX STI vs. the Drones.” To show off the 2015 Subaru WRX STI’s best-in-its-class high performance power and impeccable control, DDB Canada’s Toronto office developed the concept of a futuristic autocross course made of CG drone quadcopters to challenge the WRX STI with real-time precision driving.

Three hundred shape-shifting drones with an attitude put the equally badass WRX STI to the test, altering the course in a dynamic, real-time display of synchronized morphology and demanding the ultimate in performance and precision response from the car. Despite the challenge, the WRX STI, which is engineered to perform, navigates the course with impressive precision, ease and control.

“This project hit our sweet spot from live action, design and photoreal CGI all the way through to DI and delivery,” said Big Block managing director Kenny Solomon. “Kudos to DDB and our fantastic Big Block team for pulling this stunt off so beautifully and in record time.”

There is no existing course that could adequately demonstrate the WRX STI’s instantaneous reaction time, high-speed cornering and remarkable handling – so we created our own,” says Rob Sturch, associate creative director, DDB Canada in Toronto.

The commercial was shot by Big Block and DDB on a closed circuit in the historic Hughes Aircraft “Spruce Goose” hangar in Los Angeles. The shoot involved capturing live footage, including a real driver, and an array of reference material that Big Block’s animators and visual effects artists would later use for simulations, lighting, reflections and environment.

photo credit: Mark Glaser

Among the challenges faced by Big Block director Mark Glaser was creating a virtual course within the hangar location, a solution that required massive data asset acquisition and management. Glaser and Big Block’s team of visual effects artists, supervised by Randall Smith, spent all night capturing high-resolution photos and LIDAR scans of the space from key locations. All photos were shot as HDRI with seven exposure stops of lighting data. Each station created a 32-bit 32K HDRI and all eight stations ultimately produced 15 gigs of raw HDRI data, which was projected onto the hanger model and painted to correct any overlapping projections.

“The most exciting aspect of this project was the way in which we captured a photoreal dataset of this rare, historical location using lasers and image sensors,” Glaser says. “This allowed me to shoot from anywhere inside the space virtually with minimal rendering cost.”

The WRX STI’s stunt driving was created within Big Block’s Drive-A-Tron driving simulator, a physics-based driving technology using manufacturer’s CAD data to perfectly model cars both geometrically and dynamically. The software allows these physically accurate animations to be configured into the studio’s Autodesk 3ds Max lighting and rendering pipeline. Once the simulations were loaded into Max, the scenes were lit and rendered using Chaos Group’s V-Ray and environments were projected and painted using The Foundry’s Mari. High-resolution stills were projected onto the converted LIDAR scans of the hanger giving a fully 3D reconstruction of the space with lighting baked into the textures. All CG elements and rendered layers were composited in The Foundry’s Nuke. The final conform was achieved in Autodesk Flame, with color grading completed in a Blackmagic DaVinci Suite.

A detailed animation rig handled the stabilization and control of the drone movement and allowed Big Block’s animators to focus on the shapes and actions of the flying drone squadron. Once the drones were placed and animated, the animators factored in the forces that the car’s drift would apply to the drones as it blazed past them.

The only live action shots that appear in the spot are of the driver and the interior of the Subaru as it is being driven.

“We didn’t want to take creative license on the way the car performs,” Sturch says. “By replicating the real-world capabilities of the WRX STI in Drive-A-Tron, we see it conquer this course as it would in real life, reacting instantaneously and performing dynamically, regardless of what’s put in its way.”

DDB Canada’s “WRX STI vs. the Drones” launched on television, online and in cinemas on April 7 and is supported by print and digital advertising, point of sale materials and a social outreach program targeting key automotive, technology and gadget influencers. A branded experience with Xbox LIVE is slated at the end of April; users can watch “WRX STI vs. the Drones,” take a closer look at the redesigned 2015 WRX STI with 360-degree rotation views of the vehicle and race through a drone-driving-course game.

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.