McLaren approached MarshmallowLaserFeast for a teaser for the launch of their new car, the P12. Initially the job revolved around projection mapping, to project on (a model of) the car, something the MLF team wanted to avoid. Working directly with the McLaren team, the MLF team created this fascinating 60 seconds clip created using a combination of 3d animation, long exposure photography and a TV screen moving at high speed on a custom designed rig.
It was very evident that the shape of the car, the aerodynamics was very crucial to its design, also the amount of research, engineering, precision and technology that was behind it. The video being a teaser, we wanted to hint at the shape of the car, and not fully reveal it; we wanted to tease the audience. We arrived at a concept that this car was shaped by the very forces of air flowing around it, and we would visualize those forces and create a piece around that.
The team chose lighting painting as a medium for this project for a number of reasons. Their thinking approach is to work with a fairly established medium but also used by many contemporary artists, the likes of Lichtfaktor and BergLondon. They wanted to create something tangible; something that was abstract, but looked real; almost tangible but not quite.
We wanted the piece to look real – and not just Computer-Graphics-Photo-Real – but actually really real and occupying the physical space. So using light painting to create tangible animated moving sculptures of light – filmed from a moving camera, slowly flying around it, establishing its position in space.
The MLF team worked with Moving Picture Company to create CG animations of the most relevant air flows around the car, highlighting its remarkable aerodynamic properties. The source for these animations were real life wind tunnel data provided by McLaren. The 3d flow geometry of each single frame of the 30 second animation was chopped up into 800 slices, comparable to the process of generating a computer tomography scan. Since they had to cover 900 frames of animation they ended up with about 750 thousand HD sized slices. Quite a render job! … and there was another pass for the car reflections, too.
They wrote an openFrameworks app to play back this data in sync with a motion control rig which moved a 60 inch screen backwards at a constant speed. One “scan” meant playing back 800 slices in about 26 seconds plus another 16 seconds for the screen to return into start position, getting ready to play back the next frame of animation. In theory playing back all the 750 thousand slices should have taken only half a day, not involving any human interaction. Fully automated movie production! Sometimes they monitored the process via screen sharing from outside the space. MRMC used the motion control software “Flair” to trigger the camera shutters, the two mo-co rigs and drive their custom playback app, which was driven by listening to MIDI cues coming from the mo-co software. Everything had to be aligned exactly with their virtual salami slicing setup – otherwise proportions would have been changed.
To “collect” all slices of one scan in one picture the shutter opening time of their cameras, logically, had to be at least as long as one “scan”. The very long exposure time of almost half a minute only allowed complete darkness. Really really dark darkness. Even a emergency exit lamp on the other side of the black curtains around their setup would create visible bounce through tiny slits. They also wanted a slow and smooth camera move during the clip. They achieved this with another motion control rig that moved the camera a tiny bit after every scan, basically in stop-frame style.
(Many thanks to Memo and Moco for the details)
Visual Effects – Moving Picture Company: VFX Producer: Michael Stanish; Lead 3D: Duncan McWilliams; 3D: Thomas Rowell
Producer: Holly Restieaux; Executive Producer: Peter Bowker; Client Liaison: Ben Risk; Motion Control: Ian Menzies and Nigel Permane at Mark Roberts Motion Control; Gaffer: James Smith-Pryor; Rigger: Jon Last; Runners: Spike Laurie, Rudy Vermorel, Charlie Barclay, Runyararo Mapfumo; Behind the Scenes Filming: Sandra Ciampone, Steve Glashier; Behind the Scenes Photography: Sandra Ciampone