Tag Archives: CG

Aardman creates short film, struts its stuff

By Randi Altman

All creative studios strive for creative ways to show off their talent and offerings, and London-based Aardman is no exception. Famous for its stop-motion animation work (remember the Wallace and Gromit films?), this studio now provides so much more, including live-action, CG, 2D animation and character creation.

Danny Capozzi

In order to help hammer home all of their offerings, and in hopes of breaking that stop-motion stereotype, Aardman has created a satirical short film, called Visualize This, depicting a conference call between a production company and an advertising agency, giving the studio the ability to show off the range of solutions they can provide for clients. Each time the fictional client suggests something, that visual pops up on the screen, whether it’s adding graffiti to a snail’s shell or textured type or making a giant monster out of CG cardboard boxes.

We reached out to Aardman’s Danny Capozzi, who directed the short, to find out more about this project and the studio in general.

How did the idea for this short come about?
I felt that the idea of making a film based on a conference call was something that would resonate with a lot of people in any creative industry. The continuous spit balling of ideas and suggestions would make a great platform to demonstrate a lot of different styles that myself and Aardman can produce. Aardman is well known for its high level of stop-motion/Claymation work, but we do CGI, live action and 2D just as well. We also create brand new ways of animating by combining styles and techniques.

Why was now the right time to do this?
I think we are living in a time of uncertainty, and this film really expresses that. We do a lot of procrastinating. We have the luxury to change our minds, our tastes and our styles every two minutes. With so much choice of everything at our fingertips we can no longer make quick decisions and stick to them. There’s always that sense of “I love this… it’s perfect, but what if there’s something better?” I think Visualize This sums it up.

You guys work with agencies and directly with brands — how would you break that up percentage wise?
The large majority of our advertising work still comes through agencies, although we are increasingly doing one-off projects for clients who seek us out for our storytelling and characters. It’s hard to give a percentage on it because the one-offs vary so much in size that they can skew the numbers and give the wrong impression. More often than not, they aren’t advertising projects either and tend to fall into the realm of short films for organizations, which can be either charities, museums or visitor attractions, or even mass participation arts projects and events.

Can you talk about making the short? Your workflow?
When I first pitched the idea to our executive producer Heather Wright, she immediately loved the idea. After a bit of tweaking on the script and the pace of the dialogue we soon went into production. The film was achieved during some down time from commercial productions and took about 14 weeks on and off over several months.

What tools did you call on?
We used a large variety of techniques CGI, stop-motion, 2D, live action, timelapse photography and greenscreen. Compositing and CG was via Maya, Houdini and Nuke software. We used HDRI (High Dynamic Range Images). We also used Adobe’s After Effects, Premiere, Photoshop, and Illustrator, along with clay sculpting, model making and blood, sweat and, of course, some tears.

What was the most complicated shot?
The glossy black oil shot. This could have been done in CGI with a very good team of modelers and lighters and compositors, but I wanted to achieve this in-camera.

Firstly, I secretly stole some of my son Vinny’s toys away to Aardman’s model-making workshop and spray painted them black. Sorry Vinny! I hot glued the black toys onto a black board (huge mistake!), you’ll see why later. Then I cleared Asda out of cheap cooking oil — 72 litres of the greasy stuff. I mixed it with black oil paint and poured it into a casket.

We then rigged the board of toys to a motion control rig. This would act as the winch to raise the toys out of the black oily soup. Another motion control was rigged to do the panning shot with the camera attached to it. This way we get a nice up and across motion in-camera.

We lowered the board of toys into the black soup and the cables that held it up sagged and released the board of toys. Noooooo! I watched them sink. Then to add insult to injury, the hot glue gave way and the toys floated up. How do you glue something to an oily surface?? You don’t! You use screws. After much tinkering it was ready to be submerged again. After a couple of passes, it worked. I just love the way the natural glossy highlights move over the objects. All well worth doing in-camera for real, and so much more rewarding.

What sort of response has it received?
I’m delighted. It has really travelled since we launched a couple of weeks ago, and it’s fantastic to keep seeing it pop up in my news feed on various social media sites! I think we are on over 20,000 YouTube views and 40,000 odd views on Facebook.

The Famous Grouse

Putting The Famous Grouse into CG environs for holiday spots

By Randi Altman

Flaunt Productions in Glasgow teamed up with the Leith Agency on a two-spot campaign for the Scottish blended whisky brand, The Famous Grouse. Heading the effort was director Ben Craig and Flaunt’s head of lighting, Jon Neill — they were tasked with putting the iconic grouse into a CG version of his natural environment for these holiday-themed ads.

The first spot, Perfectly Balanced, was released earlier this month and takes the viewer on a flight through the Scottish Highlands to reveal the Grouse with his chest puffed out and feeling proud of his environment. The second commercial, called Smooth, which aired the week of Black Friday, starts as the camera spins through the snowy Scottish Highlands.

flauntTo create the cinematic photoreal landscape, Neill and some of the team shot drone footage in Glencoe, which allowed real-life textures to be applied to the CG world.

In order to create a realistic grouse, Flaunt applied a feather system based on a fur and procedural shader that gave on organic look to the model. When it came to movement of the body and wing feathers, specific movements had to be animated to give a sense of realistic movement and the personality that is associated with the Famous Grouse.

We reached out to executive producer Andrew Pearce about the project and its workflow…

Photo:Mike Scott

Andrew Pearce

How early did you get involved in the project? Was the agency up for suggestions, or did they already have a specific plan locked in?
Director Ben Craig worked with Flaunt on a creative treatment, based on scripts from The Leith Agency. Their central idea was to bring the much-loved Grouse into his home environment: the epic, sweeping Scottish Highlands. Previously, all ads had been set against an infinite white background. With that in mind, we worked collaboratively with the agency to bring the ads to life.

The first stage after treatment would normally be storyboard. However, because our camera move was so extreme, we felt a 2D animatic would be misleading, so we proceeded straight to previs.

You used drone footage for the Grouse’s environment. How did you go about turning it into CG?
We drove up to the Glencoe ski resort and jumped onto the ski lift to get as high as possible. After a 30-minute walk, we attached a camera to the drone and sent it up into the sky — 360 overlapping stills were taken at three different heights.

We merged the images together to create a 360-panorama and applied this to geometry in Autodesk Maya. From there we rendered out the shot with this background, making creative decisions on what to add or take away. Next, we made simple 3D hills on which to project the images, thus providing parallax and a three-dimensional feel.

Was Maya your main animation software? Did you write your own particle systems off of that? What other tools were used?
Maya was used for animation, Side Effects Houdini for FX, Houdini Mantra for lighting and Nuke for compositing. We also had to write a feather system for the Grouse, which worked inside Houdini.

Can you talk about giving the Grouse personality in the CG world? What about facial (or beak) expressions, and his eyes and movements?
For these adverts, the Grouse was in a real-world environment. With that in mind, we didn’t want to go over the top with cartoony animation. The realism of the Grouse asset wouldn’t support that style, but we needed to give the Grouse some character beyond that of a real one.

Real grouse faces don’t move that much, and we didn’t want to change the anatomy too much. So we used the eyebrows and eyes as much as we could. Our rig also enabled us to exaggerate the shape of the eyes and eyebrows beyond the norm. These subtle anatomical exaggerations were enough for us to push the facial animation enough to engage the viewer.

When it came to the motions of the Grouse, we had to tread a fine line between realistic and anthropomorphic — fans of this brand love how it has moved in previous campaigns. We created various versions of all the actions as we honed in on the motion we wanted. The Grouse’s wink at the end of one of the adverts was the product of many iterations, having explored head tilts, nods, lifts, raised eyebrows and so on.

Before we leave you, anything you would like to add?
We had to strike a balance between a look that was both realistic and magical. This was partly achieved by mashing up some of the most incredible landscapes in Scotland. To augment the magical feel, we added lens flares and camera lens aberrations in the compositing. Subtle pollen particles were also added to give a sense of space as we flew through the environment.

Check out the making of the video here.

Super Hero music video gets Aardman Nathan Love treatment

The Aardman Nathan Love animation studio recently finished design and animation work on director Kris Merc’s music video for Super Hero, the leadoff single from Kool Keith’s new album Feature Magnetic that is a collaboration with MF Doom.

The video starts with a variety of hypnotic imagery, from eye charts to kaleidoscopic wheels, with Doom’s iconic, ever-rotating mask as its centerpiece.

“Being a huge fan of both Kool Keith and MF Doom for years, and knowing our studio had capacity to help Kris out, we couldn’t not get involved,” recalls Aardman Nathan Love (ANL) founder/executive creative director Joe Burrascano. “Kris was able to let his imagination run wild. ANL’s team of designers, 3D artists and technical directors gave him the support he needed to help shape his vision and make the final piece as strong and unique as possible.”

According to Merc, who’s helmed notable projects from music videos for hip-hop pioneers De La Soul to spots for HTC during his lengthy career, the Super Hero production afforded him the space to realize his vision of bending and manipulating pop aesthetics to create something altogether mysterious and otherworldly. “I wanted to capture something that felt like a visual pop travesty,” explains the director. “I wanted it to visually speak to the legacy of the artists, and Afrofuturism mixed with comic book concepts. I’m a fan of the unseen, and I was obsessed with the idea of using Doom’s mask and the iconography as a centralized point – as if time and space converged around these strange, sometimes magical tableaus and we were witnessing an ascension.”

To help develop his concepts, Merc worked closely with Aardman Nathan Love in several key stages of production from the idea and design stage to technical aspects like compositing and rendering. “Our specialty lies mainly in CG character animation work, which typically involves a lot of careful planning and development work up front,” adds ANL CG director Eric Cunha. “Kris has a very organic process, and is constantly finding inspiration for new and exciting ideas. The biggest challenge we faced was being able to respond to this constant flow of new ideas, and facilitate the growth of the piece. In the end, it was an exciting new challenge that pushed us to develop a new way of working that resulted in an amazing, visually fresh and creative piece of work.”

Zbrush was used to create some of the assets, and Autodesk Maya was Aardman Nathan Love’s main animation tool. Most of the rendering was done in Maxwell, aside of two or so shots that were done in Arnold.

Black Forest Gummy Bears get CG treatment and own reality show

A lush green forest and colorful organic gummies — what’s not to love? Especially when these gummies are naughty! In a new “reality series” for Black Forest Organic Gummy Bears, these fat-free snack foods throw forks at each other’s heads, aren’t afraid to toss around a curse word or two, and like to go streaking (don’t worry, their gummy naked-bits are pixelated).

Ferrara Candy Company called on NYC-based Shuttlecraft and Chicago-based ad agency Tom, Dick & Harry, Co. to help bring the The Real Gummies of the Black Forest to life, The campaign, which combines CG and live action, debuted this month with a teaser and the first three 30-second episodes: Dinner, Enhancements and Streakers.

“Shuttlecraft really captured the aesthetic we were going for, in amazing detail,” says Bob Volkman, Tom, Dick & Harry, creative /partner. “These are bears of privilege and their chaise lounge chairs had to be certifiably Baker or forget it. They definitely put their snooty hats on when crafting our miniature Black Forest.”

Shuttlecraft, which specializes in detailed and refined animation and CG, jumped on the opportunity to help realize the crazy, fun and quirky shenanigans of the Organics.

“After reading the scripts, we immediately knew that Tom, Dick & Harry had developed a great hook and characters that are genuinely authentic and funny,” says Ronnie Koff, executive creative director of Shuttlecraft. “I mean, where else are you going to see gummy bears streaking? We also recognized that in order to bring their concept to life, we needed to create CG gummies that could move around and interact believably with each other, all while looking juicy and delicious.”

For the project, Shuttlecraft channeled their experience in creating photoreal food for such clients as Hershey’s, Yoplait and Kellogg’s. In the creation of the set, model-makers and puppeteers David Bell and Joe Scarpulla hand-molded and sculpted a 1/12-scale version of the Black Forest measuring over eight feet long. Shuttlecraft also used a 3D printer to create many remaining set elements as well.

They also called on Nuke, After Effects, ZBrush, Maya/Arnold, Cinema4D/Arnold and PF Track.

Once the forest and the bears were complete, Shuttlecraft seamlessly combined the CG elements with its live-action plates. Tom, Dick & Harry then hired voice actors to bring to life the stars of The Real Gummies of the Black Forest. It took two weeks for the set build and the shoot, with the entire process taking a total of eight weeks.

Tips on working practically with CG

Many recent big action films — Jurassic World, Tomorrowland, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Pacific Rim, to name a few — feature practical effects created by the team at 32Ten Studios  in San Rafael, California, in the space where Kerner Optical once was.

Practical effects add touches of reality to scenes created with CG. Over the years, artists at 32Ten Studios (@32tenstudios) have designed, built and occasionally blown up all sort of models and miniatures, as well as filmed environmental effects like fire, water, smoke or dust.

32Ten Studios’ COO/producer, Greg Maloney, is an industry veteran and ILM alum. He joined the storied VFX studio in 1989 doing line-up. “Basically, it was the task of the line-up person to create the film rolls and instructions for the optical printers,” he explains, adding that he transitioned to CG around 1992, starting as a compositor and then moving up to compositing supervisor. He left ILM in 2007 to work for Image-Movers Digital as a stereographer. When they closed, he and some colleagues started Stereobox. In 2011 he, along with his partners, established 32Ten Studios at the one-time location of Kerner Optical.

Greg Maloney with an Optimus Prime head, of course!

Greg Maloney (L) with an Optimus Prime head, of course!

So Maloney has a perfect mix of film, digital, CG and practical effects experience. Here he offers his perspective on what makes a successful practical-effects shoot — ensuring that the VFX team has what it needs to build a memorable scene. Enjoy…

Understand the Shot
One of the first things we do when we get a previs from the VFX supervisor is to look for exactly what the camera is going to see. Once we know that, we build and polish the parts that are going to show up on screen.

Do the Homework
Then we start mapping out the shot by getting detailed information. For instance, we’ll need to know how the camera moves during the shot, the scale of the shot, the camera’s speed, if it’s being shot on film or digitally, where the sun was during the original shoot and if we’re going to shoot in front of a bluescreen or a greenscreen. We’ll ask for the original plate so we can match the sun angles. Also, we lay every shot out using Autodesk Maya to make sure we have everything set up correctly when we film.

Ask Questions
We have on-going dialog with the VFX team to make sure we’re delivering the pieces that will work during their compositing sessions. Our ultimate goal is to make it look like the final image was recorded in a single camera, on a set, in one take.

32Ten's crew on Jurassic World shoot.

32Ten’s crew on Jurassic World shoot.

Practice, Practice, Practice
The beauty of practical, especially when we’re doing an explosion or something like that, is the sense of serendipity. We can control much of what happens, but there’s always something magical that happens that adds to the reality. That said, we don’t shoot anything without a ton of rehearsal. This way, the effects we’re shooting match what the VFX supervisor and director want for the scene.

Adding the Human Touch
We shoot a lot of extras in front of a greenscreen, which pushes a CG scene over the top. Our experience is that we need to be really organized with our schedule, making sure the actors are in wardrobe with make up applied and on the set right when we need them.

When I first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, the last scene when the clerk is pushing the Holy Grail through that warehouse, I wanted to go to that warehouse. It felt real because of that person with the cart. My first desk at ILM was directly in front of the matte painting of that warehouse. It was the first big “wow” of my career.

Ultimately, the benefit of using practical effects with CG is that practical elements adhere to the laws of gravity and nature. The effects look correct because they are real. We like to think that practical creates an emotional connection and experience.

That’s what we try to do on every shoot.

Review: Maxon Cinema 4D Studio R16

By Brady Betzel

It’s not every day that I need a full-fledged 3D application when editing in reality television, but when I do I call on 
Maxon’s Cinema 4D. The Cinema 4D Studio R16 release is chock full of features aimed at people like me who want to get in and get out of their 3D app without pulling out all of their hair.

I previously reviewed Cinema 4D Studio R15, and that is when I began to fall in love with just how easy it was becoming to build raytraced titles or grow grass with the click of my Wacom stylus. Now we are seeing the evolution from not just a standard 3D app but a motion graphics powerhouse that can be used to craft a powerful set of opening credits or seamlessly composite a beautiful flower vase using the new motion tracker all inside of Cinema 4D Studio R16.

I’ve grown up with Cinema 4D, so I may be a little partial to it, but luckily for me the great Continue reading

It’s all about the art, and the artist

Head of Maxon US on the importance of building a user community while developing tools.

By Paul Babb

When I first introduced Cinema 4D to the North American market in 1997, I wasn’t given much encouragement or hope for success from constituents. There were over a dozen 3D packages on the market and formidable market leaders in place. The channel was changing dramatically as resellers were scrambling to establish their Internet presence, and the concept of protected territories was being challenged and dissolved.

Most were overwhelmed with products to sell and apathetic to an unproven, or even a flashy, new kid on the block. One reseller even told me to my face I would be out of business in a year. So with little resources or support, and an already crowded market, I dove into the challenge of Continue reading

Blur creates CG mischief, heroics for Skylanders spots

Ad agency 72andSunny called on Blur Studio to create CG characters and environments for two new 30-second commercials promoting Activision’s Skylanders game. Blur‘s Jeff Fowler directed Inside the Trap and a Trapping Kaos. Both feature a mix of live-action and CG as well as a fight between good and evil. It took 30 artists less than two months to complete the segments for both spots.

Jeff Fowler

Jeff Fowler

According to Fowler, “Blur’s Skylanders project began with one of our CG supervisors coming to my desk and saying, ‘If we don’t do this commercial, my son will never speak to me again.’ Never ones to shatter the dreams of children, our production staff quickly figured out a plan to fit this project into a VERY busy month for us. Sometimes the craziest schedules yield the most rewarding results, and our entire team was extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish in six weeks.”

He continues, “Working with a tough little veggie warrior and a powerful super-dwarf armed with Traptanium-infused hammers spurred our creative energy to create something like none other. We had a blast bringing a little mayhem to the world of Skylanders, where we built a village and staged a cinematic battle scene between Gulper and Food Fight.”

“Both Blur and 72andSunny are built around collaborative cultures so we were all quick to jump in together, start laughing and shape where we wanted the project to go from the outset,” reports 72andSunny creative director Tim Wolfe. “It made for amazing sessions where everyone had a voice, egos were left at the door and we were all only interested in making the best video humanly possible.

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“The level of visual detail and character development Blur brought to the project was incredible. They took an already rich and fun world of Skylanders and turned up the volume helping us make something truly unique and ground-breaking for the category,” said Wolfe.

Human Worldwide provided the music and sound design, while Sound Mix Lime Studios supplied the mix.

Work boots get CG reboot thanks to Sullivan Branding

By Claudia Kienzle

With its Rocky Elements work boots about to hit the market, Ohio-based Rocky Outdoor Gear wanted a very visually dynamic product video to demonstrate the many intricacies and features of their new boot collection.

The key distinction is that the Rocky Elements product line is comprised of four trade-specific work boots designed for the unique rigors of working with wood, block, steel or dirt.

Rocky’s goal was to produce a cost-effective cinematic sales video that would dramatically convey how the design and craftsmanship of the four different boot styles benefit workers in those occupational environments.

Looking for ideas, they approached Sullivan Branding — a full-service advertising, marketing Continue reading

Rushes cooks up interactive kitchen experience for IKEA

The CG team at London’s Rushes created a range of kitchen designs for an interactive experience on IKEA’s website called The Truth About Kitchens. Each of the themed designs shows visitors information about how we spend time in our kitchens. Working closely with agency Mother and IKEA’s kitchen designers, Rushes created six kitchens that seamlessly transform into each other.

Animation for the project turned into an interesting logistical challenge for the studio. Each of the kitchens had a distinctive layout to animate in and out of, as if on a turntable. A looping animation takes over once one kitchen leaves and transforms into any of the other five kitchens that the user happens to choose.

ikea copy

To make this work the team implemented solutions involving matching the speeds and locations of the different kitchen cabinets for each sequence. Collisions between the kitchen cabinets in the transitions presented a problem, but that was solved by subtly animating parts of the kitchen toward or away from camera, allowing other cabinets to move in-between.

Lighting the kitchens presented a challenge; we needed to recreate the familiar IKEA aesthetic, which is so recognisable, and with all the cabinets and walls moving. The lighting also had to adapt to avoid overexposing areas of the set. Importantly, the lighting had to precisely match between each kitchen so there wasn’t a flicker between transitions.

Rushes (@RushesPost) used Autodesk’s Maya for 3D and The Foundry’s Nuke for compositing, both running on Intel based-PCs with Linux as the OS.

The final step was to encode and deliver the animated graphics to Wilderness, who developed the web front-end, as well as designing and animating the infographics over the top. Accomplishing such a complex build in a relatively short time, fast feedback and close collaboration was essential to the project, which can be seen here.

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In terms of collaboration, it was a combination of face to face at the early stages of the project to discuss logistics and the overall creative concept, and then followed up with a lot of phone calls and emailed PDFs to illustrate design briefs for kitchen design and prop layout.

“This was a super tricky project,” explains Mother producer Chris Lynd. “There were a lot of moving parts, both at the 3D and production, and the site development stages and the timing was incredibly tight. Andy Nicholas [director of CG], Norra Abdul Rahim[senior EP], [producer] Georgina Meirick [producer] and Simon Sanderson [freelance producer] made it all run like a well-oiled machine. Not only did they do an awesome job on the creating and animating each of the sets, the team had a fantastic technical grasp of how the output slotted into the interactive experience and really made that part of the process seamless. Literally seamless. It was an absolute pleasure to work with the team. They continually went over and above the call of duty and have an impossible amount of energy and enthusiasm and the work is fantastic.”

Additional Rushes credits include 3D artists David Drese, Nimesh Patel, John Hasted, Mark Woodcock, Andrea Scibetta, Craig Travis; Nuke artists Noel Harmes, Sarah Breakwell; and pipeline TD Ben De Luca.

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Mother’s head of digital is Tryone Hannick, and agency creatives on the piece were Nick Hallbery, David Colman.