I recently had the privilege to supervise a very fun commercial for BMW. It also marked the second time I got to work with Eric Barba (VFX sup) and Joeseph Kosinski (Director).
This project wasn't all that challenging as projects go, but it was a lot of fun. In the early stages of the project I was asked to head out to Riverside CA to an aircraft museum and shoot reference pictures and textures of a KC135 stratotanker. At the time we were planning on having one fully CG shot that would be from inside the boom operators station. So we asked for permission to actually go inside the plane and take pictures. Fortunately, our contact at the museum not only allowed it, but used to be a boom operator himself. My co-worker and I spent a good 3-4 hours documenting every inch of that aircraft while our guide told us about his experiences as a boom operator and showed us how things worked on the plane. It was really cool to get to crawl into the underbelly of the plane and into the boom operators seat (if you can call it that since you lay on your chest) and get a lesson on how to operate the fuel boom. I'd never seen the inside of boom operators station before and let me just say...It is really small and tight. You basically lay down on the floor of the aircraft and then slide sideways onto this very narrow seat. You lay on your stomach on what I can only describe as being similar to a very narrow masseuses table. You place your chin on a chin rest and your arms dangle down on either side of this thing to operate the controls. It was very claustrophobic in there. Right next to the museum is an airforce base where KC135's were taking off and doing touch and go's right next to us. So we were able to get some great pictures of the latest models of the plane in action.
As far as the visual effects went we pretty much were just dealing with a CG plane and car. For most shots all we needed to do was animate the plane and cast shadows on the ground. These were very straight forward shots but it did become a bit of a challenge to get the plane to look like it was flying at a slow enough speed to both match the car and still stay in the air. Ultimately though it is sometimes more important to make the plane just look great instead of be 100% accurate. The plane model itself was very detailed. The tail section of the plane and boom operators station were the most detailed because we got the best look at those areas. The boom operators station was modeled down to individual bolts and screw heads. The flaps and ailerons on the wings even had the mechanisms inside that drive them modeled and rigged up so that they moved and hinged correctly so we could see glimpses of the pistons and mechanics inside as they moved. Because of the amount of detail this plane model needed and a very short schedule I teamed up with our lead modeler and we both tackled different parts of the model and combined the different parts in the end. He handled the fuselage, wings and tail, while I modeled the boom operators station, boom and retractable boom nozzle.
We were never planning to actually render the car itself. We only intended to use it for getting shadows from the plane to cast properly over the live action car. We did end up rendering a CG car for one shot in which the plane flies over the car and we needed to see the car in shadow. In that shot the live action car was lit by bright sunlight and we couldn't just grade the car down because the sun was clearly visible in the reflection. So for that one shot we rendered the CG car with the shadow of the plane creeping over it. Then in the comp we used a shadow pass to blend between the live action car and the CG car in shadow. Major cudos to our compositor who seamlessly blended the live action with the CG in that shot.
This project really was a blast to work on. Even though the schedule was short we had a great team of artists who had a lot of experience and just made everything go very smoothly. The lighters got to wear many hats on this show which was great. The three of us did all of the animation, modeling, texturing, lighting and FX. :)