NEW YORK, NY ─ As part of its three-year Centennial Era celebration, ABC knew it wanted to open its live 2009 Indianapolis 500 broadcast with a teaser that would do the past 97 years of racing justice. ABC commissioned Mantra Design, an award winning creative content design and visual effects boutique, to create an official “2009 Indianapolis 500 Opening Tease” that would incorporate memorable scenes in Indy 500 history, from its humble beginnings as a brick track to its modern day reputation as one of the most significant racing events in the world. Mantra Design was tapped to provide pre-production, production and post-production services for the piece, with 3D and digital effects work.

Miguel Oldenburg, a Senior Flame artist at Mantra, worked with the ESPN on ABC team beginning in January 2009 to conceptualize the piece. As this teaser would be the first thing viewers tuning in to the Indy 500 race would see, it had to summarize the Indy 500’s past 97 years, while also building excitement for the 2009 race. Tasked with creating a piece that would tell a story throughout the landmark eras without feeling choppy or disconnected, Oldenburg used heavy VFX work that took advantage of the Indy 500 museum’s vintage cars, bringing them back to life while also featuring shots of modern day icons and the 2009 Indy 500 competitors.

“Visually, it was important for the piece to transition seamlessly between eras, even though we were working with a lot of several formats and creating many different looks, from the 20s and 30s through to today,” says Oldenburg. “We had to maximize VFX techniques to achieve that, and I think we succeeded. I’ve worked on the Indy 500 opening tease for a few years, and usually we do an in-your-face, fast-paced racing piece focusing on the cars. This was the first time we put the spotlight on the long and rich history of Indy, and using VFX and 3D work, we were able to construct, deconstruct and reconstruct the track in just over two minutes of air time.”

To ensure that scenes would feel authentic, Oldenburg watched hours of archive footage in order to carefully re-create scenes from each era when filming began in Indianapolis during May 2009. Though the piece does incorporate some archive footage, many of the shots were filmed in Indianapolis using professional drivers.

“I think one of the highest compliments about the piece is that people think the majority of it is archival footage, when in fact, we created many scenes using a green screen and heavy design and VFX work,” adds Oldenburg. “In the piece, there’s a shot from the 70’s where the crowd is cheering for the first female, Janet Guthrie, to drive at Indy. We did that entire shot, matching the color correction and grain. We even dressed the cameraman in the shot in a 70’s leather jacket and found an actual 70’s camera. The entire focus for us was to make the piece believable.”

Oldenburg and the Mantra team had to navigate several obstacles in order to complete this year’s Indy 500 opening tease. Oldenburg worked closely with the director of the piece, Lukas Ettlin, flying to Indianapolis for pre-production to determine the locations, the cars that would be used as well as which shots would require green screen work. However, plans quickly changed when it rained during both scheduled days of filming. Instead, the cars were filmed stationary under a small covered section of the track, and Oldenburg was tasked with replacing the entire environment in post-production. Many shots were also filmed using a smaller interior track that is home to Formula One racing, rebuilding the entire Indy 500 track digitally using Autodesk Flame, replacing the walls, sky and grass in all shots. Oldenburg also color corrected the tease in Flame, giving certain eras a sepia tone and dusting the piece to match archive footage with the re-created shots.

For one of the signature moments in the opening tease, Oldenburg relied on his Mantra colleagues in Shanghai, China to create a deconstruction of the iconic Indy 500 Pagoda control tower. The deconstruction starts the same time that the teaser begins to go back through time, signaling a return to the beginning of Indy history when the Pagoda had not yet been built. When in Indianapolis, Oldenburg took photos from every angle of the current Pagoda, turning them over to the Mantra Shanghai team to re-build the Pagoda in 3D with Autodesk Maya. Mantra Shanghai then reversed the entire process, using a time lapse effect to deconstruct the Pagoda, removing walls and windows piece by piece to return the track to its original form in 1909. Mantra Design created all other special effects work with Flame, and also worked to incorporate time-saving features, using camera tricks to cut costs and ensure the piece would be budget-conscious.

“This piece incorporates a lot of compositing, and we pushed Flame to its full potential,” says Oldenburg. “We were really making an entire track, putting together the trees, changing the numbers on the cars and compositing the photographers and the crowd. We took shots done using a green screen and then erased and replaced the environment around the cars to design a new world. The recreation work was absolutely a thrill for myself and the Mantra team.”

Editing for the piece was done externally, with narration and writing by Greg Jennings. Laurel Heisman served as Mantra’s producer, with Chris Pfeiffer as producer/director on the ESPN on ABC team.

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About Mantra

Mantra is an award winning creative content design and production studio specializing in creating media for broadcast, commercial, event, retail, digital signage and installations. Located in New York City’s Flatiron District, Mantra’s talented team of designers and VFX artists are behind some of today’s most visually compelling broadcast and event design offerings including the 2008 Grammy Awards Show, the MTV Video Music Awards, and various show packages. Founded by Creative Group in 2007, it offers motion design, visual effects, creative editorial, event design and production for its clients, many of which are among the world’s best known brands, including CBS, ESPN, CNN, Saatchi & Saatchi, MTV Networks, Nickelodeon, The History Channel, and the USA Network.

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