They say time will tell. The question then becomes: what do you want time to say? Since its founding in 1916, Bayerische Motoren Werke – better known to the world as BMW – has been building the world’s most elegant high-performance automobiles. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Bavarian automaker wanted only the best working on “Milestones,” an epic 45 second spot chronicling the eras, fashions, and cultures that have influenced -- and been influenced by -- BMW motor cars.

The opening shot of “Milestones” holds enough beauty and artistic effort for any five spots you’re likely to see, even though it is just one of the spot’s seven spectacular views of seven incredible cars. A liveried chauffeur opens the rear passenger door of 1950’s era BMW, a shimmering silver centerpiece. An elegant Eva Gardner-like woman steps from the car, clearly on her way to boarding the Queen Mary passenger ship that dominates the background, its smoke stack billowing into the brilliant blue sky.

As the camera pans to the right, the Queen Mary is replaced by a jumbo jet indicative of the 1970’s. While two brightly dressed “stewardesses” walk towards the plane, a macho-looking pilot approaches his BMW, conveniently parked on the runway. The camera continues to pan as the BMW assumes psychedelic colors and designs and is transported from the runway to a 1980’s style loft, then to a 1990-style testing lab, then to what looks like the peak of a Himalayan mountain. The screen fades to black before revealing an example of the BMW 7 series driving majestically down a shoreline highway. The tagline says it all: “Driving the world ahead. Again.”

Ad agency Interone and director Paul Street tapped LAFOURMI, a relatively new collective of veteran artists working out of Hamburg, Germany, to handle the formidable postproduction challenges on a spot that spans the golden years of the transportation age: from 1950’s era passenger ships to 1970’s jumbo jets to the brightly colored cars of the 1980’s to the streamlined “clean energy” autos of contemporary times.

On the company website, LAFOURMI proudly proclaims itself as “Owned By Artists.” Autodesk spoke with the company’s two founding artists about forming a company; using Autodesk® Softimage® and Autodesk® Flint®; and creating a spot of and for the ages.

The Challenge
“The whole project started with LAFOURMI trying to create a 3D car for the mountain scene,” says Florian Bruchhaeuser, founder and head of 3D at LAFOURMI. “The actual mountain range that the agency wanted is in China, and it was impractical to shoot there. As part of our pitch for the job, Schmidt used Google Maps as a reference to create a matte painting in Flint of the mountainscape, and then Bruchhaeuser used Autodesk Softimage to create a stone plateau and a full 3D car. The client was pretty impressed that we were able to do that, and they were soon asking us to do more work for the spot.”

Even though Schmidt, together with visual effects artists Florian Bruchhaeuser, had formed LAFOURMI a scant eight months earlier, the combined experience of the company’s principals made accepting the BMW job a certainty. Even with their significant expertise, however, an ambitious storyboard and tight timeline made the job a big challenge for the duo and the rest of the LAFOURMI team.

“Everything was motion control, so we knew from the beginning it would be challenging,” says Bruchhaeuser, who served as VFX supervisor on the job. “We had just three and a half months to create a truly epic spot about history, tradition, and the future of German automotive technology. That’s a pretty big task for any company. In the end, we had input on every shot.”

Some shots, however, did prove to be more challenging than others.

“The Queen Mary shot alone had about 60 layers,” says Schmidt. “It was multiple bit depth, Open XR stuff which needed to converted on the fly in Flint. That spot alone had one of the biggest batch trees I’ve ever seen. The rendering also promised to be very demanding, so we needed tools that were not going to crash, no matter what.”

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