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The VFX Crossover: Convergence of commercials, blockbuster VFX, and technology

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Over its six years of operation, the Boston- and LA-based ZERO VFX has made great strides in the commercial and film industries.

Along with ad work for brands such as Toyota, Subway and Jack Daniel’s, the ZERO team has created a diverse array of high-end visual effects for projects such as Ghostbusters, Hardcore Henry and the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven.

ZERO worked alongside New York’s Smartypants to create a ‘powers of ten’ effect for Delta. ZERO’s Don Libby and Robby Geis worked on set just as they would a feature film to orchestrate the sweeping camera move, combining matte paintings with photoreal CG elements.

The studio’s work ranges from color, clean-up and conform for short-and-sweet projects like Dunkin’ Donut’s summer anthem Dunkin’ Paradise to invisible VFX like subtly changing summer to winter in Scott Cooper’s Black Mass.

Such projects may seem radically different in terms of content and tone, but when it comes to the creative process, there are certainly similarities.

Great commercials tell a strong visual story in a short timeframe. That’s what ZERO and O2 Solutions did in this spot for Scion. ZERO built the CG car and designed all the environments, using the concept of reflections and the interplay of light and shadow as a visual motif to guide the viewer through the spot.

Drawing on their diverse experience, ZERO’s 80 artists, producers and supervisors find these similarities and build on them. That might mean utilizing techniques from feature film production and applying them to commercial and web content, or vice versa. The end goal is to use all knowledge possible to increase the quality of the project at hand, no matter the intended audience.

“Many companies focus on executing projects solely for features or commercials – at ZERO we work across all mediums,” explains Brian Drewes, ZERO VFX co-founder. “One medium can inform the other, presenting techniques and approaches that break the mold. Silo-ing them doesn’t allow for that. Working on both, we can make the most of common resources and build scale.”

And ZERO goes one step further still: “We also strive to create internal software tools that solve real-world problems,” says Drewes. “This allows us to achieve better results and more efficiently, while also potentially releasing these tools to the wider community”.

Case in point: in 2014, Google acquired ZERO’s cutting-edge cloud rendering solution ZYNC. Google continues to develop the tool and forge alliances with the industry’s major software developers: at NAB 2016 ZYNC and Autodesk announced a strategic partnership to bring scalable compute resources to the masses.

ZERO works on blockbuster VFX alongside its commercials work, including films such as first-person action epic Hardcore Henry. Here you can see the work that went into just one incendiary highway chase sequence, demonstrating a variety of VFX work ranging from the small to the expansive.

It’s ZERO’s mix of passion, talent, and experimentation that enables it to tackle such a wide array of projects, using lessons learned in one medium to inform another.

After all, a single studio with a dedicated and innovative staff will quickly find that successful films, commercials and technology all share a common thread: a willingness to think outside the box.



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