"Epic Race" Gets a New Look

May 15, 2011 6:22 pm

Tags: Adobe, After Effects, CINEMA 4D, MAXON, Meleah Maynard

Zoic Studios uses Cinema 4D and After Effects to create a punishing Tour de France promo

If you want someone to feel the drama, pain and heroism inherent in the intense competition that is the Tour de France, you have to make them experience those things—at least a little bit—somehow. Zoic Studios did that well in a 30-second spot titled, "Lance," which they created for the national sports cable network, VERSUS, along with an extensive graphics package, for the 2010 race.

The sports cable network, which broadcasts the Tour de France exclusively in the U.S., chose Zoic to help them come up with a new way to promote the network's tenth year of covering the Tour. Using MAXON's CINEMA 4D and After Effects, Zoic created a spot inspired by the VERSUS tagline, "The Most Epic Race Ever," which puts viewers right in the heart of the action. "They wanted a concept that kept moving forward and focused on the road," explains Miles Dinsmoor, an executive producer at Zoic's Los Angeles location.

Zoic's key directive was to create a spot that captured the inherent drama and heroic nature of the race.

In addition to the tagline, Tripp Dixon, VERSUS' vice president of creative services, asked that the entire graphics package build on the existing logo and brand package the network uses for the race, including the colors yellow, white and black. "Our mission was to evolve a fairly well established brand look and really help make the graphics a character in the campaign," says Derich Wittliff, Zoic's creative director. "That's why we went in a direction that emphasized the big, epic nature of the race by showing huge vistas and roiling skies that complimented the race itself." (See the spot here)

In the spot, the road is clearly an adversary on par with other racers, and it fractures and heaves over hairpin turns in the mountains and transforms into punishing cobblestone streets. Though they had originally intended to use stock footage, Zoic decided to use C4D's built-in camera mapping tools in order to create a somewhat surreal, moody environment and keep the perspective close to the pavement. "We started with bits and pieces of stock photos and combined them in Photoshop to create a still, 2D composite for each environment," says Allen Donhauser, a designer and animator at Zoic.

The spot intentionally keeps viewers close to a road that is both beautiful and grueling.

Next, artists on the team created simple geometric models of each environment and mapped the stills using CINEMA 4D's Projection Man camera mapping system. "Sticking close to the ground plane gave the most dramatic sense of motion and seemed to fit best with the perspective of cycling," Donhauser explains. They were careful not to push the images too far, though, since the camera mapping effect couldn't see around corners or behind crossed objects. "So our job was to keep it dramatic and believable without giving away the effect," he continues.

The "Punishing" cobble stone street was created by comping a piece of cobble road into a full road."

In a shot featuring the word "Punishing," for example, a piece of cobble road was comped into a full road. A long shadow was cast toward the camera and the background and foreground were blurred. The only problem with this type of projection comp was the lack of full range of motion. "You can't turn the camera completely 45 degrees," says Wittliff. "But when you push the technique you do get some interesting results and were able to mimic the motion of riders on the road, while keeping the focus on the messaging."

A vibrate tag on the camera object kept the camera moves lively. By vibrating each direction of rotation by one or two degrees with a fairly slow frequency, they were able to simulate a hand-held effect fairly easily. Some objects, like a double row of trees, were added back in if they didn't work when camera mapped, Donhauser says. "We simply replicated the trees with a MoGraph cloner and randomized them using an effector."

Zoic artists used the Xfrog plug-in to create the give the cracks a natural, branching look.

Throughout the creative process Zoic's creative team worked closely with Dixon with the "Lance" spot being the initial testing ground for the look that all of the other creative elements in the package were designed around. One of the ongoing challenges was to balance the serious, almost oppressive feel of parts of the spot with a positive, inspirational tone, says Dinsmoor. "We wanted the gladiator aspect of how hard the race is and how grueling it can be without making it too dark."

A shot in which the word "Cruel" appears above a roadway in the process of cracking open is particularly sinister. To achieve an effect that was somewhat photorealistic, but also had a lot of dimension to it, Zoic artists used a simple boolean of the cracks being lowered into place over time. The Xfrog plug-in was used to create the natural branching structure of the cracks. Then a cleaner, simpler polygon object based on the Xfrog model was used as the boolean object.

Colors, as well as the existing Tour logo, were used throughout the spot, including the filigree element,
which Zoic gave a distressed treatment to invoke the tension and grit of the race.

Artists then applied a yellow texture to the crack object and left the camera-mapped texture on the road surface. "So as the crack object was lowered, the negative space would fill with yellow," explains Donhauser, adding that an object buffer and compositing tag made the yellow fill adjustable. A glow was added later.

Once the camera moves and environment were set and all the texture maps had been tweaked to hide any obvious imperfections, each shot was rendered and moved over to After Effects. This included the 3D camera information, nulls or lights with external compositing tags to match where the type and filigree elements would be comped in. "This gave us, and the client, the flexibility to change out text and adjust timing as necessary without having to re-render the 3D," says Donhauser.

Wittliff isn't surprised that the spot has generated interest from other clients. "It's a good example of how well things can go when you have good collaboration between everyone involved."

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Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at her website: www.slowdog.com


May 16, 2011

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