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Crew Cuts VFX team Sets a House on Fire for American Red Cross' 'Cold Outside'

Post Production
New York, United States
Crew Cuts was involved in the entire process including pre-production planning, VFX, VFX supervision, editorial, mix, colour, and conform

This past holiday season, Crew Cuts finishing artists helped the American Red Cross emphasise the trauma of property loss, by creating the illusion of a house on fire.

The spot, “Cold Outside” was created in partnership with BBDO New York and Partizan.

Crew Cuts was involved in the entire process including pre-production planning, visual effects supervision, editorial, visual effects, mix, colour, and conform.

Some of the key players involved were the members of the visual effects team. “The success of the ad hinged on our ability to create a realistic facsimile of a house fire,” stated Crew Cuts Senior Finishing Artist and Visual Effects Supervisor, Josh Weiss. “If the compositing was off there was risk of the intended message getting lost.”

To create the framework for a convincing composite, Crew Cuts combined multiple takes of a motion-controlled shot in both the interior and exterior locations. “One of our first challenges was to match the interior and exterior scenes,” said Weiss. Creating this smooth transition involved joining two slightly incongruous camera moves. Once Crew Cuts had a composite for the interior and exterior they had to stitch the camera moves together to make one fluid movement. “For what appears to be a single-take spot, the workflow was actually fairly extensive. It was definitely a carefully-coordinated team effort” stated Weiss.

With the assistance of talented Director Martin Stirling and Director of Photography Starr Whitesides the exterior set was lit to create the flickering illusion of a house-fire. While this added to the ambience, it created challenges in terms of joining takes in post because the flicker was inconsistent to each take. Crew Cuts was tasked with creating a “clean” plate and matching the lighting on the street with the talent take. After that, Crew Cuts added particle systems for embers, ash, and atmosphere. For the actual house fire, CG simulation tools were used in conjunction with filmed elements, to create the volumetric smoke and flames. “The team built a rudimentary model of the house and set it on fire in 3D, which is always fun. The reflex is always to go big, but ultimately, the fire isn’t the star of the show, it’s the emotional performances at the end that get you. The fire just needed to be convincing,” commented Weiss.

Once the cut, edited by Crew Cuts Partner and Senior Editor Sherri Margulies, and visual effects were locked it was time to move to audio. Our Audio team knew that sound could play an integral role in expressing the emotion of this spot.  "Music is a powerful storyteller. The concept was to play Auld Lang Syne as diegetic music during the dinner scene to help lull the audience into the festive spirit,” stated Crew Cuts Senior Audio Engineer Julienne Guffain. “HUMAN did the composition and created a beautiful rendition of the old classic, it was a more haunting, Jazzier version, which helped to foreshadow a twist in the story."  As the scene pushes from interior to exterior the music reverbs off into space while the oppressive white noise of a massive fire swells. “Our visual teams did a stellar job creating a stirringly realistic house fire, and it was on us to enhance the weight and fear, and to make it sound as real and punishing as it looked” said Guffain. As the spot culminates you can hear distant sirens swirling along with the camera moves, to create a dizzying effect that adds to the drama of this scene.

The final steps were colour and conform. Once all the layers were stitched together the spot was ready to ship. And just as a holiday bonus, Crew Cuts was thrilled to complete all deliverables ahead of schedule. Attached to this article you will find the spot with a visual effects breakdown at the end to showcase the work explained in this article. 

Agency / Creative
Post Production / VFX
Music / Sound
Work from Crew Cuts