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How Impossible Objects Is Re-Engineering Automotive Advertising with Virtual Production


The team at virtual production lab Impossible Objects speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about using LED volume stages and Unreal Engine to open new roads for automotive ads

How Impossible Objects Is Re-Engineering Automotive Advertising with Virtual Production

To help educate their clients - and the wider industry - about the capabilities of virtual production technologies, Impossible Objects have made a film that showcases how the technology of LED volume stages and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine is allowing them to re-engineer automotive ads. With real-time filmmaking and virtual production, Impossible Objects says that “there is more freedom to be innovative than ever.” 

The film shows a variety of cars exploring different vibrant environments, from urban streets and raceways to dusty off-road tracks and freezing tundra - all produced through Unreal Engine and other virtual production techniques. These scenic shots, high-intensity drifting action and stunning close-ups are supported and punctuated by a rocking AC/DC soundtrack that announces the future of automotive advertising in a loud and proud way.

We also get some insightful behind the scenes footage of the real-time, iterative process that Unreal Engine affords the Impossible Objects team - showcasing the versatility and depth of the technologies that power the film’s extraordinary visuals.

To discuss why they decided to make this film, what virtual production can do for the future of automotive advertising and putting an Audi on the moon, LBB’s Ben Conway spoke with Impossible Objects founders Joe Sill and Jerad Anderson and head of technology, Luc Delamare.

LBB> So, where did the idea to create this showcase-style film come from? 

Joe> We’ve been speaking with a number of car agencies about this technology, and not everyone is fully familiar with the potential opportunities and creative implications, so we wanted to create an exciting way to demonstrate what’s possible. We created this demo to do that, to educate our clients about Unreal Engine’s potential as the platform for engineering virtual automotive productions. 

Jerad> To echo Joe, we understand that this is a new way of working and our collaborators need to see what’s possible to fully understand the opportunities offered with a workflow utilising Unreal Engine. We are always experimenting, tinkering, and evolving the creative possibilities, and are excited to share what we are up to inside our lab.

LBB> Is virtual production and Unreal Engine capabilities currently underutilised in the automotive production space? If so, why do you think that is?

Joe> We’ve found that virtual production is still a novel set of tools and workflows that are just being discovered by the advertising industry. We’ve photographed vehicles more or less the same way for over half a century – shooting on the same city streets over and over and employing the same camera capture systems. Even in the CG world, automotive spots have been married to traditional lineage pipelines that are inevitably less iterative than a virtual production pipeline. That’s why virtual production represents a real leap forward in terms of creative possibility. 

By using our VP workflows, we’re finding that creatives now have the freedom to more fully explore a range of concept iterations. This leads to more innovation and originality, with virtually any creative direction you can think of able to be translated into new visual approaches that can be quickly tested and explored.

LBB> What opportunities do virtual production and Unreal Engine provide for automotive advertising? How would you like to see it being utilised?

Luc> Aside from the creative efficiencies gained from this non-linear and real-time workflow, this technology presents a wonderful automotive production scenario in which we can film any close-up process style shots on an LED volume stage and marry them with completely CG wide running shots. In effect, this means we get all the control of building our own virtual worlds, but keep the tangible fidelity of traditional car process shots with real actors.  

Jerad> The logistical and financial efficiencies gained when you can eliminate factors such as travelling, shutting down roads, navigating weather conditions, eliminating time of day constraints, and lowering risk across the board with pre-production concept vehicles being exposed to the elements are all fantastic opportunities for us to expand beyond what has traditionally been possible.

LBB> In the film, we see a variety of vehicle types as well as different environments - from metropolitan cities to rugged off-road terrain. What does this allow you to showcase?

Joe> Really, featuring different environments is meant to demonstrate the versatility of Unreal Engine’s ability to craft a photorealistic interpretation of any environment imaginable. This means not only that each individual environment can be accurately depicted, but also each environment’s effect on the vehicle – reflections, movement – can all be realistically rendered as well.

LBB> The realism of the cars and environments is astounding - how quickly has the technology developed? Can we get even more realistic and what’s the next technological development?

Luc> We’re confident that as Epic Games and Unreal Engine continue to support these new workflows, the results will only improve and yield new creative possibilities.  By bringing the best sensibilities from both live-action filmmaking and CGI visualisation, and combining that with this real-time technology, the next step isn’t really a development question in our minds, it’s a creative one.

LBB> The BTS Unreal Engine footage show a whole host of alterations that can be easily and quickly made - and seen in real-time. Is this a major part of Unreal Engine’s utility? What else can this method provide over live-action filming?

Joe> Being able to iterate lighting, change paint colours and road textures in the blink of an eye, move cameras and simulate live-action camera imperfections in a fully malleable virtual environment are just some of the utilities that working in VP affords us. We’re also able to ‘scout’ locations that are literally larger than life, and bring live action to these spaces by shooting on LED volume stages, bridging the gap between the physical and the virtual in a more efficient way than ever before.

LBB> We’re very used to seeing a certain style of automotive ads - scenic live-action shots, perhaps some off-road shots and interior close-ups. Is this genre due an overhaul? What’s stopping the new Audi ad from being set on a racetrack on the moon with Unreal Engine?

Joe> Actually… concepting an Audi ad being set on a racetrack on the moon is exactly the type of thinking that gets us excited here at Impossible Objects. We can’t wait to discuss concepts like this that stretches the imagination and illustrates impossibilities. 

LBB> As experts in virtual production and Unreal Engine capabilities, are you heavily involved in the creative processes of spots you produce? You know the limits and the possibilities of the tech, so do you get involved quite early in the creative process? 

Jerad> Because this workflow is still very new and most of our collaborators are approaching this process for the first time, we like to start conversations as early as possible in the creative development process. 

Joe> And as you can imagine, it’s an incredibly collaborative process. Agency creatives who’ve been working with their clients for years know their clients best and how to push the bar creatively. And we come to the table with an understanding of what’s truly possible with this technology. That’s an environment where we can combine our respective superpowers to make something creatively innovative. A creative process that allows us to start ideating from scratch is ideal – but we are also great problem solvers and get excited about pulsing up an idea and making a dream a reality.

LBB> Don’t feel the need to give away any secrets or spoil upcoming projects… but is there a concept that you’re itching to realise with an automotive client? 

Joe> Let’s hope Audi’s reading this. Let’s put the e-tron on the moon. We’ll start on this tomorrow.

LBB> How do you work with VP in tangent with live-action footage? And how do you blend these two seamlessly?

Luc> The goal isn’t to replace all aspects of live-action with virtual production, but instead use virtual production tools to lift the creative to a new place - all while enabling the real-time & iterative process Joe has laid out.  So in our eyes, it’s truly about bridging the two worlds, and as such, it’s always important to recognise the value in traditional live-action footage, and have a creative conversation (case by case) about what exactly our visual goals are and how we might best serve them with the new tools at our disposal.

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Impossible Objects, Fri, 25 Mar 2022 17:27:00 GMT