The Rise in Virtual Production and CG Brand Assets Make Directors with Post-Production Knowledge in High Demand
As the world is now fully operating in the remote working era, our team of directors at MPC have been busy creating a steady flow of content, with virtual production and fully CG films taking the place of virtual shoots.
MPC’s talent and extensive production expertise means that we can produce both on-set live-action films as well as 100% CG films using a range of tools. Our roster of over a dozen in-house Directors are located all over the globe, from LA and London, to New York and Shanghai. Every single one of them have strong backgrounds in post-production, and they have been busy delivering more than 20 campaigns over the past few months for global brands such as Lexus and PlayStation, from 100% CG and animated campaigns to live-action spots enhanced by visual effects.
Post-production is playing a crucial role in bringing these campaigns to life, and bridging the necessary gaps and creating fully CG and campaigns with heavy VFX elements is something that our directors are primed for.
MPC’s Los Angeles Director Michael Gregory comments, “Whilst it has been a new challenge to get the performance and the timings right with the live action while directing remotely, the visual effects side has always been simple, as VFX is very geared towards working from home.”
MPC London’s Richard Skinner was the director of Lynx’s (Axe) latest campaign celebrating 25 years of Lynx Africa, which marks an ongoing brand partnership between MPC and Lexus. He comments, “The majority of this advert was based in a magical place built wholly with visual effects, which I specifically wrote to be that way. The creative conceit of that world – how it works, looks and moves – I tried to set out in the overall plans up front. But visual effects are a heavily planned team sport, and thus everyone is involved, from director to artists to client. How that played out on this project was no different to any project pre-lockdown, besides more detailed written comments resulting in lots more shared reviewable WIPs to view remotely.”
Morten Vinther directed PlayStation’s fully CG trailer for the highly-anticipated The Last of Us Part II, which depicts the return of the main character Ellie. The trailer entailed end to-end production from MPC including pre-vis, motion-capture production, VFX, and grade, which brought the gaming world to life entirely in CG. Vinther’s expertise in visual effects played a huge role in bringing the vision to life. “From the outset, my goal as a director was to create a cinematic experience, which inherently felt authentic. Finding the right balance of emotional performance in an already established game character was a great challenge. Our quest for authenticity drove us to a series of unique choices when it came to the performance capture techniques, virtual cinematography, lensing and texture of the film – all solidly anchored in the real physical world,” he commented.
Vinther, who also recently directed Dell’s Alienware campaign also featuring a fully CG human character, added, “My recent experience directing talent remotely has been really positive, as I feel like we’ve been able to be really focused. The facial performance sessions have been more productive and intimate, because it’s just me and the talent focused on each other without the usual distractions on a crowded or busy set.”
MPC Shanghai’s Barry Greaves and Nikola Stefanovic co-directed Nestlé and Frangi campaigns. For Frangi’s campaign, all of the worlds were created fully in CG, based on a basic set build which was captured at the shoot. Greaves, who has been a Creative Director for many of the Shanghai studio’s biggest VFX-heavy campaigns, said, “There were then many elements to consider for each one, so we carried out extensive research and gathered references for the architecture, textures, landscape, mood and tone. Planning is so important for something of this scale as essentially, we are creating a new world. After the concept and design of the palace, the whole set was built in CG in order to give accurate measurements to the production team to build an environment in which to shoot.”
Stefanovic said of the fully animated Nestlé campaign full of CG characters and humans: “Conveying human emotion in CG characters in a very short space of time is a real technical skill but also requires a firm grasp of how to tell an engaging story. We began by blocking out a simple pre-vis to establish how much time we needed for each key aspect of the story. We even filmed ourselves performing the action to understand key facial expressions and body position. We had quite a bit of fun with this.”
Lily Li, Managing Director at MPC’s Shanghai studio, commented on the benefits of having a roster of directors at her studio: “It’s great to have in-house directors at our Shanghai studio that are familiar with the advertising industry, and that also have really strong backgrounds in VFX. This knowledge is powerful and makes the process from start to finish much smoother and productive. With this capability, also gives us much more freedom to creatively control and present our work, which maximized the production value and efficiency for the type of job we’re aiming for.”
No matter what kind of campaign they are shooting, one thing our directors all agree on is the importance of good preparation ahead of the shoot. Michael Gregory directed the Arm & Hammer shoot in Bulgaria remotely from Los Angeles: “As I couldn’t physically be at the location, it was really useful to have the camera and the lenses on the pre-tech scout. It really helped myself and the DoP Krum Rodriguez see the space through the lens and work out and plan the shots. That, combined with a 3D pre-vis enabled me to be comfortable that we were getting the best angles and framing in that location.”
Alvin Cruz, who directed the Comcast Xfinity campaigns in North Carolina while the client was in New York, adds, “I believe that good prep, a strong relationship with the client and trust, is key to moving quickly and effectively when shooting. The set for Comcast was a very dynamic setup and having a strong background and ownership of the whole creative process helped me to make the client feel like they were in good hands at every step of the way.”
MPC’s New York’s Managing Director Angela Lupo, where Cruz is on their portfolio of directors. “Having directors within our studio has given us the tools to create content from start to finish entirely in-house, which has been particularly beneficial with production restrictions. Our talented and diverse directors, and our skilled visual effects artists, makes our studio’s offering strong and well-rounded,” she commented.
Adapting to a new way of working has been a challenging experience for everyone in the industry, and MPC’s directors have taken these challenges in their stride. “We always give our clients parameters regarding location, timeframes and creative ideas in which we can work safely. In my experience, they have been pretty good about realising and understanding the limitations during a lockdown,” says Skinner.
Cruz agrees, adding, “Everyone involved understands that the new ‘normal’ is all about creating stunning work and having great and fluent communication. We have adapted our workflow to the new needs, and honestly, it is possible to make it just as fun as it was before.”
MPC’s production capabilities, direction expertise and VFX experience are bringing the most epic films to life, whether delivered through a live-action shoot or a 100% CGI production, any vision can become a reality.
To get in touch about our directing capabilities, please visit our Production page.
Directors/work featured in reel:
Technicolor ‘Masters of Colour’ – Barry Greaves
Apple Float – Michael Gregory
Dell Stradale – Morten Vinther
Thomson ‘La Technologie Amie’ – Shaun Severi
Lynx ‘Africa 25’ – Skins
Arm & Hammer ‘Once Upon A Time’ – Michael Gregory
Frangi ‘Goddess’ – Barry Greaves & Nikola Stefanovic
Small Unites – Tim Crean
Palace ‘Palace Skateboards x Adidas x Lucias Puig’ – Skins
Dell Alienware – Morten Vinther
Dell Ultrasharp – Rob Hodgson
Draft Kings ‘Land Of’ – Chris Bernier
Comcast ‘Play Harderer’ – Alvin Cruz
Nestlé ‘Chengzhen Ice Cream’ – Barry Greaves & Nikola Stefanovic
Duracell ‘Bunny TV Address’ – Shaun Severi
PlayStation ’The Last of Us Part II’ – Morten Vinther
WWF ‘Elephant’ – The Shirley Chipchase Collective