The car glides through shadow. Then the lights go up. The sporty design of a new Lexus IS luxury car is revealed. The car turns, and the camera savors the details of its gleaming white exterior before swooping into the car’s interior. Then the pace slows as the camera lingers over the red leather seats and the moving gauges on the dashboard. Finally as light appears on the distant horizon, the car appears to be driving down a road.
Daniel Hartz, a veteran car photographer based in Germany who created this two-minute video for the European marketing division of Lexus IS, says the car never left the Toyota car studio in Brussels during his three-day video shoot. The prototype, which was shipped via air cargo direct from a factory in Japan, had to remain a closely guarded secret. Instead of taking the car for a spin, he created the illusion of movement in a number of ways: by rotating the car on a giant turntable, by panning the camera from left to right or up and down, or by keeping the camera locked in place while a beam of light passes over details such as the Lexus logo on the car.
In all, he had 17 days with the prototype to shoot both stills and video, and a tight deadline for completing editing and post-production. He spent two weeks planning and shooting stills, which gave him time to explore the car’s features. “In that time, I did the storyboard,” he says, and determined not only how he would highlight the car’s best features, but how he would create a sense of narrative in the video. He acted as his own director of photography, operating his own camera for most of the shoot. “It’s freaky, but I’m a photographer, and I want to do everything,” Hartz explains.
Having one person shoot all the imagery was cost effective for the client, he notes. He used the same studio setup for both stills and video. He used ARRI HMI lights to light the exterior of the car. Hartz calls the 5500-Kelvin, daylight-balanced tungsten lighting “the perfect light tool if you need to combine still and video.” He also used Kino Flo daylight sources—including 6 x 4-foot, 4 x 4-foot and 4 x 2-foot lights—when more portable lights were needed: to shoot the car’s interior, for instance, or to sweep a ray of light across the car’s logo ornament. He used a Red Epic “for 90 percent” of the shoot, he says. He also shot video with his Nikon D800, the camera he used to shoot stills, when lighter gear was needed to get footage in tight spaces inside the car.
Hartz says the Lexus assignment brought several challenges. The prototype’s shiny paint was white—a common branding choice when advertising hybrid vehicles, Hartz says, because “it’s clean and sexy.” However, if white paint is lit with too little contrast, he notes, that “burns out the lines of the design.” Another challenge was that the stills and video had to be composited with computer-generated imagery (CGI) to make the backgrounds consistent. The CGI components were “the endless horizon and the floor elements, like the tarmac sequence where the car is driving at the end of the video.” Shooting the car against a green screen could have made the process of masking out the background easier for the retouchers and CGI artists in Hartz’s studio; however, green screen would have reflected in the car’s surface. Instead, he had to experiment.
Hartz and his assistants set up a studio within the 800-square-meter Toyota car studio by using black curtains, about three to four feet high, to wall off an area around the turntable on which the car would sit. These curtains hid the light stands he placed behind them. The black material also created more pleasing reflections and contrast in the paint and the windows of the car than the white walls of the studio. “It shows a white car in a nice, liquid way,” says Hartz.
The studio had a 30 x 20-foot panel of lights that hung about 10 feet above the car. “It’s like a light ceiling,” Hartz says, which shone down onto the top of the car. He also needed to bounce more light onto the sides of the car. For most of his shots, he placed about 16 ARRI lights outside the black curtains. He pointed the powerful lights at the ceiling and at the walls of the studio, “and from there, the light is reflected on [to] the car.” In effect, he explains, he used the white walls of the studio as giant reflective light panels.
With each movement of the camera, the lights had to be adjusted. “It’s time consuming, especially when you’re doing a 360-degree turn.”
To get tracking shots through an open door and around the interior, he mounted his camera on a dolly, which was operated by an assistant. Hartz shot the moving gauges on the dashboard with his camera locked into place. At other times, he shot handheld, sometimes doing several takes “to make sure it wasn’t shaky.” In shooting the interior, he used between one and three Kinos “because they’re easy to work with.” When he wanted to shoot the leather upholstery or the stitching in the fabric, for example, he would place a Kino at about 90 degrees to the subject, using longer shadows to highlight the texture.
“Sometimes we shot at 25 frames per second, sometimes we went up to 50,” Hartz recalls. The change helped work with the pacing of the video, and works with the music, which becomes quieter and slower as the camera moves over details of the car’s interior.
To store the footage he shot, Hartz had his Red Epic camera outfitted with a Teradek; when shooting with the Nikon D800, he stored footage on an Atomos Ninja-2. He estimates he had about 3 terabytes of material, which he turned over to editor Reni Rain Kencana. Hartz had commissioned the team known as Ben & Sarah to compose the music for the video after listening to clips from several writers of commercial scores. Kencana cut the video to fit the score and, where necessary, ramped up or down the speed of the footage.
CGI artists at Hartz’s own company, ViewMaster CGI, created the background for both the still photos and the video. To provide the CGI artists the information they needed to produce realistic perspective, Hartz and his crew made notes of the position and movement of the camera during every shot. This information was helpful in making sure CGI elements always matched the perspective in Hartz’s footage. For example, the lines on the road had to correspond with the vantage point from which Hartz shot the car—whether he was pointing his camera down, or shooting it from just to one side of the front fender. The CGI artists also had to make sure the background looked realistic when seen through the car windows.
Hartz and the client also made a special request: “There needs to be something moving in the background,” he says. If you look carefully at the light that appears along the horizon, “the white line is moving a little bit up and down or in waves. That was important because otherwise it looks too boring.”
The shoot took place near the end of December 2012, and the finished video and stills were delivered in mid-January of this year. Since then Hartz says, “The video was used for a motor show, by dealers and on the Internet. There were some great comments about it on YouTube.”
Watch Daniel Hartz’s Lexus IS video below: