Dieselfx helped Ridley Scott Associates bring some game action to life in a Hollywood-style action-film promotional short for Atari’s Driv3r.

US visual effects studio Dieselfx recently joined forces with Ridley Scott Associates (RSA) to produce an Internet, television and print marketing campaign supporting the launch of Atari’s video game Driv3r on June 1. The studio’s work on the project began with post production planning and supervision, continued through post, and ended with the delivery of 29 individual elements including a short Internet movie, a series of television spots and behind-the-scenes elements for a pre-sell DVD package.

Atari kick-started the project by commissioning RSA and director Sean Mullens for a new way of promoting its game. Mullens responded with the concept for Run the Gauntlet, a three-minute Internet movie, that would essentially be a live-action version of the game with Tanner, the game’s hero, attempting to deliver a car while being pursued by hordes of gun-toting bad guys. Shot in the style of a Hollywood action movie, the film is packed with high-speed car chases, crashes, explosions and gun battles. The Internet movie became the cornerstone for the whole marketing campaign.

RSA brought Dieselfx into the project during the early stages of pre-production to provide technical and creative oversight. “This would have been a challenging project had it only involved the Internet movie,” said Dieselfx executive producer Carl Seibert, who acted as post production supervisor on the project. “It was a very ambitious production with a lot of complicated visual effects. However, there was much more to this effort. We needed to prepare elements for different media and different markets. That added several more layers of complexity.”

Economic challenges

One of the biggest challenges according to Elliott Jobe, founder and president of Dieselfx and the main vfx artist on the project, was the client’s budget. “Although I believe this was the first time a campaign for a video game has been produced on this scale and some serious money was spent, car chases in films tend to be real focal points so they’ll spend maybe four or five million dollars just for a two-minute sequence,” he says. “Our budget wasn’t anywhere near that, so a lot of what we did at Dieselfx was to help provide effective, alternative solutions to production, so that economically they could get more out of their time and money spent.”

Dieselfx’s artists supervised the three-day live-action shoot. They also spent time photographing and taking measurements of the buildings and street in order to recreate these digitally later in the studio. The studio’s main task was in enhancing the car stunt scenes. Many of those are composites in which Jobe and fellow artist Craig Price pieced together foreground, middle ground and background elements to create a concentrated action scene. One of the most spectacular scenes in the film shows a car flying 40-feet through the air and exploding into flames as it lands. On Diesel’s end, that scene required extensive rig removal and the assembly of more than a dozen separate plates. Artists also used particle enhancements to increase the size and force of the blast that engulfs the car when it lands.

Big shots, such as the car flipping over, proved to be some of the least challenging says Jobe, mainly because of lot of time and effort was spent planning them. More challenging was the need to enhance the overall story by coming up with shots that didn’t exist and weren’t originally planned, he says.

One of these was creating slow-motion bullets trails, a la The Matrix, in a sequence that see Tanner dodging a bullet while in his car. However, unlike The Matrix, the action had been shot at normal speed, which made slowing down the bullet a particular challenge.

“We were able to use the photography we took on location to previz some of the bullet elements to show the background of the bullets and what they’d be travelling through,” says Jobe. “This was important in figuring out how to treat the bullet trails and show the bullet action. If the background is busy, you need to modify how the trail looks from each angle, so that they look as continuous as possible from one shot to the next. In The Matrix, they had very dark shots, and used super slow-mo, so they had a lot of time to show you the effect.

“Our trouble was that we really didn’t have anything in slow-motion and we had to artificially slow things down – both picture and audio – in that sequence in order to give the best possible space for the bullets to live,” explains Jobe.

Jobe helped shoot some additional shots to help slow down the drama of the bullet sequence, including a number of cutaways where the camera looks out of the car window.

The edit took about a month and post work totalled around two to three weeks. Effects were dropped in as the edit progressed which called for lots of interaction with Atari says Jobe.

“As there wasn’t a creative agency involved, we had to spend time familiarizing Atari with the process that post goes through to get things to look the way they should. And, with the number of effects in the film, we had to do a lot of communication to help Atari understand what they were going to get,” he says. “On the plus side, they were very excited and keen, so it was a case of communicating faith in the process.”

In addition to handling all of the traditional post production and visual-effects work, Dieselfx played a role in helping Atari manage data for media buying and trafficking purposes. “Data management was a critical aspect to this project,” says Seibert. “We needed to know exactly what had to go into each different version. Once we finished the three-minute film, it became the ‘master’. We used it to determine how to create each of the cut downs most efficiently.”

The bullets in this shot (below) were created in 3D package Brazil, and the trails in Discreet Inferno, with additional work done in Flame. As the bullets were small and the team had no slow-motion footage to play with, Jobe, had to experiment with slowing down the car shots in order to show the bullet trails.

“I had to track the shots so they would fit together. They had to be slowed down, as if they were in real-time, it would have been very hard to make the bullet trails look interesting rather than cheesy,” he explains. “At the speed the bullets were flying, The Matrix look wasn't suitable, and resulted in strange, popping waves. So I put a shockwave on the front of the bullet in order to create a sort of vertical wall of pressurized air when the bullet is travelling. When you’re watching the sequence, with the bullets coming in from left and right, the pressure waves help show that these things are coming together at the main character.” Jobe created the distortion using Sapphire plug-ins.

Dieselfx also provided the main title graphic for the three-minute Internet film. “About two thirds of the way through the project, it became apparent that the graphics company that was working on the titles hadn't done a good job, so we stepped in,” says Jobe. “We used a collection of photoreal 3D objects – three CG muscle cars that were like the cars in the film. We went with a Mustang concept car and attached a logo in the Driv3r font to it, then rendered it. In Inferno, I took an alleyway shot from the film and put it around the car and in its reflection. Then I texturized the whole thing to get a golden hue to match the colours, and added lots of camera shake and frenetic action.”

The main graphic was built in a day, with a further day spent doing other logos on the car. “Sean (Mullens) was with me all night while we were working on that and pushed it very quickly,” recalls Jobe.