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August 10th, 2017

Gavin Wellsman, Head of 2D at The Mill NY, recently had the chance to tap into his wealth of experience as a VFX Lead creating high-end auto commercials for a new role, directing 'Bear Mountain', a cinematic short film for the Classic Car Club of Manhattan. Set against the beautiful backdrop of Bear Mountain at the height of its fall beauty, the film showcases the Club’s enviable collection of classic and exotic cars, while also evoking the thrill of driving the iconic automobiles.

As a visual effects artist at The Mill for over 15 years, Gavin has spent many hours crafting images of cars for brands like Mercedes, Ford, Cadillac and more recently, Lincoln. He became a Classic Car Club member in 2009 after being introduced to Michael Prichinello, a co-founder of the club. 

Classiccarclub Bearmountain 129698308 Vimeo 1920 607Classic Car Club 'Bear Mountain'

Gavin shares, “I have always had an interest in cars and was hooked on American road trips ever since I drove from San Francisco to Vegas. Like many New Yorkers, I wanted to escape the hustle and bustle of the city on the weekend and I had just had reached my limit on bad experiences with overpriced rental cars companies when I discovered the Classic Car Club.”  Becoming a member of the Club was a solution to Gavin’s quintessential NYC problem, but it also built on his love of cars and became a new hobby, one that encouraged him research and learn about the club’s wide range of iconic vehicles.

Classiccarclub Bearmountain Still1Classic Car Club 'Bear Mountain'

In a way, he credits auto commercials for his career. “Looking back now, it was actually a talk about a car commercial that first sparked my interest in visual effects, way before I even was aware of what post-production really was, it wasn’t something that was taught in school. The minute I saw the power of what could be done using a computer to manipulate a moving image, I was hooked,” Gavin says.

As a visual effects supervisor for the Mill for many years I was lucky enough to attend car commercial shoots with some of the best crews in the world. He comments, “A memorable moment was working on Mercedes’ first-ever Super Bowl Commercial, back in 2011. ‘Welcome’, directed by Peter Thwaites. Which showcased every Mercedes car ever made, from the first late 19th-century model to the iconic Gullwing to a futuristic Biome. Some of the cars were so unique and valuable that they had to be manually pushed into frame. 

Mercedes Welcome 3Mercedes 'Welcome'

“More recently, I was lucky enough to fly to Iceland for a commercial shoot for the Lincoln ‘Forward’ campaign starring Matthew McConaughey. The shoot was led by the talented director Wally Pfister, who knows a thing or two about shooting cars. I was also proud to be involved with a special campaign for AT&T to combat texting and driving called 'It Can Wait’. Even though this was not your traditional car commercial, it still involved a lot of the same techniques as a regular automotive commercial.” 

When Michael approached Gavin about making a film that would capture thrill of driving on one of their Bear Mountain trips, he jumped at the opportunity. He explains, “I had been quietly planning a car shoot for a while and just needed the right project. The Car Club is so much more than just a place with cars that you can hire for the weekend; the culture of the club is really what sets it apart. From track days to mechanic classes to social events, it was a really unique place to entertain clients and friends.”

Directing Classic Car Club 'Bear Mountain'

The brief for the project was straightforward: Capture the thrill and excitement of one of their ‘Driving Days at New York’s famous Bear Mountain’ in a cool and cinematic way, and give the viewer a little insight into what being a member of the Classic Car Club is all about.

Taking on the role of Director gave him the ability to share his passion for the Club through the film in a way that wasn’t available to him as a VFX artist. “As a visual effects artist and shoot supervisor, you are more concerned with the technical aspects of the project and how the pieces of the puzzle will go together once you get back to the studio. As a director on this project, not only did I want to shoot beautiful images of the cars in a dynamic way that felt epic and cinematic, it was really important to show the connection you make with the cars and how they make you feel the pure excitement of driving. Each car is a unique experience within itself, so there is always a “get to know you period”, especially with the classics,” says Gavin. 

Classiccarclub Bearmountain 129698308 Vimeo 1920 934Classic Car Club 'Bear Mountain'

With only one day for the shoot at Bear Mountain and one day for the shoot at the Club, Gavin’s VFX background proved valuable to ensuring the crew made the best use of their limited time. He explains, “As a VFX Lead, we already wear many hats, especially because we’re the last creative responsible for the commercial before it goes on air. Composition, grading and editing are a big part of being a Lead and these skills really were helpful in planning out the shots in the spot. These skills also helped me in creating a ripomatic to get a feel for different sections and timings before the scout and shoot.

Dsc04651Behind the Scenes: Classic Car Club 'Bear Mountain'

“Like most shoots, there is a limit to how fast we could shoot the cars in a state park. From experience, I knew what I could get away with in the edit to create that extra speed. A combination of low-angle, reverse camera moves and passing camera shakes added more energy to the cars. Speed changes and ramps are also a big part of a car commercial. Shooting the correct frame rates and knowing exactly how much a shot can be sped up is really an important detail to have an eye for, and it is quite easy to break a camera move if you speed up a shot too much. Just the way a car bounces and moves can be a giveaway that the car has been manipulated from the original photography. There are lots of tricks to fix this but it’s a fine balance and something to be mindful of when setting up a shot on the day."

V4a1306 1280Behind the Scenes: Classic Car Club 'Bear Mountain'

As with any new role, there were challenges and lessons to be learned. “As a VFX artist, it was tempting, and sometimes easier, to shoot in layers to get the perfect action for a shot. Even though I was aware of how easy this could be achieved in post with simple layering, I knew I had to push to get it in one take to get the subtle nuances and interactions. Just because you can find a solution in post, doesn’t mean that you should for many reasons,” added Gavin.

Like many car commercials, the sound design was equally as important as the visuals to really grab the viewer’s attention. This was a film for existing and future members of the Club, so getting the right sound for each car had to be authentic. He shares, “Like many compositors, my experience with sound design was limited. On previous projects where we have spent many weeks crafting beautiful images, the audio is really something that the agency arranges and takes care of.” I worked with my good friend Nadir Simon at Kaazba Sound. Nadir really worked extensively to make sure every bit of sound design was as accurate as possible to each unique car.

 V4a1208 1280Behind the Scenes: Classic Car Club 'Bear Mountain'

Going from VFX Lead to Director provided Gavin with a different perspective on the filmmaking process. He shares, “After completing this project, I have a new-found respect for directors and agencies. VFX supervisors pride themselves on organization but obviously most of our heavy lifting happens after the shoot. After having the responsibility of the shoot on my shoulders, I realize that while it helps to have my experience and a bit of luck on the day, it is the prep and planning before the shoot that really makes all of the difference on screen.”

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Cccbts2 9Launch Party for Classic Car Club 'Bear Mountain'

The team gathered for sunset drinks at the Club, along with Car Club members, to premiere the film on a 16 foot LED screen that was rigged above our five hero cars from the film. 

Learn more about Classic Car Club 'Bear Mountain'.