NBCUni 7.26

Framestore launches live-action cat into CG universe

For agency VCCP and 02, a UK-based provider of mobile phones, mobile broadband and sim-only plans, London’s Framestore put a real cat into a CG spacesuit and sent him out into a completely computer-generated universe.

The viewer first sees a planet floating in deep blue space. That transitions to a close-up of the adventurous kitty; his head is in a helmet. The cat then floats off into space as a voiceover describes O2’s sim-only offerings while a satellite made up of sim cards are displayed. We get another view of the floating cat as a 4G “comet” logo whizzes by him. You can watch the Simplicity spot here.

“We treated the project very much like Gravity,” says the spot’s director, Framestore‘s Mike McGee, “creating a previs with The Third Floor and using Framestore’s art department to concept the key moments and how a cat would actually look in a spacesuit.”

“It was an ambitious project to launch our cat into outer space, and we knew there was no one better than Framestore to help us make it a reality,” reports VCCP creative director Jim Capp.

On set McGee and producer David Hay had to shoot live action that would fit what they had prevised. The cat, a Maine Coon called Jonesy, was given a little 3D-printed space helmet in order to cast the right shadows across his face and placed on a turn table so we could move him smoothly.

“We had prevised the cat to do this upside down motion, as if he’s falling off into the distance,” says CG supervisor Jay Khan. “Obviously we couldn’t shoot that, so we reverse-engineered the camera moves so that the he was doing as little as possible and the camera would compensate for that in its movement.”

The cat’s face is the only live-action element in the commercial, so Framestore needed to create his suit, the planets, nebula and comets with a combination of matte paintings, 2D elements and a lot of 3D. All of this was given a stylized look. “There was a conscious decision not to go photoreal and to lean slightly more towards the hyper-real. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, so once we finished we went to town with lens flares,” adds Khan.

The cat plates were tracked, stabilized and composited into the CG helmet and suit, which were built from scratch. The suit was then layered up with the HUD, the thrusters and reflection on the glass, while the studio animated displacement on top of the material to gave a gradual creasing effect.

Maya was used for the 3D, with Houdini employed for effects. Zbrush and Mudbox were called on for modeling, and compositing was via Nuke.

The studio strategically placed debris from a planet to form the word ‘Priority.’ Framestore’s team also had to animate asteroid belts in a way that is reminiscent of a Wi-Fi symbol, while they created a pyro simulation for the 4G comet to give it a fluid-like trail to convey the speed.

“The satellite made of sim cards was a big modeling task and we needed to get the size right so you could see what they are, while being small enough to give you a sense of the satellite’s huge scale,” explains Khan. “We went into a really high level of detail for the whole ad, but it’s all about the cat. We’re all really proud of it, with the end shot being a particular favorite. Vanessa DuQuesnay did a beautiful job of compositing the cat-suits and added a real sense of realism to the 3D renders.”


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