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Vfx take shoppers on ‘Ride’

D.p. Claudio Miranda shoots Lexus' online film ad before car is even built.

What does a feature d.p. do between gigs?

Ask Claudio Miranda, cinematographer on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and the upcoming “Tron: Legacy,” and he just might talk about the time he spent hanging out with a trio of companies named Skinny, Skunk and Stink.

That’s no joke. Skinny is a boutique ad agency that pitched Lexus on the creation of a young-skewing digital campaign to promote the CT 200h, a new car the automaker describes as a fun-to-drive hybrid. Skunk is the production company that Skinny hired to shoot the spot, and Stink Digital is the shop that designed its interactive components.

The collaboration yielded “Dark Ride,” a 12-and-a-half-minute online-only interactive film that debuted May 14. Visitors to the site can experience the thrills of sitting shotgun to a driver named Tony, played by Norman Reedus, and helping him as he takes a prototype of the vehicle through the Nevada desert to Los Angeles while eluding some shady characters who want to get their hands on it.

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But when it came time to start production in February, there was one small problem: The car didn’t yet exist.

“We had to shoot exteriors with a proxy car with tracking markers on it,” Miranda says. That model was the same color and size as the CT 200h, and the plan was to overlay the latter’s “skin” onto the car in post. Scenes inside the car were shot using a stationary vehicle that contained an accurate replica of the future CT 200h’s interior,

“Dark Ride” was shot over eight days in the California desert, in downtown L.A. and at Fox Studios. James Brown, a commercial director repped by Skunk, did the helming as Miranda shot with the latest version of the Red 4K digital camera, which, he says, has more light sensitivity and a better look than earlier models. Speedshape, a shop that specializes in car commercials, did the vfx, which included replacing the proxy car with a computer-generated CT 200h.

It couldn’t have been cheap. “Let’s just say it was an ambitious spot,” says independent commercial producer Aris McGarry, who worked with Skunk on the spot’s budget and helped hire the crew. “It’s longer than most commercials and aspires to feature-quality images.”

From the outset, “Dark Ride” was designed purely for online consumption, says Skinny co-founder Jonas Hallberg, although portions of the footage are being shown in cinemas to promote the website. Several agencies made pitches to Lexus to produce the film. The client went with Skinny’s idea for an interactive experience with strong game elements. “It’s garnering a lot of love in the online community,” Hallberg says.

Miranda, who has also shot more traditional spots for clients like Coca-Cola, Toyota and American Express, is happy to continue his commercial work even as he completes some “Tron” reshoots over the next weeks. “I’m still looking for a great movie,” he says. “A lot of bad scripts have come my way, and I don’t really need them because commercials keep me busy enough.”

Bookings & Signings:

Mirisch Agency signings: production designers John Kasarda (NBC’s “Lipstick Jungle”), Michael Paul Clausen (TNT’s “The Closer”) and Cary White (NBC’s “Friday Night Lights”); vfx supervisor Karen Murphy (“The Wolfman”); and editor Tod Feuerman (ABC’s “Boston’s Finest”).

Gersh bookings: costume designers Vicki Farrell on Comedy Central’s “Big Lake,” Frank Fleming on Marc Forster’s “Machine Gun Preacher,” Susan Matheson on Craig Gillespie’s “Fright Night,” and Peggy Schnitzer on Showtime’s “Californication”

The Jacob & Kole Agency has booked d.p. Byron Shah on Joe Nussbaum’s “Prom.”

Montana Artists has signed UPM Wendy Williams (“Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief”) and d.p. Michael Mayers (“The West Wing”). Agency has booked d.p.s Thomas Yatsko on Fox’s “Fringe,” Attila Szalay on Lifetime’s “Bond of Silence,” David Miller on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” Steve Bernstein on Katherine Starr’s “Material Lies,” Bing Sokolsky on CBS’ “Criminal Minds” spinoff, Randall Platt on CW’s “Smallville,” and 2nd unit d.p. Igor Meglic on Justin Lin’s “Fast Five.”

Montana has also booked production designers Kenneth Hardy on NBC’s “Law & Order: Los Angeles,” Doug Meerdink on NBC’s “Undercovers,” Eric Fraser on Lifteime’s “Bond of Silence,” Sandy Cochrane on Lifetime’s “The 19th Wife,” Carey Meyer on NBC’s “Chase,” Steven Wolff on ABC’s “Body of Proof” and Ruth Ammon on CBS’ “Criminal Minds” spinoff.

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