In 2014, Valero had some primo ad time during the Valero Alamo Bowl (weird how that works) and they needed to show how they bring gasoline from coast to coast. They turned to us and we in turn brought Maine and California to Texas.
When you think of Maine, you obviously think of salty sea dogs, lobster and Stephen King. The sea dog was easy – add a hat, a pair of gloves, drop some “r”s and you’re set. The lobster, however, was a little trickier. (King had a previous engagement.)
Our original idea was to work with what nature gave us and just use a real lobster. Unfortunately, in order to do that, we’d need a lobster wrangler on set to make sure we weren’t mistreating or otherwise damaging the crustacean. (No word on if we would be free to eat it after the shoot.) This seemed like more trouble than it was worth, so we decided to have a prop lobster made.
The thing about lobsters is, they’re really big. When you ask for an eight pound lobster, you may be surprised when the prop you get back is the size of a fire extinguisher. It dwarfed our salty sea dog! Strike two.
Finally we decided to ditch the practical effects and let our 3D animation and visual effects team take a crack at generating a lobster for us. We shot our sea dog holding a weighted and painted candle, so that everything would look right, and sent it to post. What came back was a lifelike digital lobster that not only looked real, but moved too! Fisherman and lobster were united at last, as it should be.
Invasion of the Giant Artichoke
The artichoke, on the other hand, that bad boy was all real. It actually started as a joke. During casting, someone said it would be funny if the California representative was dressed as an artichoke. A quick Google search turned up a costume designer who had made one, and we were sold.
Shipping it turned out to be pretty tricky. They don’t really make boxes designed for human-scale artichokes. When it arrived in Texas, the suit was a little dinged up. Luckily, director Murray Breit and a few handy assistants were able to repair it.
Of course, the thing was awkward to wear and a pain for our actor, so we had to call in Murray again to rig up a system to suspend the costume. His genius saved the shoot and the actor’s back.
With our actors and props in place, we shot our segments and went to work turning a set in San Antonio into two coastal vistas.
San Antonio No Mo’
Once we had all our footage in the digital can, we went to work in the post-production studio. We’d shot our actors in front of a green and blue screen, so we were able to convert the parking lot of a San Antonio Valero into the salt kissed shores of coastal Maine and the sunny avocado groves of California.
To create the bicoastal illusion we employed techniques often reserved for blockbuster movies. We created high resolution layered digital matte paintings to extend and revamp the live action set. These matte paintings were then modeled into 3D set extensions. The live action footage was 3D tracked and it, too, was modeled in 3D. With the matte paintings and live action footage projected onto their respective geometry we could marry the real parts with the imaginary backgrounds. At this point we could rack the focus, reframe, or even change the camera's location and movement to create extra impact or to adjust our compositions as needed. After a quick animating of the sky, adding some 3D birds, boats, etc., we were ready to record our newly relocated shot with our virtual camera.
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