Ingenuity Engine mixes CG with reality in dancing Qoros car spot

See how remote working enabled the LA studio to create a CG-heavy commercial in the Chinese desert

Ingenuity Engine's Dance spot for Qoros showcases a selection of all-singing, all-dancing vehicles from the Chinese manufacturer's line gallivanting around the desert.

"The spot was filmed in rural China, about five hours west of Xining on a salt flat called Chakayan Lake, where conditions were particularly gruelling," said Michael Lebensfeld, producer and managing director at the Hollywood-based production studio.

"Howling winds and sub-zero temperatures made even the simplest tasks incredibly challenging. The salt flat was wet, which rendered the cars filthy after each take. At an elevation of almost 11,000 feet, pretty much the entire crew had altitude sickness."

After the two days spent in the Chinese desert, production moved back to the US. Here the team were required to produce a commercial that featured the real cars and matching CG cars - within the same frame - along with numerous full CG shots and extensive background replacements, all in one month.

With the agency and production company being China-based, Cospective’s Frankie remote review and approval tool was used to share, comment on and track progress.

"Frankie played a crucial role in completing the job," Lebensfeld said."We scheduled regular review sessions with the director throughout the project, so all the involved parties were tightly looped in on the spot’s progression."

"As the cars were completely CG in several shots, it was important to review the spot as a whole to ensure continuity in the lighting and shading of the vehicle’s surface and the surrounding salt flat."

There was a firm plan in place for how everything would be carried out. "The director came in very early on and worked with our animators to break down the spot," Lebensfeld explained.

The team plotted out the cars' manoeuvres using models, and an animatic with varying options was built for each shot for the director, Joseph Kahn, to cut together and review.

"He’d then provide feedback the next morning," Lebensfeld continued, "And the process would begin again. At the end of the month, we had a full 60 second spot to present to the client."

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All the planning in the world can't mitigate the unexpected, though, and the Qoros production almost fell prey to governmental influence. "Being browser-based, Frankie was affected by The Great Firewall of China," Lebensfeld said.

Ingenuity made use of Cospective cineSync, a tool for remote review and approval that’s widely used in the high security world of feature film. This neatly sidestepped China’s internet filtering and allowed the interactive review process to continue.

"We then switched to over to cineSync, because we could download and host it ourselves,” Lebensfeld added. "Frankie served as the main review platform for both internal and external note sessions due to the ease of exporting accurate, visual directions for the artists."

Additional modelling and animation was handled in 3DS Max, with volumetric smoke added in Fume FX.

Rendering and the photo-realism required was handled in Maxwell, with compositing completed in NUKE and the finishing touches added with Smoke.

"It felt more like a music video than a commercial," said Lebensfeld. "There were over 50 shots with a combination of real and CG cars flying through the air and zooming along the ground."

"Unlike your typical car commercial, you have to watch it multiple times to fully grasp what’s happening in each shot."

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