This Framestore production for Allstate invisibly combines VFX with multiple live-action takes to achieve a stunning 360-degree single shot that goes all the way from sunny day to branch-breaking storm and back.
We shot at the Golden Oak Ranch, a film set just north of LA consisting of a whole neighbourhood of different types of buildings, picking a classic a New England style house. The brief from Leo Burnett required the camera to fly 360 degrees around it so we used a Spydercam, which allowed for fast, free-flowing camera movement in any direction that we could repeat over and over.
“We first shot the family and Allstate spokesman Dennis Haysbert in the morning sun. Once the sun had set we shot our ‘bad weather’ passes, using rain machines and multiple industrial fans to create the windy, chaotic storm we need for the drama in the middle section” says Framestore Director Murray Butler.
Back at Framestore we had to combine the takes, add the effects that would really sell the storm and also build the tree. “For me the tree had to be a CGI creation, as we needed the scene to feel very dramatic” explains Murray. “It’s a big tree getting buffeted by super strong gusts of wind, and the forces involved cannot be replicated by any number of fans or ropes! Our VFX crew pulled of the unthinkable in a very limited time frame.”
To accurately stitch the shots together we built a scale accurate virtual set of the house and its surroundings in 3D. “Bringing that into Nuke’s 3D engine allowed us an enormous amount of flexibility to pick and choose aspects of the live action from different takes, such as the lights turning on or specific performances from rigged foliage, and combine them together” explains Compositing Supervisor Matt Pascuzzi. We could also project bespoke matte paintings to modify the environment as a whole, such as the stormy rolling clouds, and a background that more resembled a brooding New England rather than the sunny west coast” Matt adds.
Building the tree was a big challenge – it has splintering bark, over 60,000 simulated leaves that had to react to the wind, rain and other FX elements we created, and it also needed to withstand the scrutiny of a close-up as its leaves nearly whip against lens. While the leaves were simulated all the branches were animated by hand, including the one that suddenly splits away and smashes into the roof of the house. “It was difficult to make the breaking branch feel natural and heavy as it crashes into the house but we did it” says Animation Supervisor Seth Gollub. “One of the highlights for me was animating hero leaves and branches blowing through the frame. It was fun to design the path and composition of these and try to tastefully create them to help guide the viewer’s eyes.”
The biggest challenge for us however was clock – the whole thing was completed in just three weeks – but that also made it very rewarding. “The ultimate highlight was watching everything finally come together in the last days” says VFX Supervisor James Dick. “When the sound was delivered, we plopped it in, added a bit of 2D camera shake, and everyone in the room felt the weight of that tree rip through the dormers, crack the roof, and spill the gutter to the ground. It was pretty awesome!”