The Titanfall 2 commercial presented a great opportunity to use an innovative combination of live-action and CGI, not to mention to collaborate with some really cool people from RESET, Argonaut, Respawn and EA. Blur handled all aspects of the project including design, live-action, editorial, VFX/compositing, color and output.
Blur director Dave Wilson presented reference imagery and a written treatment that focused on themes from American westerns, the archetypal relationship between man and steed as seen in a Sergio Leone film. Grit, weaponry, extended vistas and landscapes, lone warriors and their machinery were the focus of the pitch.
The approach required shooting live action environments into which the CG Titans would be placed, and the script called for a desert, a burned landscape, a rocky vista and a forest. To get the plates,we found a central base in the Lone Pine area of central California and branched out for shoots at Alabama Hills and into the Sequoia national forest. Motion capture stunt performers, acting both as humans and titans, rehearsed and captured a layout pass of the entire spot which was later used on-set to guide principle photography. The layout was built at Blur using in-game models provided by Respawn, then brought on set as blocking and timing reference during the shoot.
“Deadpool” director of photography Ken Seng shot the plates plates on Arri Alexa and Red cameras in a combination of hand held, drone aerials and short dolly moves, framed to focus on the relationship of the actor and the eventual CG mech.
The main battle in the forest was extremely challenging. Fight choreographers performed the actions in frame so that camera moves could be rehearsed and then shot clean. Later, CG humans and mechanical “Titans” would be integrated into these plates.
While the desert and rocky scenes were straight forward tracks and composites of the CG titan, the forest shots often required rebuilding the environment through a combination of plates, matte paintings, digital photography and modeled CG forest elements. LiDAR, or “Light Detection And Ranging,” was used extensively for pixel-accurate plate tracking and reproduction of landscape elements and topography. The environment team assembled a library of CG trees, shrubs, ferns and grass to augment the plates and create a realistic, lush forest environment. Later, the cloth simulation team provided the necessary level of interaction with these elements for impacts, foot steps, gusts of wind and other interactive elements.
We needed to create a CG version of the pilot in addition to “BT,” the main titan and enemy titans. Respawn provided reference for the pilot in order to create the costume, weaponry and iconic helmet, which was built by Legacy Effects (who also made props for Iron Man, Jurassic World and other big movies.) The character team at Blur used a combination of reference, costume photography and actor phogrammetry to build the CG pilot seen in the forest action sequence. Extremely high mesh fidelity was added to in-game models provided by Respawn, such as individual bolts and layers of grime and damage, to match the level of realism the plates demanded. We modeled and rendered elements in 3dsmax with ZBrush, Mari, and VRay, animated in Softimage, and deep-composited in Nuke.
Blur effects artists took a hybrid approach to creating the sparks, fire and explosions seen in the spot with a mashup of plates and complex Houdini simulations.
All in all it was a great experience that went by in an 11-week flash, and everyone to brought their A-game. Special shout to the Argo, Respawn and EA folks who braved the desert darkness, you know who you are!