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The making of the Mazda 3 commercial: BlackGinger interview

By 3dtotal staff

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Date Added: 23rd January 2015

BlackGinger, the South African animation and VFX studio, reveals how it brought the history of the Mazda car to life with CG vehicle doubles, matte paintings, and a careful eye for detail


BlackGinger resides in Cape Town, South Africa, with the animation and VFX studio handling projects on both a local and international scale for the movie, TV and commercial industries. Partnering with brands like Heinz, Ribena and Johnnie Walker for numerous projects, the studio recently worked with Mazda to produce a commercial looking all the way back through the automotive company's history and the Mazda 3 brand.

A project for such a well-known company required a deft touch - CG elements that blended into a historical story being told, adding depth by bringing to life Mazda's. With that history came a lot of research - 95 years in business is a long time for anything, but especially in an industry dealing with such rapid advancements as the automotive one.

Darrin Hofmeyr, animation supervisor at BlackGinger, explained: "Much research went into recreating every aspect of classic cars that are no longer available, namely the Le Mans winner and the three-wheeled Mazdago. We took great care to match the CG cars to the originals."

But it wasn't just the cars that needed attention - the locations these vehicles were driving through needed to be as accurate as they could to help tell the story of Mazda. This involved a mix of physical sets, matte paintings and stock footage to create the required illusion.

With a lot of work needing to be done, it was crucial BlackGinger could manage its large team efficiently and communicate across multiple departments effectively. The use of ftrack in the Mazda project meant it was trouble-free and direct when it came to matters of production management.

ftrack kept artists up to date with changes footage and the directors' notes

"Fine details of the schedule had to be planned well in advance and agreed to by all parties," Hofmeyr explained, "To this end, ftrack's notifications kept artists up to date with any changes to the live action footage, to the edit and the directors' notes. Everyone had instant access to updates."

But it went further than just being used for notifying people of changes: "Review processes required tight turnaround times too," Hofmeyr said, "Our VFX Supervisor was able to check, comment on and approve pre comps and versions directly and immediately in ftrack."

Mixing it up

BlackGinger's pipeline uses a wide range of tools, each playing a key part in getting specific areas of the job done. For the Mazda job the studio used NUKE as the backbone, calling on Houdini for effects, Softimage and MODO for modeling, as well as MARI and Photoshop for texturing and finishing.

A mix of physical sets, matte paintings and stock footage helped to create the locations that the vehicles were driving through

Once the commercial was in its final stages of post-production, there was still a lot to do as Hofmeyr explained: "We introduced film and video textures and artefacts that accurately represented the look and feel of archival footage. Whether it was adding film grain, video ghosting or archival ageing, we worked to strike a careful balance to make the resulting commercial feel seamless and authentic."

When it came to working on the CG vehicles, things had to be photorealistic from every angle - meaning a crucial modeling and texturing phase to create a strong platform for lighting and shading artists.

We were literally modeling nuts and bolts. Even the windscreen wiper had all of its clips and mechanisms in fine detail

"Since we didn't have the real car to photograph, finding detailed references was a big challenge," Hofmeyr said, "We had to rely on schematics and images found online. In the end, we were literally modeling nuts and bolts. Even the windscreen wiper had all of its clips and mechanisms in fine detail. Fortunately we use MODO as our modeling weapon of choice. Its substantial tool-kit helped us to turn out a clean, detailed 165k polygon model."

Close-ups made for another crucial element: texturing. The 787B prototype racing car for example ended up layered out over 20 UV tiles, each map - bar one - being 4k. The 'bar one' in question? Housing the close-up portion of the car, it was actually switched out for an 8k map. BlackGinger artists also used MARI to deal with these highly detailed assets. In particular, its patch resize tool really helped to capture fine details like scratches.

BlackGinger introduced film and video textures, and artefacts that accurately represented the look and feel of archival footage, such as film grain, video ghosting and archival ageing

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