VFX studio Prime Focus transformed a major London landmark into the gates of Hell using clever projection trickery for a spot promoting the new series of hit paranormal drama Supernatural.

To create the dramatic effect, senior VFX animator Adam Seeley built a 3D version of Marble Arch, which the Prime Focus team then projected onto the landmark to give the effect of the monument being destroyed by flame.

A line-up image taken from the point where the projection would take place was supplied by The Brooklyn Brothers, allowing Adam to accurately model, texture and light a 3D version of the Arch in Autodesk’s Softimage. This ensured the sequence would line-up correctly, with shadows from the 3D render falling in the correct places into the projected arch.
After a short time, the 3D projection sees the arch catching fire and it’s soon engulfed in flames, causing it to crumble from the top, sending large chunks of carrara-marble crashing violently to the ground. In the black space where the top of Marble Arch used to be, a message is projected which promotes the new series of Supernatural on Living TV in the UK.
“I broke the top of the model up into believable masonry chunks using a script in Maya and applied rigid body dynamics simulations in Softimage,” said Adam. “Various areas of the arch were simulated one after the other for a crumbling effect rather than a simultaneous collapse.”
At the same time, Tim Davies and Anne Trotman in Flame had choreographed the arch becoming enveloped by fire using existing stock footage from various sources. The 3D was combined with the fire effects in Flame using a depth mask, which allowed the 3D wreckage to fall forward and through the flames.
Flame Op Anne Trotman said: “Jay Fretwell at The Brooklyn Brothers referenced the movie Backdraft in our initial discussions on the project. It was important for it to feel as though the fire was taking hold at the lower right hand side and then spreading up and across the structure while igniting separate parts, like the columns, as it went. We spent a lot of time going through lots of stock footage to get flames that were the right size and feel.”
The 3D was then combined with the fire effects by Jon Trussler in Smoke using a depth mask which allowed the 3D wreckage to fall forward and through the flames.
Titles were also added before the whole sequence was rendered loop-able with a large fireball at the end which revealed a rebuilt Marble Arch ready for re-ignition!
“For us, as with all our special effects, the key was to make people believe the unbelievable,” said Jay Fretwell, creative director at The Brooklyn Brothers. “We only had one shot at this stunt and it had to be perfect and make a lot of noise for Living TV. Prime Focus took our idea of turning Marble Arch into the Gates of Hell and brought it to life. Seeing it engulfed in flames as we drove up Park Lane was absolutely breathtaking, and the moment when the Arch cracked and collapsed was stunning. We’ve created something really special together.”