LOS ANGELES — Spot watchers are seeing a lot of Rob Lowe these days. In fact, the actor stars opposite himself playing a bizarre array of Rob Lowes in a DirecTV campaign from Grey New York. Directed by Tom Kuntz of MJZ, the comedy spots depict handsome Rob Lowe enjoying the benefits of DirecTV while Creepy, Hairy, Painfully Awkward, Less Attractive and
Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe suffers through the indignities of being a cable customer.
Method Studios (www.methodstudios.com), which is headquartered in Los Angeles and has eight other offices worldwide, did the campaign’s VFX. In addition to the split screen work, which enables Lowe to interact with his other persona, Method handled prosthetic clean ups, digital matte paintings, 2D enhancements and compositing. Most of the spots rely on Lowe’s performances and prosthetic make up to create alternate versions of the actor. For instance, Scrawny Arms required Method to create much of the other character, who has skinny, muscle-less arms that can’t even twist the lid off a mayonnaise jar.
“At first we thought we’d do head or arm replacements,” says Method VFX supervisor Jay Hawkins. “We did some proofs of concept shooting a skinny girl and a muscular dude in a few poses and doing some rough composites, and they were really creepy. It was the muscle movements: If it all wasn’t connected it looked scary — and not in a funny way.”
Method was inspired by the first Captain America feature, which involved “skinnying up” the character before he becomes a superhero. “It was a very elaborate process,” says Hawkins. “We didn’t have the budget or time to render a 3D human for the spot, but was there a way to do it in 2D?”
They did another test, placing tracking dots on the arms of the muscular fellow, then removing his arms, skinnying them up and putting them back, segment by segment, to create a 2D puppet. “We could squeeze him, expand him, twist him and keep the pivot points locked together,” Hawkins explains. “The test was super successful, and everyone was on board with the process.”
So Method shot Lowe on the set with tracking markers on his arms; they also shot a body double for muscle reference and framing. Then they removed Lowe’s arms and put them back applying precise and unique warping for each segment.
The only 3D element was his watch, which dangles loosely from his wrist when Lowe, sitting on a couch, raises his arms and locks his hands behind his head. “It was the most difficult shot,” Hawkins says, “because so much was connected — the movement of his biceps, armpits and chest.”
Flame was Method’s chief VFX tool; the watch was modeled and animated in Maya. Nuke was deployed in other spots for prosthetic clean ups. Carlos Herrera was the VFX producer for Method Studios in New York.