Audionamix – 7.1.20

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 and PR firm with offices in Nashville and Memphis — where a creative team, including art director Jason Allen Lee, proposed using 3D animation instead of video to accomplish their goals.


Jason Lee

When the clients signed off on the creative concept and 3D animation approach, Lee created Rocky Elements: Own the Elements, a promotional video clip, primarily using LightWave 11 3D animation software, a bit of Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere Pro for the edit.

“The video is meant to have a dramatic cinematic look and feel even though it was actually produced entirely within the 3D environment,” explains Lee. “But 3D animation gives you far more creative control over the visual elements than you could ever get by shooting video. Even with a lot of sophisticated camera equipment and rigs, the production style is never going to be as dynamic as 3D and it will be far more expensive to produce. 3D animation lets you move a virtual camera wherever you want and illustrate subtle product features in a way you just can’t do by shooting video.”

The 2:38-minute video takes viewers on a slow motion virtual ride through a dark, empty warehouse space up to and then passed four big-screen displays playing videos of work scenes involving wood, block, steel or dirt, respectively. Strategically placed studio light panels illuminate the screens for heightened effect.

Over the drumbeat of the music track, the narrator explains, “If you work with wood, block, steel or dirt, each job has its own rules and its own tools. And now they have their own boots. Introducing Rocky Elements, trade-specific boots specially designed to work in your work elements. Own Your Job; Own Your Skills; Own the Elements…” The virtual camera then goes through a fifth screen displaying the product name and logo as it splits apart to reveal the four boot styles on table stands lit by two studio light panels.

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As the virtual camera moves to extreme close-ups of the boots, viewers see the photorealistic details of the leather, the stitching, laces and other features. One by one the boots lift up off the table to reveal the non-slip traction of their soles. The boots then seamlessly separate into their various components to show how the sole, in sole, padding and leather uppers are constructed. While in pieces, the boot slowly spins around and then the pieces come back together into an intact boot that lands back on the table stand.

“That extreme close-up of the boot — separating into its component parts and turning — is something we can do relatively easily and cost-effectively in the 3D environment,” says Lee. “And LightWave gives artists all the tools necessary to model, light, choreograph, animate and render the visual elements with photorealistic precision.”

“You can take a simple box and make it look realistic just by the way you light the object,” he says. “3D lighting and specularity — the sheen of lighting on surfaces — are critical to realistically integrating foreground objects with their surroundings.”

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Getting Real
Lee’s passion for creating photorealistic interiors and objects is evident in the Rocky Elements animation, including textures and surfaces like leather, wood, brick and metal that are subtly or transparently used for surfaces like the big screen displays and top of the metal table stands. Both were created in LightWave’s Modeler. Each screen is made of the material or element represented, for example, wood beams for woodwork and a brick wall for block. For leather textures, Lee captured leather textures as image maps, or created them from scratch using procedural textures, or a combination of both.

“It was fun to light the dark warehouse space because it resulted in a lot of strong, stark contrasts. I like to start from zero light — completely black — and then add one light at a time,” explains Lee. “When I’m happy with that, I add additional lights — such as area lights, spot lights and highlights — and continually tweak the values. I also moved lights around to experiment with the specularity and glossiness to see how much sheen I wanted on the rubber and leather surfaces. You don’t need a lot of CG lighting to create something that looks realistic so I keep the lighting as simple and basic as possible.”

Lee relied heavily on the VPR (Viewport Renderer) rendering preview tool in LightWave to see how his creative work and modifications would look when fully rendered. The VPR let him experiment and decide exactly how the scene should look before committing to the time-consuming rendering process.


LightWave’s Instancing feature offered significant time savings for a scene where one of the boots stomps down on a piece of wood so hard that wood shavings fly up in the air. Instancing enabled Lee to quickly clone a few shavings into many very efficiently. He also used particle effects in After Effects to add a smoky depth as well as dust and dirt to many of the video’s scenes.

Starting Early
Prior to joining Sullivan Branding, Lee honed his CG lighting and photorealistic modeling skills while working for Paradigm Marketing and Creative, a 3D firm in Memphis, where he focused on 3D CG architectural visualizations for the firm’s construction trades clients. His boss at Paradigm had become aware of Lee after the young artist online-posted a photorealistic rendering he had done of his living room at home — a project he did as a high school senior using LightWave with only 128MB of RAM. Lee taught himself LightWave by “playing around with it” at the age of 18 and in a relatively short time, developed his 3D animation skills to a professional level.

When Lee moved from Paradigm to Sullivan Branding — whose client list includes Hilton, Embassy Suites, the University of Tennessee, Dickel Distillery, Singer Sewing Machines and the Tennessee Departments of Transportation and Tourism — he was quickly able to broaden his 3D animation skills.

The Rocky Elements video is one of several similar 3D animated videos that Lee has created for Rocky Outdoor Gear, including the Rocky Mountain Gamechanger Hunting boot, as well as one for the Zero Drag Boot Collection from Georgia Boot Company.

Claudia Kienzle is a long-time industry reporter focusing on the broadcast and entertainment industries.


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