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Digital Stunt Driving from Big Block

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Big Block relied on its Drive-A-Tron software for these MINI spots.
Digital production and visual effects studio Big Block has had a prolific year-end, producing digital automotive content and virtual stunt driving for broadcast and interactive projects for MINI, Chrysler, Toyota, Ford and Fiat.

Drive-A-Tron, Big Block’s proprietary driving simulation software, was integral to the projects, enabling virtual cars to seamlessly interact with live action or CG environments in real time 3D. Originally authored by Big Block creative director Mark Glaser, Drive-A-Tron was recently upgraded by Big Block’s software group – a front-end IT division in Santa Monica supported by 1,200 networked programmers and developers in India, under the leadership of software development director Gary Vick.

The latest iteration of Drive-A-Tron features a new physics engine whose attributes include precise vehicle modeling, real-time 3D and 2D applications, a high-performance rendering pipeline, advergaming applications and social network integration. The software is engineered to replicate the physical properties of specific vehicles – body, engine, drive train and suspension – down to the dynamic deformation of tires on the irregular surfaces of any terrain. An important creative tool as well, Drive-A-Tron offers cinematic parameters such as lens options, camera angle and height.

Glaser was literally behind the wheel and directing camera moves for the wide sliding turns seen in MINI’s new campaign. The six 15-second spots, “Picture-In-Picture,” “Colors,” “Volume,” “Input,” “Widescreen” and “Brightness,” are a clever take on wordplay and graphics, focusing on the features of the line’s newest models. CAD data and engineering specs from the auto company’s product specialists were downloaded to Drive-A-Tron, whose car steering wheel interface allowed real-time virtual stunt driving in Big Block’s screening room. There, agency creatives from Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners in Sausalito, California, were able to review multiple performances of the sporty CG MINIs in real time with Glaser and Big Block executive producer Pete King. Drive-A-Tron set the stage for the equivalent of a live-action shoot, without a live-action budget, in a theater.

“The Big Block team was great to collaborate with and helped us bring our MINI TV campaign to life. Their Drive-A-Tron technology made the cars’ motion and driving look killer,” said Steve Mapp, creative director at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners.

Big Block also rolled out Drive-A-Tron for Chrysler’s Street Racing Team (SRT) in a large venue presentation at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Big Block created a 60-second, all-CG intro for the public debut of hyper-charged versions of the new Jeep, Challenger, Charger and Chrysler 300. The virtual muscle cars combine spirited performance and nimble handling as their matte surfaces are torqued away to reveal racecar red and chrome SRT badging.

Currently Big Block is in production on a web-based game for Toyota in conjunction with its sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup soccer championship. Gamers will be able to move Toyota cars across a field in soccer play. The advergame will launch in January on a Toyota microsite and will be made available as iPhone, Android and iPad apps, as well as social media sites Facebook and Twitter.

Also in the production pipeline are vehicle demos for Ford’s Digital Team via Team Detroit. Big Block’s visual effects artists created CG versions of the 2012 Taurus, Lincoln, Flex and Edge and composited the models into extended HDRI plates shot in Palm Springs, California, by Glaser. The vehicles’ advanced technology and design are shown in fly-thorough and fly-around scenes.

“Drive-A-Tron began as a production tool, but by collaborating with our clients we have enhanced our software beyond realistic driving for commercials and games into full scale motion simulation for manufacturer-specific testing and training,” said Scott Benson, president at Big Block. “Drive-A-Tron easily hooks into social media platforms so our auto brand clients can expand their marketing reach beyond the confines of a single location event or broadcast campaign. We believe our combination of creative talent and IT infrastructure is unique in this industry and we’ve only begun to tap into its potential.”

Big Block also recently delivered the Fiat 500 and 500 by Gucci campaign featuring Jennifer Lopez for Doner Southfield, Prettybird and the Chrysler Group. Full CG car replacement with matched lighting, car beauty, day-for-night, and title design and animation were all handled by the Big Block team.

Big Block recently hired VFX supervisor and senior Flame/Inferno artist Glen Bennett to oversee all aspects of the production process, from the design and implementation of shooting boards to the execution of CG, compositing and finishing. Bennett has worked at renowned studios in Los Angeles and London on several high profile commercial, feature film and graphics projects for more than two decades. Most recently at Company 3, Bennett has also worked at Sea Level VFX, Method, Asylum Visual Effects, The Syndicate and Click 3X.

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