Behind the Craft: IBM 'Race to the Cloud'
Glossy cars, glowing lights, glitchy effects. It’s everything I love. Recently I was lucky enough to work on a project that threw all of these together – ‘Race to the Cloud’ – a commercial for IBM.
I’m a huge fan of the futuristic aesthetic, the glowing lights and glossy surfaces, so it was a dream come true to mix all of my favourite things about that look into one film.
IBM came to us with the concept of a car race. A race as a metaphor for IBM’s digital products leading the way in the race to ‘the cloud’. It’s awesome to be given great concepts like that – straight away we could see the energy and excitement in the piece. I immediately got very excited and couldn’t wait to begin!
So I started with a bit of concept art. I actually went back to my home office, nicknamed ’the den’ (it’s literally our spare bedroom crammed full of toys, screens and games!), to do a bit of rapid development in the evenings as my brain was buzzing with ideas. I have my own custom set-up there of Cinema 4D and Octane Renderer on my own custom PC called ‘The RAMfactory’ and it’s a great way for me to quickly experiment and iterate with materials, lights and looks. It’s also a quick way to get ideas out before we start with the might of our CG pipeline which is mainly Maya & Arnold-based. So I noodled around in C4D, experimenting with materials and lights. Straight away the glossy black and white with glowing blues felt right and exciting! Luckily IBM agreed and off we went, into Production!
We have a killer CG team here, so right away we all got together to make a plan for how we were going to tackle our race to the cloud. First things first were our heroes, the cars! Drawing inspiration from electronic concept cars and hyper cars, we wanted something sleek but still grounded in reality. It was really fun bending the reality of the design to make it more visually aggressive, like the huge wheels and all black glass top. Each car was to go through a series of physical transformations too, which upgraded them to be even sleeker and faster. For the design of each part of the film I would generally start with a basic ‘layout’ in 2D, combined with a tonne of reference images, and then hand over that to Nathan, one of our brilliant modellers who would start sculpting and creating. He’d then share his progress and I’d annotate over the top. It was a really great way to collaborate and there was a lot of back and forth, which is always a plus.
That was our process for the whole film, a lot of back and forth, at each stage. Those smaller incremental advances let you refine as you go, which I think is really important. This process continued for the rest of the elements in the film, of which there was a fair few!
One of the most interesting visual elements was the ‘glitch’. When the competitors’ cars started failing, they began to ‘glitch out’, reinforcing our racing metaphor for software upgrades. IBM’s stable and smooth update process was in stark contrast to the competitors, so it was really fun to play with different effects to show the competitors breaking down. I love the harsh colours of glitching artefacts. I really wanted it to look unpleasant and authentic, so we researched artefacting, data moshing and frame tearing, amongst other things. I even took a few frames out of the CG pipeline and ran it through an ASCII generator! All of these threads of research were then brought together and realised with the power of Houdini.
The other big visual element was the luscious clouds at the end of the film, the finish line for the race! It was so exciting seeing the clouds progress, especially when we started seeing the tests of the volumetric light illuminating them from the inside. That was more Houdini magic, blended with a digital matte painting; I think I let out quite a loud indecipherable noise of glee when I first saw that! The golden sunset peaking out over the clouds, glaring into the camera lens was the icing on the cake for me.
Throw in some glowing motion graphics, a swathe of sleek sound design and a banging sound track courtesy of Echoic and we have our energy-filled glossy, glowy ‘Race to the Cloud’! I’m extremely proud to worked with such a great team at Aardman and such a great client at IBM. I’ve assembled a little ‘process reel’ below, to give you a glimpse at just some of the layers (and layers) that went into making the film, I hope you enjoy.
Lastly, big big thanks to the team that made all of this possible:
Tracklay & Soundmix
Watch the full commercial here:
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