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Virtual Reality for Nissan

Wednesday November 28th, 2012

by Maria Luci

When RSA Films (Ridley Scott’s production company), TBWA\Chiat\Day and Critical Mass come knocking, you answer. And that’s just what automotive and product photographer John Early did earlier this year. John has worked with Critical Mass for years on Mercedes-Benz interactive shoots, so when they began working with RSA and TBWA on an interactive virtual reality project for Nissan, they knew exactly who to call.

The assignment was an intense one, with John being asked if he could shoot a 72-frame, 360-flyaround of the new Nissan Altima in the middle of downtown LA, and to also create an interior 360 panorama to appear as though it was also shot at the location. John was provided with a very detailed—and irregularly shaped—CG flightpath to follow that would highlight certain aspects and features of the car. They asked him if what they wanted could be done. His reply: “Yes, but it won’t be cheap.”

CG flightpath model.

Once fully on board, John and his team got to work on the extensive pre-production. Which included, “a lot of conference calls between TBWA and Critical Mass and lots of discussions with ImageG, my chosen motion control vendor for this project.” There was also lots of software and computer testing to be done before the shoot. Finally, they all met for tech scouting, spending the day ironing out last minute details.

Then, the on location shoot day arrived. Their goal was to capture the precise path with a still camera and then turn the images into a Quicktime, virtual reality piece. John explains how this was done:

ImageG, the motion control vendor, brought a custom rig call the Bulldog that they had pre-tested off-site. It took a few hours to set up the rig. Next we got the picture car in place and started test shooting. After shooting the flightpath, we took a second camera out to shoot similar camera locations to where the rigged camera had been and capture “cleaner” background plates in order to assist in post.

Camera rigged onto MoCo rig.

The MoCo crew testing the Bulldog.

Interior shots were captured in John’s studio before the extensive post production began. John handled all compositing himself, which took several days. Then files were handed over to his retoucher who took on the daunting task of rig/reflection removal. This took several weeks. John reflects on the challenges of the project:

What the agency asked us to pull off was risky. We were asked to match a camera flightpath they concepted in CG. But we would have to do it in reality with changing light, pedestrians, impatient drivers honking, finicky cameras, computers and a 60-foot USB cable run. In addition, we had some focus-assisting software fail, so I had to manual focus all the shots remotely using Canon Remote Capture on the fly as the camera moved around the flightpath.

Interior capture.

Here’s a video of the final flyaround frames used on the website:

All challenges were met though, and the final product is quite stunning. Take a scroll through the finished virtual reality pieces over on the Nissan Altima website. John is extremely pleased with the final products produced, and how they’re being displayed—but even more rewarding is the fact that his clients loved the work as well. He now hopes to do more exciting projects like this one saying, “being on the set of a production of such scale, even though at times stressful, was just plain exciting and I loved it!”

View more of John’s work at johnearly.com.

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