NEXODUS provided a complete end-to-end VFX solution for Trico’s memorable spot Raining Cats and Dogs. Trico celebrated their century-long legacy of manufacturing windshield-wipers with a commercial that featured a downpour of cats and dogs — a blend of live action and photoreal CG animals — literally falling from the sky onto an unsuspecting motorist’s vehicle.
The spot was the second collaboration between NEXODUS, production company ArtClass Content and director Paul Trillo. In addition to Onset VFX Supervision, NEXODUS provided a fully remote team of experienced VFX artists to handle all aspects of VFX shot work, including modeling, crowd simulation, compositing and VFX production management. The work was created entirely using the NEXODUS cloud technology platform, which provided a turnkey and scalable solution for both 3D and 2D VFX.
Raining Cats and Dogs in Sunny Texas
While the shower of animals takes the motorist in the spot by surprise, the VFX shots were the result of meticulous planning and execution, from pre-production through post. ArtClass brought on NEXODUS at the very beginning of the project, enabling upfront conversations about budget, approach and schedule. At the same time, NEXODUS created 3D pre-visualizations from storyboards to help guide the live action shoot, a technique usually reserved for feature films. The previz provided director Paul Trillo with a compelling way to communicate his vision to the agency and clients at Trico, garnering support for the spot’s comedic concept.
NEXODUS VFX Supervisor Matthew Steidl joined the production crew on location for principal photography near Dallas, TX. The production came prepared with a rain truck and large diffusion screens to offset the impeccably sunny Texas weather. “Water is a notoriously hard effect to get right, so as much as possible we always like to start with a practical effect as a base and augment that in post,” says Steidl. The opening shot of the Ford Bronco picture car plowing through torrential rain was accomplished with a small caravan of vehicles – the rain truck and an Audi with a camera crane on the roof. “It felt like a scene out of Mad Max with all the different vehicles crowded together on that little dirt road,” Steidl jokes.
The location shoot was followed by 2nd Unit photography of the animals on a green screen stage. Eighteen dogs and five cats were recorded performing various motions, closely supervised by their owners and a professional animal trainer. The animals were lifted and lowered in harnesses, stood on moving apple boxes, and jumped off low flights of stairs onto soft mats, providing a variety of landings. “Our job in post would be to make them appear to fall thousands of feet,” explains Steidl.
Every Shot Became a VFX Shot
R&D for the spot was already underway in LA, where NEXODUS Senior FX artist Matthew Benson developed a crowd simulation system using techniques like flocking and instancing, along with ragdoll physics, to create a shower of CG animals with unlimited variations in breed, fur color, and animation cycles. Veteran CG artists Jason Campbell, Stephan Pavelski, and Jeremy Wood worked on 3D assets of the animals, as well as animation cycles that were plugged into the Houdini simulation.
In addition to the spectacular animal downpour, a wealth of compositing was needed to integrate all the elements and transform the sunny Texas sky from the live action shoot into a moody thunderstorm. Senior Compositors Kurt Lawson, Nick Joseph, Josh McGuire, Cornelia Magas, and Riley Liao joined the NEXODUS team to create matte paintings, simulate particle rain, and erase safety harnesses. They also retimed, keyed and spliced dozens of takes of the live action animals into the spot. “Every shot ended up becoming a VFX shot,” says Lawson, who designed the look of the storm and created the dynamic camera move craning up to the clouds. “The camera angles of the green screen animals didn’t line up exactly with the animated camera that we designed in post, so we used 3D layout techniques to create believable trajectories for them. Then we matchmoved the live action photography of the animals on top of that.”
Despite the growth in VFX shot count during post, completed VFX was handed off to ArtClass on the original schedule, leaving them a generous window of time for color and sound mixing. By approaching the work as an in-house team for the project, NEXODUS was able to deliver the additional shots with minimal impact to the budget (in contrast with the traditional VFX studio approach of charging for each additional shot). Fifteen and thirty second versions were cut and approved by the very appreciative marketing team at Trico.