Big Block and Digitas Boston recently completed production on a series of videos for GMC for its online launch of the 2015 Sierra 2500 Denali HD truck. Big Block and Digitas have previously worked together on the GMC account.
The mandate for Big Block was to stay true to the brand, while creating a compelling and content-rich Denali HD website. Drawing on the skills of its live-action directors, design group, visual effects artists and editors, Big Block presented a spectrum of design options and filming techniques to tell the Denali HD story and create a digital experience for potential buyers.
After scouting diverse locations for the live-action shoot, the production took to the mountains, lakes and rivers of British Columbia, as well as the futuristic-looking site of the Very Large Array, an observatory of 27 radio telescopes in New Mexico. Key elements of the Denali HD online campaign, like the planetary tracking dishes, modern architecture and arcing bridges, are visual cues to the truck’s precision and engineering.
Big Block directors Mark Glaser and Shaun Collings capitalized on the atmospheric and emotional qualities of the sites, shifting the campaign’s color palette to a moodier, more evocative range. Glaser’s stylized still photography, the foundation of the site’s exterior and color configurator, was shot with a Nikon D800 at the golden hour, so that the CG Denali HD, which Big Block’s visual effects artists would incorporate later, could be arrayed with lush lighting and reflections. Using a proprietary rig developed by Big Block, a bank of 36 cameras was brought to New Mexico for the 360° location shoot. Big Block’s artists stitched the panoramic photos together and added HDRI lighting and reflections to integrate the CG model of the truck into the live action background.
Glaser and Collings, who planned and co-directed the series of 12 website videos, focused on the truck’s technology, performance and trailering capabilities. Collings, a creative director at Big Block’s design group BBDG, handled the design of the videos and the look of the CG, animation and graphics-intensive segments.
Big Block and Digitas used a drone-mounted RED Epic camera to explore the truck from above. HeliVideo Pros, a Canadian aerial photography company known for shooting extreme sports, was brought in for the drone cinematography. The company’s pilot and navigator flew the eight-bladed octocopter while Glaser and Collings directed the camera footage from the ground.
Drone-mounted photography enabled views of the Denali HD descending a major grade with a boat in tow in the “Trailering and Hauling” video. Graphic overlays appear over the truck without a disconnect from the actual vehicle or footage, allowing viewers to see the integration between the diesel exhaust braking and position sensors in action. Aerial photography can also be seen on the “StabiliTrak” video as the Denali HD negotiates an obstacle on a bridge with the assist of stability control. For Digitas and Big Block, the goal was to create emotional, real-life demonstrations of the truck’s technology and safety features without the use of sterile diagrams.
In several videos, Glaser and Collings chose a handheld MoVi gimbal rig to allow the camera to flow quickly and effortlessly around the truck without the restrictions of framing or camera weight and movement. Their intent was to mirror what a driver would see in the truck bed for the “Cargo Box” video and to take advantage of a boat launch in a spectacular lake setting for the “Auto Locking Rear Differential” demonstration.
“There have been so many exciting advances in live-action filming techniques recently,” Glaser said. “Just a few years ago, the footage we captured for GM could only have been accomplished with a helicopter and a much larger budget. The gear we employed—the drone-mounted camera, the MoVi gimbal rig and Big Block’s proprietary 360° system, not only streamlined our production time and budget, but opened up a whole new dimension of creative opportunities. It’s very liberating.”
In the “Performance” video, Big Block’s visual effects artists, led by CG supervisor Randall Smith, take viewers on a journey that begins with a live shot of the truck’s hood, executed on a precision arm. In a digital handoff to a CG camera, the shot flies through the moving parts of the engine, transmission and brake system, digital elements accurately modeled with GM engineering data. The cool color palette chosen for the Denali HD campaign also informs the animation of the particle dynamics of flames and pistons firing. The CG camera exits the wheel well and transitions to another live plate of the truck to bookend the sequence.