How the team created a spot that rivals a Hollywood blockbuster for action and scale
This year’s big Heineken campaign certainly isn’t lacking in scale and ambition. The whole campaign explores young men’s relationship with their cities around the world, and the jewel at the centre is an epic film that sees a group of friends jumping between cinematic genres in search of their perfect night out. The Trailblazers was conceived by Publicis Italy and directed by MJZ’s Matthijs Van Heiningen’s – but the task of building the vast, detailed and insanely varied world and bringing it to life fell to MPC. There’s a space station consisting of 93,000 unique parts, a tumultuous sea squall, an elaborate ghost ship, explosions, blizzards and a whirring, elaborately engineered steam punk airship.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Carsten Keller, Joint Head of 3D and VFX Supervisor (CG) at MPC London and Dirk Riesenfeld, VFX Supervisor (2D) at MPC Amsterdam to learn more…
LBB> When you first saw the script and treatment what were your initial thoughts?
CK> These jobs are part of our DNA, whether it’s a John Lewis Christmas film or live-action trailer for Call of Duty – but this type of script doesn’t come by everyday: the diversity of the work required made it truly unique, and we were thrilled to take on the challenge.
DR> I read page after page of the script getting more and more excited, thinking wow this is a big one, I want to do this so much!
LBB> What was Matthijs Van Heiningen’s vision for the world and how did you bring it to life?
CK> He asked us to recreate Hollywood, and we loved that he trusted us to do it.
LBB> From a design point of view, there are so many different genres and historical periods included in this spot. That must have been a lot of work! What was your starting point for that?
CK> We have an extensive research and creative development process at MPC, but this is always coupled with our artists’ individual specialisms and passions. I’ve had a passion for ships since I was a kid; that interest really helped me focus and pinpoint exactly the look and feel for different parts of the CG ships in 'The Trailblazers'. At one point I was even asking my parents to send me scanned pages from a book back home. Access to the right information is vital; you need to be able to draw on your own niche knowledge.
LBB> And how did you make sure each period or scene had a sense of continuity?
DR> Having time to fail was vital to the film’s creative development. Most importantly, Matthijs had the opportunity to play with each and every scene. The most challenging was the ship into Everest transition. We went through about ten continuity tests and it was signed off at the very last moment. That kind of creative evolution is part of what we do; it’s how you immerse people fully in your CG world.
Natural elements also helped to transition the scenes, from smoke in the city to the Roman army, to gusts of wind and sea spray.
LBB> From a technical point of view what scenes presented the most interesting challenges?
CK> With something on such a monumental scale as the CG ship, there were so many things to consider and craft. The sails and ropes had to be simulated along with water, which had to flow out of the broken and damaged hull of the boat – a boat covered in corals and seaweed. And on top of that, our ships had to Interact with a fully CG ocean in a heavy storm with wind, rain and breaking waves. A huge VFX feat!
LBB> The project is was truly global in terms of its production and VFX – what did that mean for MPC?
CK> Every production at MPC is about creative excellence. With each new job it is second nature to us - and the way we work - to choose the best people from our studios around the world and bring together a bespoke team, with the right expertise, underpinned by seamless technology. Evidently the level of complexity involved with ‘The Trailblazers’ demands a global solution – we had almost the entire global Advertising team working on it. And all at the same time as delivering the John Lewis ‘Buster the Boxer’ spot…
We have set systems in the infrastructure in place to work on this global scale, with teams in London, Bangalore, LA; and the entire compositing led by MPC’s Amsterdam studio.