August 22nd, 2014

The Mill worked with Grey and MJZ director Matthijs Van Heijningen on a series of spots for DIRECTV's 'Most Powerful Fan' campaign promoting its new NFL Sunday Ticket feature. 'Landing' is the first spot in the campaign, featuring a Philadelphia Eagles fan whose devotion has an “earth-shattering” effect on the neighborhood. We look at the behind-the-scenes R&D that made the spot's photo-real visual effects possible.

The spot begins with an impressive entrance by the most powerful fan. With a mighty super-hero jump into his cul-de-sac, he lands with such strength that it causes a shockwave through the neighborhood, kicking up grass, road, cars and even the neighbor.

From the start, the creative team knew this project would be a great opportunity to push the CG capabilities and build an innovative pipeline to create the wave that ripples through the lawn and driveway. VFX Supervisor Gavin Wellsman adds, "The VFX had to be larger than life, since the 'most powerful fan' affects his surroundings in quite a unique way.”


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Mill 3D artists set out to develop a method of creating the shockwave effect prior to the commercial shoot with a bit of R&D to test and simulate the fan’s impact on his surroundings, helping to uncover any questions the artists might need to answer for the final effects.


The artist could simultaneously work on answering those questions through additional simulations. These were all accomplished traditionally in Houdini with Mill artists recreating elements like concrete, grass and dirt in a virtual environment and then applying real world physical attributes like gravity, wind, resistance and friction.

Question: How do you break a solid object to make it appear like concrete?

Early tests included breaking objects to create realistic fractures.

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Question: How would grass react when a shockwave is sent through it?

The patch of grass (below) is an early test to simulate how the lawn would react upon impact.

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After simulation, proprietary pipeline tools allowed the data to be pushed from Houdini into Maya more efficiently, reducing the amount of time needed for rendering and feedback.

3D Lead Jeffrey Dates explains, “The pipeline that was created used Mill proprietary workflow to allow the artists to design, create, simulate and render over 25 million blades of grass, rocks and roots that made up the grass/sod alone. A method that was able to be updated daily for creative feedback and art direction."

From scouting photos of the location, artists created an early simulation, enabling them to work with the director and agency to decide on whether to dial up or down the effects.

Adding the Effects

Once the commercial was filmed, Mill artists could combine the elements from the previs simulations with live action shots. The result is a film that truly shows the power of a fan. See more from DIRECTV's 'Most Powerful Fan' campaign, including the newest spot created by Grey with MJZ director Matthijs Van Heijningen 'Brunch.'

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Check out the rest of the films in DIRECTV's Most Powerful Fan campaign.