Bicoastal digital production and design studio Big Block produced the live action shoot, virtual obstacle course and animated drone fleet for the television, cinema and online commercial “Subaru WRX STI vs. the Drones.” To show off the 2015 Subaru WRX STI’s best-in-its-class high performance power and impeccable control, DDB Canada’s Toronto office developed the concept of a futuristic autocross course made of CG drone quadcopters to challenge the WRX STI with real-time precision driving.

Three hundred shape-shifting drones with an attitude put the equally badass WRX STI to the test, altering the course in a dynamic, real-time display of synchronized morphology and demanding the ultimate in performance and precision response from the car. Despite the challenge, the WRX STI, which is engineered to perform, navigates the course with impressive precision, ease and control.

“There is no existing course that could adequately demonstrate the WRX STI’s instantaneous reaction time, high-speed cornering and remarkable handling – so we created our own,” says Rob Sturch, associate creative director, DDB Canada in Toronto. 

The commercial was shot by Big Block and DDB on a closed circuit in the historic Hughes Aircraft “Spruce Goose” hangar in Los Angeles. The shoot involved capturing live footage, including a real driver, and an array of reference material that Big Block’s animators and visual effects artists would later use for simulations, lighting, reflections and environment.

Among the challenges faced by Big Block director Mark Glaser was creating a virtual course within the hangar location, a solution that required massive data asset acquisition and management. Glaser and Big Block’s team of visual effects artists, supervised by Randall Smith, spent all night capturing high-resolution photos and LIDAR scans of the space from key locations. All photos were shot as HDRI with seven exposure stops of lighting data. Each station created a 32-bit 32K HDRI and all eight stations ultimately produced 15 gigs of raw HDRI data, which was projected onto the hanger model and painted to correct any overlapping projections.

The WRX STI’s stunt driving was created within Big Block’s Drive-A-Tron TM driving simulator, a physics-based driving technology using manufacturer’s CAD data to perfectly model cars both geometrically and dynamically. The software allows these physically accurate animations to be configured into the studio’s Autodesk 3ds Max lighting and rendering pipeline. Once the Subaru simulations were loaded into Max, the scenes were lit and rendered using V-Ray and environments were projected and painted using Mari. High-resolution stills were projected onto the converted LIDAR scans of the hanger giving a fully 3D reconstruction of the space with lighting baked into the textures. All CG elements and rendered layers were composited in Nuke. The final conform was done in Flame and grade was done in Da Vinci Suite.

A detailed animation rig handled the stabilization and control of the drone movement and allowed Big Block’s animators to focus on the shapes and actions of the flying drone squadron. Once the drones were placed and animated, the animators factored in the forces that the car’s drift would apply to the drones as it blazed past them.

The only live action shots that appear in the spot are of the driver and the interior of the Subaru as it is being driven.

“We didn’t want to take creative license on the way the car performs,” said Sturch. “By replicating the real-world capabilities of the WRX STI in Drive-A-Tron, we see it conquer this course as it would in real life, reacting instantaneously and performing dynamically, regardless of what’s put in its way.”

Big Block’s Glaser said, “The most exciting aspect of this project was the way in which we captured a photoreal dataset of this rare, historical location using lasers and image sensors. This allowed me to shoot from anywhere inside the space virtually with minimal rendering cost.”

Kenny Solomon, managing director of Big Block, said, “This project hit our sweet spot from live action, design and photoreal CGI all the way through to DI and delivery. Kudos to DDB and our fantastic Big Block team for pulling this stunt off so beautifully and in record time.”

DDB Canada’s “Subaru WRX STI vs. the Drones” launched on television, online and in cinemas on April 7 and is supported by print and digital advertising, point of sale materials and a social outreach program targeting key automotive, technology and gadget influencers. A branded experience with Xbox LIVE is slated at the end of April; users can watch “WRX STI vs. the Drones,” take a closer look at the redesigned 2015 WRX STI with 360-degree rotation views of the vehicle and race through a drone-driving-course game.

Based in Santa Monica and New York, Big Block is the production and design studio division of Big Block Media Holdings. Big Block specializes in digital content, VFX, design, DI (digital intermediate) and finishing for commercials, broadcast, interactive, feature films, television, gaming, mobile and enterprise platforms. Big Block provides integrated end-to-end services, from concept and design to live action direction, visual effects and coding and represents the ultimate in end-to-end services for multimedia campaigns and branded content.

A key component of Big Block’s culture is Big Block Design Group (BBDG), whose creative leadership infuses design sensibility and brand strategy throughout the totality of the studio’s productions from inception through live action and production.

In New York, Big Block Live extends the studio’s mandate with an emphasis on live action and branded content, while Big Block Entertainment Group focuses on the development and production of live theater, feature films and television.

Big Block was launched by business developer Scott Benson and executive producer Kenny Solomon, whose collective experience with the production of branded content makes them uniquely suited to meet the challenges of creative communication.

Big Block is housed in the Art Deco Ilona Building on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica and in the Neuehouse at 110 East 25th Street in New York.

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About DDB Canada
DDB Canada is the most creatively acclaimed, internationally recognized marketing communications agency in Canada.  The agency was named Top Creative Agency in strategy magazine’s 2014 Creative Report Card and was ranked #1 agency in Canada by the Gunn Report in 2013.  Known for advertising that generates significant results for clients, DDB Canada is a “total communications company” whose fundamental belief is that creativity is the most powerful force in business. DDB Canada has offices in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal. The agency’s integrated groups include: DDB Kid Think (youth marketing), DDB Public Relations, Tribal Worldwide (digital, social and mobile), Karacters Design Group, RAPP Canada (direct), DDB Hodes Recruitment Communications (recruitment marketing) and Shopper DDB (shopper marketing).