October 17th, 2014

Collaborating with Scanlab Projects and AMV creatives Steve Jones and Martin Loraine, The Mill created a fully 3D ad using Lidar technology to communicate the dangers of cars braking on country lane bends for the UK Department for Transport (DFT).

DFT's 'Transparent' is a 40 second spot playing on the idea that if a driver could see the danger through a bend, they would slow down and avoid fatal collisions.

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Steve and Martin shared their experience taking the spot from concept to collaboration, "Our idea was to reveal what is hidden by the bend. It was a tricky concept to bring to life because it's such a visual conundrum, so we explored a range of visual techniques. We discovered Lidar technology in a promo and it instantly appealed to us as the ideal solution, as it also satisfied a secondary part of the brief, which was to make rural driving feel less cosy and non-threatening.”

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Lidar is usually used in geology, forestry and contour mapping. The scanning process uses laser technology to create accurate 3D point cloud interpretations of environments and objects,which can be rendered as semi-transparent images.

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They continue, "It was a huge challenge to make digital data into convincing and emotionally involving live action footage, but that’s where The Mill’s team was able to help. Although we had the usual pre production process, with storyboards, location recce, props and casting to decide, there was no shoot as such, just the static scans. So, with our co-director Giles Revell, we made a lot of the directing, filming, and editing decisions during post-production. That’s when decisions were also made on camera angles, visual effects, transparency levels, animation, and colour.”

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After finding the right countryside location, Scanlab Projects stationed a series of Lidar cameras at specific points along the rural roads, taking static pictures, which were developed as a series of point cloud images.

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Scans were also taken of stationary vehicles and surrounding buildings, to gather as much 3D point cloud data as possible. Using these images, The Mill’s VFX team were then able to stitch them together and animate them with camera moves to create a moving sequence, as well as enhancing the transparency of aspects of the picture.

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Lead 3D artist Tom Raynor shares, "Through the use of animation we were able to see this Lidar technique brought to life. We rigged a number of vehicles so that they were able to be animated using realistic car dynamics, which added realism and drama to the piece."

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For each scan, the artists were also provided with a high dynamic range of panoramic photographs taken from the same position. They went through the laborious process of aligning and mapping the colour images to the scan data for each scan and painting out any unwanted artifacts before animating.

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Steve and Martin  comment, "The use of Lidar was invaluable to this project  in that it brought a fresh look to an issue that has been around for years. We needed to create something that looked real and engaging enough to affect people, but was also eerie and unusual enough to share. On the day it launched, it was played on BBC, ITV and Channel 4 news and continues to rack up views. The Mill did a fantastic job!"

Watch the DFT 'Transparent' below and find out more about the spot here.