SANTA MONICA, CA — Lexus ably demonstrates “The Point of All-Weather Drive” in a winter-themed spot from agency Team One, with VFX by Santa Monica’s Arsenal FX. The commercial showcases Lexus GS, LS and IS sedans driving through city streets at night during winter. They effortlessly negotiate falling snow, icy roads and slush using the power of all-weather drive to “defeat” the seasonal hazards.
The running footage was shot on an LA backlot, where machines generated enough snow for the cars to carve tracks through. “But it still looked like California with snow on the ground,” says Arsenal FX’s lead Flame artist, Matt Motal. “The client wanted it to look really cold, with lots of fog, cooler colors and atmospheric light effects.”
Arsenal used dynamic fluid simulations created in Autodesk Maya to envelop the cars with ground fog; wispy ground particles were activated by passing cars, swirling through the fog as the vehicles conquered the elements.
In compositing, depth passes from 3D were used to create atmosphere and a background haze. Rotoscoped elements were used to achieve a realistic falloff of objects farther from the camera. Several layers of flurries were added to give a sense of speed. Volumetric headlight beams, created in Maya, interacted in the composite with other atmospheric elements. A high-frequency mist particle system, illuminated by the headlights, further sold the authenticity of the weather.
Although the spot was color graded by Apache using Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve before arriving at Arsenal, the company used Flame and Nuke to chill the color even more and add the icy winter bloom on streetlights. PFTrack was the tracking tool of choice.
Key to the entire process was Motal’s development of a post pipeline so the client could quickly view the progress Arsenal was making toward achieving their wintery vision. “By the time we nailed down the technique in motion tests, few revisions were done at the end of the process,” he says.
Since cars act as giant sheet-metal mirrors on live-action sets Arsenal also cleaned up reflections of camera rigs and glimpses of the video village, tweaked signage where needed, darkened the drivers so they were invisible and tidied up drips on the sides of the cars. After all, Lexus has to remain looking good as it defeats winter roads.