Big Block creates 1,000 FPS interactive experience for Critical Mass and Nissan “Meet The Machines.”
Santa Monica, CA -- Big Block transformed the very first time on the track for Nissan’s Le Mans Prototype racecar into the1,000 FPS “Meet the Machines,” a time-shifting virtual launch for the radical new vehicle. The online interactive experience, created by global digital agency Critical Mass under the leadership of executive creative director Steve Savic, went live on February 14.
The new LMP1 challenger car, known as the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO, made its world debut before 100 million viewers in a commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLIX. “With Dad,” directed by Lance Accord for agency TBWA\Chiat\ Day, Los Angeles, was also Nissan’s first appearance in the Super Bowl in more than a decade. Nissan’s GT-R will contest the LMP1 class in the highest categories in sports car racing, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s most famous endurance race.
Big Block’s team prepared for a highly technical live action shoot at the Circuit of The Americas racetrack in Austin, Texas, during the week of December 15, 2014. At the same time, Critical Mass began the digital development and all coding for the Nissan interactive experience.
Big Block director Paul Trillo was chosen by Critical Mass to extend the interactive experience of the GT-R into a suspended moment for viewers to truly sense the spilt second world of racing. Trillo was the ideal choice for this multi-dimensional project. In his previous projects he has experimented with time, technology and impossible camera angles. For “Meet the Machines,” his challenge would be how to shoot this revolutionary vehicle in an exciting new way, but with limited time and access.
Big Block and Critical Mass knew that their concept of a play on temporal reality would have its own spontaneous challenges, since their live action shoot for “Meet the Machines” would follow the production of the Nissan Super Bowl commercial with the GT-R on the same Austin racetrack.
Over the course of a rainy, action-packed four-hour shoot, Big Block set up proprietary rigs for three Phantom Flex 4K and 2K digital high-speed cameras, an array of 74 Nikon D700 digital cameras and three GoPro cameras mounted in the racecar’s cockpit.
In addition to a diminished time frame, Big Block’s production team had to adapt to restrictions imposed by stringent safety regulations, including a prohibition on the use of drone cameras and cranes. Once the racecar was in motion, further changes to camera placement were necessary to accommodate the actual motion, heightening the intensely improvisational nature of the shoot.
The Phantom Flex cameras flank the GT-R as it drifts into and out of the turn on the track at full speed, capturing the live action in real time. The 74 Nikon still cameras in between were offset by milliseconds and triggered at same time to ramp the action down to a seamlessly fluid super slo-mo at 1,000 FPS.
Inside the “Meet the Machines” experience, users can drag the camera and control highlighted hotspots to explore the GT-R’s revolutionary engine configuration and chassis design and to ride along with driver. The engine hotspot describes the GT-R as the only front engine, front wheel drive car at Le Mans. With a revolutionary kinetic Energy Recovery System (ERS), the engine produces around 1,250 horsepower under race conditions. The design hotspot reveals how the GT-R’s tail-wing and bodywork are aerodynamically optimized to create enough downforce for the car to actually drive on an upside down road. The driver hotspot features the GoPro footage of a young trainee from Nissan’s GT Academy, which turns virtual, videogame-honed driving skills into real world racing skills by putting gamers behind the wheel in a contest to create true racecar drivers.
The ambient soundtrack has an emotional, slightly haunting quality. Critical Mass, who chose the music, deliberately wanted to avoid a heavy score. The roar of the approaching engine becomes hushed, stilled to a tranquil ambient rumble, then shifts again in volume and amplitude.
“Racing, as with most sports, can be a passive experience for spectators,” said Trillo. “It is hard to imagine what it's like for the person behind the wheel. The way the driver experiences time on the track is completely relative to each moment, having to react and make split second decisions. I wanted to examine a moment on the track in a way that felt both organic and surreal. The intent was to draw the viewer into the action in a way that isn’t forced. Something that felt natural to the rest of the experience, that felt tactile, as if you could actually grab the camera and manipulate a moment in time.”
“At 200+ MPH, a racecar is just a blur,” said Savic. “We’re taking people beyond the blur, and slowing down the action so they can truly appreciate speed—at 1000 frames per second, on their terms, under their control.”
Big Block’s creative director Mark Glaser art-directed the pre-vis and live action shoot, as well as the look development of Big Block’s CG-enhanced footage: particles and atmosphere that reveal a change in physics as the car drifts. Glaser also handled color grading for the project with DaVinci Resolve.
Gene Ho, producer at Critical Mass, said, “I've actually wanted to work with the Big Block team for awhile. Knowing the idiosyncrasies around these types of shoots, coupled with the complex technical requirements, both on the ground in Austin and during post for digital development, I knew that Big Block would be the perfect partner. Their breadth of knowledge and experience in broadcast and digital, their tenacity and their production muscle were all paramount to the success of the Nissan campaign.”
Kenny Solomon, managing director of Big Block, said, “All of us at Big Block and Critical Mass are future thinkers, so it was a thrill to be involved with Nissan on the launch of this prestigious and technically daring race car. It is a herald of the future.”