Lexus Film Takes Flight

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Tue, 12/03/2013 - 12:09 -- Nick Dager

Produced for Lexus, Swarm captures the complexity of motion.Amazing in Motion is a set of projects by Lexus that explore the complexity of motion. The second installation of the brand series, Swarm is a spirited story featuring custom-designed small aircraft known as quadrotors that roam through various locations in Vancouver, Canada at night.

Executed by CHI & Partners in collaboration with director Sam Brown of Rogue Films and KMel Robotics, the 60-second spot utilized OptiTrack motion capture technology, including 35 Prime 41 cameras and Motive software, to track the flying robots. 

KMel co-founders Daniel Mellinger and Alex Kushleyev, along with their team of engineers, worked heavily with the director and agency creative team to shape the direction of the piece and establish interesting quadrotor movements that could be executed in the real world. As the parameters were being finalized, KMel solidified the motion capture pipeline that would be used to track the vehicles.

We were able to demo the OptiTrack Prime 41 system and saw a lot of potential,” Mellinger said. “The tracking range and accuracy of the cameras were great, and the IR light didn’t distract like what you encounter with visible red illumination, which was really important during filming. Also, the compact design of the cameras felt solid, and the Ethernet cables were really useful for rigging multiple setups simultaneously. Knowing the demands of the shoot, we even tested the OptiTrack system in bright sunlight, and it worked nicely outdoors. Plus, the cost was significantly less than other options.”

The September filming took place over the course of five nights in indoor and outdoor locations across Vancouver, including a swimming pool, supermarket and the Museum of Anthropology. Given the tight timeline, the OptiTrack setup was split into two groupings that enabled the production to leapfrog from one shot to the next. An ambitious eighteen different motion capture setups in volumes ranging from 2m x 1m x 1m to 12m x 4m x 3m were deployed throughout the shoot. To further complicate onsite logistics, there were physical limitations as to where the cameras could be mounted in each setup and still provide enough coverage so that the quadrotors could be accurately controlled without appearing in the shot.

We were using the Prime 41s in real-world settings around obstacles that blocked the camera views, so we had to make sure we had enough cameras to see the quadrotors – even with occlusions,” noted Mellinger. “Another hurdle was managing a workspace that was generally illuminated with film lights and sometimes had reflective surfaces, both of which sometimes interfere with motion tracking. We did a lot of testing and were able to appropriately tune the Prime 41 camera settings so that any adverse environmental impacts were mitigated.”

The project relied on OptiTrack cameras and motion capture software.Swarm debuted in November, running globally across TV, print, outdoor, digital channels and social media. A brief behind-the-scenes look at the making-of can be seen here:

Mellinger concluded, “OptiTrack was amazing. We pushed the limits as to how the Prime 41 cameras are normally used, and their support team was with us every step of the way. It was exciting for us to take motion capture technology and the quadrotors that we’ve been working on for so long out of the lab environment and into the real world. Our ambitions paid off, and we were able to get a lot of interesting shots that we didn’t even think were possible when we started.”



Client: Atsushi Takada, General Manager, Lexus International
Creative agency: CHI & Partners
Quadrotor Technology: Daniel Mellinger, Alex Kushleyev, Travis Van Schoyck and Jonathan Davis of KMEL Robotics
ECD: Jon Burley 
CDs: Monty Verdi, Micky Tudor
Copywriter: Rob Webster, Alexei Berwitz, Dan Fisher
Art director: Alexei Berwitz, Rob Webster, Rick Brim
Digital Creatives: Sergio Alves, Chad Warner
Planner: Rebecca Munds
Business Director: Jack Shute
Account Manager: Catherine Peacock
Account Executive: Hannah White

TV Producer: David Jones, CHI & Partners
Production Company: Rogue Films 
Director: Sam Brown
Producer: Kate Hitchings
DOP: Franz Lustig
Editor: Tim Thornton-Allan
Post-production: The Mill. Head of 2D: Jonathan Westly. Head of 3D: Michael Chapman
Audio post-production: Sam Ashwell at 750mph
Music Composition: Jonathan Goldstein

Digital Producer: Emma Hodson, CHI & Partners 
Content Production Company: Rogue Content
Content Director: Mark Jenkinson
Content Producer: Tom Farley
Content Editor: Jose Gomez