SLGH – Tracking in the Fast Lane

If you see a German luxury car commercial, chances are Slaughterhouse GmbH Visual Manufacturing was behind it. Part of what makes luxury brands like BMW, Porsche and Mercedes the best is what’s under the hood – what we can’t see. Digital artist Lars Wemmje would argue that the same could be said about post-production.


Lars started at Slaughterhouse in 2010 and has been making commercials look flawless ever since. The visual manufacturing company has an extensive list of services, including data handling, motion graphics, set supervision, compositing and VFX, 3D, producing, color grading, audio production, editing and music composition.

No project is too large for the team at Slaughterhouse. From commercials for Vodafone, Zalando and BMW to cinema-quality projects with Porsche, Slaughterhouse has made its mark by taking care of the biggest and smallest of post-production tasks. mocha Pro from Imagineer Systems helps Slaughterhouse artists like Lars take care of such under-the-hood work as retouching and compositing.

When it comes to mocha, and especially MochaImport+ – because that’s our mocha pipeline tool for After Effects and now NUKE – I use these tools every day,” says Lars. “It’s been amazing. I have to do a lot of retouch work, so after almost a year at Slaughterhouse I started to use these tools in my workflow. I’m a strong believer of – for every job there’s the right tool. In my personal opinion, there’s no better 2D planar tracker than mocha Pro.”

Lars, who also does 3D animation, set supervision and 3D sculpting among many other tasks, uses Adobe After Effects for 2D animation and, recently, The Foundry’s NUKE for 3D compositing. Luckily, MochaImport+ bridges the workflow between mocha Pro and NUKE, as well as mocha Pro and After Effects, allowing him to use the powerful planar tracking tools directly within his tools of choice.

Now, with a seamless, integrated workflow, Lars only has to worry about the near-impossible tasks he takes on at Slaughterhouse. For example, changing a car’s rims…while in motion. A Mercedes, the car in question, speeds into the frame then suddenly comes to a stop. “I didn’t know how I was supposed to do that at first. The regular workflow would be to track that car in 3D, get a perfect match move and generate 3D rims that behave like the rims in the real shot, but I was pretty sure that I couldn’t get an accurate enough 3D camera track to pull that off. Instead, I just used mocha Pro. I chose the stabilized view workflow, then animated 3D rims, ran it out of Cinema 4D and managed to do the rim replacement with that method.”

While Lars was able to pull off the difficult feat, he wasn’t given much time to do it. The typical timeline at Slaughterhouse for a shot like that is one or two days, tops. Fortunately, mocha Pro came to the rescue. He states, “It’s definitely a tool that allows you to get results really fast. It has been a lifesaver for me, so many times.”

Lars encountered another tricky situation while working on a Jeep Manifesto TV spot in which Slaughterhouse completed over 50 compositing shots in just three weeks. The commercial features Italian soccer team Juventus trekking through urban and natural terrain of all sorts in an intense and unconventional game of soccer, as various Jeep models follow them in each scenario. In one particular shot, when the cars come charging through mountainous sand dunes, Lars was asked to remove one Jeep from a shot and replace two others with different models. In order to do this, Lars would need a digital car or a plate to swap into the shot. To his dismay, they didn’t have either…or so he thought.

Our producer didn’t tell me that we had a plate,” Lars says. “So then I thought, okay, we have to do a 3D car. But, we didn’t have assets from the scene either, like a spherical panorama, for image-based lighting. That’s what you normally need to integrate anything in 3D into a live shot – but I knew we didn’t have it. The scary moment was, ‘Okay, I have to do a 3D car with no assets to create it from.’ Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. We actually did have a plate of the car that could be inserted. From there it was straightforward. I knew then I could do it with mocha Pro, and pretty quickly I had a result, which turned out to be great.”

mocha Pro allows Lars to complete the difficult VFX tasks he needs to accomplish when the deadline was “yesterday” (even though he was just given the assignment “today”). It’s not all last minute, “mission: impossible” work at Slaughterhouse. Lars faces many common tasks with the car commercials he works on, such as unwanted reflections, artifacts and rigs that make their way into the shot. When working on the same shot in the Jeep commercial, he was asked to paint out tracks a car left in the sand. Lars explains, “It was as easy as taking one frame, painting it clean in Photoshop, then importing it back into the scene with the stabilized precomp workflow. That was maybe a 20-minute fix. If a shot is well stabilized, you can take out any frame from that sequence and go through this process; when you put it back in, the cleaned shot is perfectly in motion the way it’s supposed to be.”

Another VFX problem that comes up frequently in car commercials happens when cameras and lighting elements are reflected in the car’s surface. A “Russian Arm” is a vehicle-mounted rig that drives alongside the main car in the commercial and is used to capture the road-gripping action so consumers can see the star-vehicle at work. Inevitably, these cranes are reflected in the cars being filmed. What Slaughterhouse’s clients don’t want to see is that reflection on the shiny body of the car, so Lars uses mocha Pro to roto out the undesirable look.

You track any area in mocha Pro that you want to retouch – the reflection of the Russian Arm, fixing the car’s paint, removing a car or person. Whatever roto work you have, I mean, you can pretty much retouch anything and everything with it. Then using MochaImport+ in After Effects or NUKE, you can make a stabilized view or precomp with that tracking data, which helps you to do your retouch work like you were working on a still frame. mocha Pro then reintroduces your retouches into the scene, and there you go. Job done. I haven’t seen other software handle planer tracking better than mocha Pro. At all.”

Not only has mocha Pro been a time- (and life-) saver for Lars on multiple occasions, it’s also enabled him to learn more and really hone his craft. “Of course there are many things that I have experience with now, but doing all those retouches helped me to understand compositing much better. To know how to modify pixels so you would think, ‘Okay, that belongs there … that’s a part of that frame.’ That really helped me, and I can take that and let my imagination do with that whatever I want… or whatever the customer wants.”


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