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House of Cards Falls on Framestore

HOUSE OF CARDS is a new spot created by Leo Burnett as part of a campaign for homeless charity Shelter. Directed by Dom & Nic, HOUSE OF CARDS features music donated by Radiohead and a voiceover by actress Samantha Morton. The spot's low-key yet spectacular visual effects were created by Framestore, who also donated their services.

HOUSE OF CARDS is shot with deceptive simplicity from a moving train, as if from the perspective of a passenger glancing out of the window, and the view at first appears to be a typical urban landscape as might be seen in any U.K. city. But as the train moves past the various houses and blocks of flats you notice that some are constructed from gigantic playing cards. You furthermore notice that some of these houses of cards are falling apart, the cards tumbling off and away in slow motion. Combined with a melancholy, repetitive piano, synth and percussion figure (drawn from Radiohead's song, "Videotape," on the IN RAINBOWS album), the effect is powerful and moving, an eloquent visual metaphor for the fragility of the housing situation for many in the current economic climate.

Framestore's VFX Supervisors for the spot were long-time Dom & Nic collaborator Ben Cronin and CG Lead Simon French, who have previously worked with the directorial team on numerous award-winning commercials and music promos. "We shot the raw material over one day in October 2008, on the line between Shepherd's Bush Market and Goldhawk Road stations," said Cronin, "We had very little time and had to take whichever trains came along. We only had about five takes in all - and the sun was going in and out, there were camera problems on one take. So it was a little hectic. The nature of the shot we wanted, and the effects we were going to be adding, meant that it had to be done as one take.

Some of the buildings that are made of cards were positioned over existing buildings which meant in some cases that they had to be completely removed, whilst others - such as the final tower block -- were inserted into available gaps in the landscape. Whichever, Cronin had plenty of alterations, tidying up, and a lot of roto, all in addition to the compositing of the card structures and their collapsing constituent elements.

These cards -- their construction, their collapsing, and their lighting - were the sole responsibility of 3D Technical Director Simon French. "I was involved from the concept stage," said French, "And once I knew what they'd need I was able to do some research and groundwork into the most efficient way of constructing these card houses. Much of this was scripted to make sure that simulation and render geometry matched after each revision. Although at first glance it might look like a straightforward 'rigid bodies falling into each other' problem, the sheer number of cards involved meant that Maya could have had problems handling the data. In the end I used Maya's nCloth for the simulation, and the cards were rendered with mental ray. nCloth is primarily designed to create flowing cloths, garments and the like, so cards were not strictly what it's meant for. But it's quite an open system and it served my purposes very well, being a very rugged solver. Each card becomes the face of a polygon, with the whole building the complete object, which makes the whole simulation much more manageable."

The results of what was effectively a two-man job at Framestore are truly astonishing, and they combine with the music and voiceover to create a haunting and highly effective message for Shelter.


Agency: Leo BurnettProducer" Graeme LightProduction Company" OutsiderDirectors: Dom & NicProducer: Jon MadsenVFX: FramestoreTelecine: Framestore