August 1, 2007
Just when you thought anything was possible with digital paintbrush tools and begin to take stunning visuals in TVCs for granted, along comes this ad that teases your senses into thinking this is just another visually abstract automobile commercial. The TVC starts with a boy gazing through a shop window, at the merchandise on display. At first glance, the audience is ‘tricked’ into thinking that the new Xsara Picasso by Citroen Dongfeng is sitting on one of the display shelves, until of course, the car is driven away! Using optical illusion, the makers of this ad cleverly manipulates and toys with our visual concept of space and distance. The car is at least a good 30 meters behind the boy on the driveway, but when it is filmed from a precise angle, a brand new imagery is presented â€“ the illusion of a model toy car fitting snugly within the confines of a window display. The second scene shows what looks like a preschool teacher guiding a long queue of students to board the Xsara Picasso. Once again, it becomes clear that our eyes are playing tricks on us, once the vehicle drives off – the children are crossing the street behind the car, and not streaming into it! Perhaps the most stunning imagery is that of a dolphin, seemingly trapped within the interior of the car. When the vehicle’s rear door closes, we find the sea mammal and her friends wading gleefully inside levitating blue boxes, set in an imaginary world. Titled Visual Contrast, the TVC was commissioned to agency Dentsu Beijing, led by executive creative director, Wilson Yeh, It was Yeh who came up with the concept to use ‘Visual Contrast’, but the idea was later refined by Richard Swan, director at Konnect Films. Konnect is an Australian film production company that provides award-winning Australian and New Zealand film directors, in conjunction with an internationally experienced team of executive producers, to the Chinese advertising market. Developed for nationwide release in P.R. China, the US$350,000 TVC highlights the attributes of the renewed model of the Xsara Picasso, especially its spaciousness. Explained Michael Robertson, executive producer, Konnect Films: “We playfully demonstrate this contrast in scale and the shifting visual perspective as a metaphor for this new stylish vehicle.” “At all times we are surprised by the physical juxtaposition of elements in the scenes and the resulting scale of the car and its driving experience – which is a higher, bigger, wider and more comfortable new Xsara Picasso.” In fleshing out the underlying creative concept – that Xsara Picasso ‘equals to’ (=) space – the director designed a complex script of visual contrasts within a generated post environment. Taking specific environmental cues from traditional and contemporary sources, the goal was to make the car appear as large as possible – impossibly large in most cases. “We will set up and plan these scenarios in camera so that each idea feels as true to life as possible. Any CG additions will be composited seamlessly and the optical illusions retained.” All the scenes were shot in a Shanghai-based studio on 35mm using the ARRI 435. As in all other production shoots, the biggest challenge lies in getting all the involved parties – including the client, agency, creatives and production house – to agree on the entire process. In the case of this project, it was achieved by relentless effort and heartfelt commitment, made slightly complicated by the fact that the team comprised folks of different nationalities. Indeed, the client – a French and Chinese joint venture – had assembled an international ensemble of creative talents for the project: a Chinese ad agency and an Australian creative team and post. Location wise, the film was shot in Shanghai and posted in Sydney. Despite the TVC utilizing optical gags to fool its audience, the VFX elements were just as critical to pull them off convincingly. The subtle yet compelling sets were digitally constructed to give a sense of infinite space. To achieve that spatial quality in the virtual environment, all the imaginary habitats were constructed from scratch – in color, tone, texture and lighting – to blend seamlessly with the CG background in the yonder. Robertson emphasized: “The clean white environment allows the visual contrasts to be executed perfectly. The environment also allows the Silver car to blend in or pop out as required. The Picasso’s luster and European finish will sparkle and gleam in our studio light. “And Flame Suite allowed us a lot of creative and design capacity to recreate the environment and add in cues of ‘visual contrast’ as per script.” Robertson revealed that the main VFX challenge was to stay as close to the original brief as possible, and to ensure the Picasso appears ‘spacious’ throughout the film. “This was achieved by shooting the car with the proper lens and then retouching the vehicle vis-a-vis the environment – background and design elements – to emphasize the idea visually. I believe, by the sleek and refined look of the final film, it was indeed a success.” After processing the film locally in Shanghai, the developed stock was then transported back to Australia for post work. First best light telecine transfer was carried out at the Sydneybased post house, Cutting Edge; followed by offline edit on Final Cut Pro, at Monster Films. Postmodern Sydney took over the online effects and visual design, incorporating such CGI elements as the dolphins.