Making Of “Low Earth Orbit”

Like so many complex productions, this was a simple idea – to make a short film as a showcase. To push some boundaries and possibilities in our work. And also to have some fun at the same time!

Inspiration

Of course we wanted to work with a car….but in a modern visual language evolving around the dynamism developing in electric cars. Images of power and light, of a clean and positive future, more attuned to the environment without losing any of its visceral impact as an object of desire.

What contemporary pioneers would inspire us, visually and conceptually?
A character to be the centre of gravity for our story.

We settled on a man with a dream to be the first Black man on the Moon.

Setting and mood building

When creating the world for this character to live in the process (as always) started long before any CGI – with pen and paper, talking and thinking. Using these analogue methods allows for swift changes and flexible, imaginative thinking, to expand the possibilities, making it so much easier to say “What if…”

We built the world up through questions, rather than software.
Where would this person live?
What kind of house?
What’s in it?
What do these things tell us?
What’s the landscape and plants like that surround it?

Such level of detail isn’t usual in advertising so it was an interesting exercise, which has parallels in the process of CGI. Just as we built a ‘real’ framework for CGI structures, lighting and cameras, we referenced reality to construct the character and story, to make both feel more tangible. Every viewer doesn’t see every detail, but the liminal storytelling of these elements brings vivid personality to the atmosphere.

To develop the luminous and dynamic look, we wanted glowing light and rich, soft-textured shadows, imagery of space and earth, sliding and gliding lights both natural and artificial.

We collected ideas and inspiration from a huge variety of influences – from film, to photography of architecture, light and atmospheric affects, to artists working with light like Yayoi Kusama and Olafur Eliasson.

 

Storyboarding

With these assembled, we began the process of story development.  Thinking, reviewing, collaborating, thinking again – working to define and refine the story and the shots that we needed to tell it. As the story began to coalesce around these storyboards and with each development, we felt it was getting closer to the vision we had.

Eventually we had a full set of storyboards, making the flow of shots complete and suggesting in itself further improvements.

 

CGI process

With choices made on the shots we would need, we had the maximum amount of time for creating detailed work on each one in Maya.

For each shot, we also honed the camera moves. Of course in CGI there are no restrictions… but it’s integral to the work to consider how a real camera would move. So we gave a lot of thought to how this would actually be filmed, reproducing the constraints of a physical camera with car to car filming, rig shots or drone shots. Impossible camera moves are a clear cue of artificiality, so lead CG artist Tanguy Koutouan had to balance boldness against the potential of unreality. Each move was refined until it was smooth and harmonious with the other elements such as the car’s suspension movements, or camera drifts for organic animations.

We discussed our ideas for the project with the team at Audi, who we often work with. Audi very kindly gave us the concept model of their new Audi e-tron GT – the perfect car for the character we had created.

Studio shoot

With an initial sequence in place, we cast for a model to represent our hero. Director of Photography for this was Jorge Diéguez, who assembled a fantastic crew, selected equipment and took care of the lighting, matching it meticulously to the sequences already visualised.  Set designer Jason Synnott rigged up the car seat with steering wheel construction, and we shot the green screen sequences at our neighbours: Hackney Studios, with on-set VFX supervision and general advice from Gareth Repton.

Compositing, editing, sound and polish

The music by Olafur Arnalds was the key to bringing everything together – we altered shots and especially camera moves to match the rhythm of the piece, and make everything fit together flawlessly.

The scenes were rendered in VRay, and then taken into Nuke for compositing led by Felix Baesch. In this phase, enormous amounts of infinitesimal adjustments finessed the result for maximum photorealism. We added matte painting for the mountains, created the moon, removed occasional CGI artefacts and added the green screen footage of the model.

This polished footage was then brought into Resolve for Tanguy to continue the process of editing, and Dan Carney to bring his detailed eye for nuanced colour to the grading. 

With editing and colour grading in place, the film went to Gavin Little at Echolab for sound editing. Although the music carries the whole piece, sound makes it subtly immersive – small details that bring atmosphere but never overpower the music. At the same time, we designed the title sequence and the end credits.

These initial phases were completed in a more conventionally collaborative form, all working together. The later phases were during lockdown, so we worked and collaborated remotely, as we’re very used to doing with our internationally based team. This was a long journey for us all, and we’re very proud to present the completed film.

Low Earth Orbit

Put your headphones on and go full screen to join Recom Farmhouse on a lucid vision of a night drive, with repeating visual themes of orbital geometries and light – from softly radiant moonlight to coruscating fireflies, from sliding reflections on wind-honed bodywork to glowing incandescence of stars.

The voyage you dream of is closer than you think…

A Recom Farmhouse Production
Written and directed by Tanguy Koutouan
Co-Director: Christoph Bolten
Executive Producer: Christoph Bolten
Sound Design Gavin Little | Echolab
Music by Ólafur Arnalds
Colour Grading : Dan Carney
Lead CG Artist: Tanguy Koutouan
CG Artists:  Carlos Pecino, Anna Toropova, Luca Veronese, Joe Carney
Lead Compositor: Felix Baesch
Additional Compositor: Stéphane Lugiery
Title Design: Martha Tullberg
Title Animation: Aljaž Bezjak
Original Screenplay: Santi Minasi
Storyboard: Tanguy Koutouan
Editor: Tanguy Koutouan

Green Screen Shoot at Hackney Studios
Directed by Christoph Bolten
Art Director Tanguy Koutouan
Director of Photography:  Jorge Diéguez
Gaffer: David Nye
1st AC: Julian Lalinde
Production:  Martha Tsvyatkov

Set Design: Jason Synnott
Model Damien Le-Hoste | Base Models
On-Set VFX Supervisor: Gareth Repton
Styling:  @vakundok & Alessandra Kila

Special Thanks to: Geoffroy Givry, Cameron Smither, Alessandra Kila, Martha Tsvyatkov, Sven Hasenjäger at 380 Grad, Sarah Giles at Universal Music, Felix Kalf-Hansen at Kobalt Music.

On Location: Nissan Juke

We travelled to Spain with Nick Meek to shoot the new Nissan Juke in a series of elegant architectural settings. For post-production, this involved a wide spectrum of skills – from shooting duplicate cars in order to avoid complex reflections, bringing sunshine to a rainy day, and finally a dramatic day-to-night conversion.

For this shot, the reflections of the structure were too much to be removed in post, so Nick photographed duplicate cars inside and outside the building, Christoph captured additional backplate elements. We had to deal with very mixed weather conditions! The team went out on a boat to shoot the skyline – the cityscape that you see in the shot was puzzled together from many separate shots to get the perfect backplate, evocative of an attractive city without detracting the viewer from the car as the hero of the shot. Join us on location:

Nights are drawing in! After the shoot was completed, Nissan wanted a night-time version of one of the shots. This was a very interesting challenge – moving a very high key image to be ultra low key

The car is a new, special edition model, so the alterations were complex – far beyond just changing the colour. We re-rendered the paint and the interior of the car – only tyres and lights remain from the original model. Using the HDR spheres that we’d produced at the time, we re-rendered the building and environment. The floor was taken from the original (pre-retouching) imagery, so retained its texture and was accurate at night. We replaced the city at skyline at the back with sourced material to make a new nightscape.

The new shot retains the elegant simplicity of composition that is a key part of the original, whilst adding the distinct ambience of a moonlit night.

Nissan

See the process here:

And the whole campaign on Behance here.

Client: Nissan Europe

Agency: TBWA/Paris

Art Director: Elisabeth Ribeiro

Assistant Art Director: Maude Muller

Art Buyer: Marie Moulin

Photographer: Nick Meek

Production: New Moon Productions

CGI Artist: Kristian Turner (daytime shot), Carlos Pecino (night time shot)

Post Artists: Pepê Alram, Ulf Cantignon, Christoph Bolten

Making of: Audi Q8 with Ben Stockley

Audi Q8, photographer Ben Stockley, retouching by Recom Farmhouse

Dark matters in this dramatic Audi campaign. We created still images in a huge variety of media formats, and also animated cinemagraphs.

From the early bidding stages onwards, our London team was heavily involved in the technical realisation of both still and moving imagery. This was some of the most intense post-production work we’ve been involved with and we are all very proud of the final results with their unique mix of realism and epic style, inspired by movie posters.

The biggest challenge in these shots was that the usual process was reversed. Normally, a car is shot on a location that is as physically similar as possible to the final backplate, and the original plan was photograph the car on the site. However as the Q8 is a completely new Audi model, with only a handful of prototype cars in the world, there wasn’t one available for the shoot in Scotland. So for these images, the backplates had to come first. Ben Stockley started out by capturing cityscapes in Scotland and London which we used to make initial compositions.

With the backplates shot, post artist Pepê Alram joined the photographer and art director Raymond Chan to shoot the cars in the studio with the initial background compositions projected onto giant screens. We fine-tuned the process together through constant experimentation with everything from the size of the car to the colour palettes. We refined the look tirelessly, with on-set input from Christoph Bolten, head of Recom Farmhouse London,  until we had completely realistic reflections in the sheet metal and had captured the filmic quality we were after.

In our London studio, post artists Kate Brown and Pepê Alram worked alongside Ben & Raymond to meticulously piece the puzzle together by merging studio and background shots. CGI elements replaced outdated model parts, we added a wet road, layers of rain, lens flares and other foreground elements. The reflections were eventually reduced for a more subtle and natural feel, retaining the perfect placement that we worked on so carefully.

The still images: 

Audi Q8, photographer Ben Stockley, retouching by Recom Farmhouse

 

Audi Q8, photographer Ben Stockley, retouching by Recom Farmhouse

 

Audi Q8, photographer Ben Stockley, retouching by Recom Farmhouse

At all points of the process, we had considered how these images would work with their added motion elements. The final piece of work was to fine tune the looping animations and bring three atmospheric cinemagraphs to life – a rainy night, lightning flickering around a foggy bridge, and a sparkling cityscape under racing clouds.

The Cinemagraphs


Behind The Scenes


See how the layers build up to create the ambience of a cool and rainy city evening in our making-of here:

In Situ:


The campaign is currently on display on digital billboards across the UK.

Client: Audi

Agency: BBH

Photographer: Ben Stockley

Art Director: Raymond Chan

Copywriter: Simon Cenamor

Post Artists: Kate Brown, Pepê Alram, Riikka Eiro, Aljaz Bezjak, Maria Luisa Calosso, Nuria Segura

Animation: Aljaz Bezjak

Agency Producers: Adam Overton, Aine Donovan

Photographer’s Agent: Siobhan Squire

 

Hublot with Sandro Baebler

Swiss luxury watch brand Hublot assigned Sandro Baebler to shoot a portrait of one of their ambassadors, Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang.

Sandro’s portrait session had unforgettable musical accompaniment, which can also be seen on his Facebook page here.

After his work with the musician in a studio the photographer asked us to add a specific Manhattan skyline view as a background.

Sandro suggested the perfect place – a rooftop bar with spectacular views. Our New York team organised the permit and set out to shoot the night time scene. As the location did not allow the use of tripods we had to shoot at a high ISO setting, but by stitching together many exposures we were able to make a handheld ultra high resolution panorama.

The initial stitched panorama:

Hublot Lang Lang source panorama

Our studio in London created the piano, room elements and flooring in CGI and merged them skilfully and seamlessly with the panorama and the portrait to create an atmospheric night-time cityscape.

See how the image was built up in the Making-Of video here:

 

The final campaign image with added product photography, as used on billboards and in magazines worldwide.

Hublot Lang Lang advert

See the final result on our site here.

Credits:
Client: Hublot
Photographer: Sandro Baebler

CGI Artist: Adam Jones / Recom Farmhouse
Post Artist: Maria Luisa Calosso / Recom Farmhouse

100% – Porsche Panamera

We relished the challenge of creating this CGI Porsche Panamera in the rain for a campaign from Kemper Kommmunikation with photographer Erik Chmil.

Here’s a look into how we made it. There’s a selection of 100% crops to zoom in on the details, and a video where you can feast your eyes on the perfectly rendered raindrops on the CGI Porsche.

We used Autodesk VRED to make the car. This execution, with its intricate raindrops, was particularly interesting. The finished image (above) is packed with finely observed details.

As always, the CGI process is grounded in observations of reality. CGI artist Ivo Stanev spent time studying the interaction between the raindrops and the surface of the car. The water acts like hundreds of tiny lenses and we found the best way to light them was to use high resolution HDRI spheres.

crop4_lights

Due to their hemisphere shape, formed as the round drops hit a flat surface, the raindrops catch light from the many sources in a night scene like this- street lamps, headlights, windows and so on.  This is what makes them sparkle.

crop2_lights

Mapping techniques:
To do this, we used high-resolution rain textures with displacement mapping. However, because we wanted to be flexible it was important to react quickly to changes, so we used both triplanar and UV mapping (the process of projecting a 2D image to a 3D model’s surface for texture mapping )

Working with triplanar mapping gives us flexibility because we can easily change the form of the raindrops,  especially as the CGI modelled Porsche has High Density Geometry. A good example is the windshield, where UV mapping allowed is to model windscreen wipers with a specific movement. For the rest of the car we used triplanar mapping for flexibility.

It was important for us to show the effect of the wind, changing the shape of the raindrops as they move along the surface of the car’s body.

crop1_roof

Also some elements are not as simple to add as you might imagine! We wanted moving, blurred windscreen wipers of course…so we carefully painted where and how the raindrops moved, depending on the motion of the windscreen wipers.

crop1_screen

The rendering took a lot of time as well – we used full Global Illumination with a lot of samples…and of course only one HDRI sphere wasn’t enough, so we had to use two or three of them.

We are really pleased with the end result – the painstaking work paid off beautifully.

16-09_2015_porsche-aviator_mot33b_07a_korn

Fly though the details in our video here…

Client: Porsche
Agency: Kemper Kommmunikation
Photographer: Erik Chmil
Creative Director: Nadine Kubis
Post-Artist: Thomas Fritz / Recom Stuttgart
CGI Artist: Eugen Albrandt / Recom Stuttgart
CGI Artist: Ivo Stanev / Recom Stuttgart

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