Taylor James on weathering the challenges of virtual production for Rain-X

New-York-based creative production agency Taylor James is another that has been pushing on-set virtual production technology and in-camera VFX to see how far they can practically take it in pursuit of high-end goals.

For the Rain-X automotive brand, they recently made a single commercial in which a vehicle was driven through every type of weather condition. Jay Harwood (Executive Creative Director) and Stan Hébette (CG lead) spoke to LBB Online about their experience of shooting this in a completely artificial environment.

For Stan, pre-viz was the start of everything good that was to come.

“Part of our team put the city rain scene together in Unreal Engine, whilst the rest of the environments were made in Maya. So pre-viz helped us to find the right camera angles and make things flow between Unreal and Maya”

Stan Hébette

It wasn’t without its complications, though. The car itself was filmed on-set – and needed to work seamlessly with the CG backgrounds. Both were moving, and quickly.

“We ran so many tests looking at what 20 miles an hour would look like physically, what the difference would be between that and 30, and so on. And it’s not just how quickly the environments zoom past that you need to watch out for – there’s also the spring of the car and how that would affect the rain bouncing off it, and all of these seemingly minor details which are essential for realism.”

Stan Hébette

Virtual production, and particularly the LED, gave them an edge, though.

“With the right LED coverage and the right camera angle, you can get so much ‘running’ footage of the car’s close-up details. Right down to the bodylines and contours of the metal, we got it all in-camera in a controllable shooting environment.”

Jay Harwood

Though the stage introduced challenges as well as benefits.

“The wall we were using was 15 by 4 meters. But, because the car is so reflective, that actually posed a challenge – we needed to make sure the wall itself was the perfect distance away from the vehicle so that the reflection looked natural.

I’ve already seen, I believe in China, examples of enormous LED walls being used for precisely that kind of reason – ensuring that the objects in the foreground reflect only what’s on the wall and nothing beyond it”

Stan Hébette

A strong background in CGI and VFX gives anybody working in on-set virtual production an advantage from the start.

“We combined traditional VFX workflows with the VP in-camera footage by integrating a CG road underneath the car and then adding extra VFX elements like rain to really sell it through.”

Jay Harwood

All of this is getting the Taylor James team really enthused about what the future holds for them.

“Creatively I feel like we are just scratching the surface of what can be done. I personally would love to explore camera language within virtual production. I also believe there’s huge potential for more designed pieces that can have visuals played out on the LED walls, as you can create a really dynamic edit – like you would traditionally but without waiting for all the designed VFX elements to come in later down the line.

Jay Harwood

“We do need to remember that these technologies are only babies, in the grand scheme of things”, says Stan. “Because of shows like The Mandalorian we are all aware of it, but I don’t think we’ve truly reckoned with how much of an impact it will have on the amount of content we’re able to produce in tighter timeframes. It’s almost scary to imagine what can be done”. 

Stan Hébette

“Volume production is a big attraction for using virtual production because you can use it once and then re-use and adapt that footage as an asset on future campaigns. Interior spaces are a good example of this, as you could build a branded house that you simply tweak for different commercials. It will be a case of spending the money upfront and reaping the benefits with multi-day shoots spread over a longer timeline in the future”. 

Jay Harwood

Virtual production’s time has a arrived and it was evident at IBC in Amsterdam that LED stages are dominating people’s creative thoughts more than green screen has for some considerable time. If you would like to talk about your virtual production plans and aspirations, contact the team at Mondatum for an initial consultation.