Framestore is Virtual Architect for Macy’s Store

Framestore NY was a first port of call for the J. Walter Thompson agency and its Oscar-winning team headed by director Barry Levinson with cinematographer Bob Richardson. The creative group asked Framestore NY to act as a virtual architect and limitlessly extend the set to create the look of a vast and glowing retail environment.

With the aim of re-energizing the legendary Macy’s brand, the lively, comedy-driven campaign features a spirited rush to put on a great show for Macy’s customers. From the start, a Framestore NY visual style was locked in to highlight exclusive star designers including Martha Stewart, Mark Ecko, Russell Simmons, Tommy Hilfiger, and Kenneth Cole as well as celebrity brands such as Sean Combs, Jessica Simpson, Usher, and Donald Trump.

The crane shot for the opening and end shots of the Macy’s spots had to be transparent and allow Levinson and Richardson as much creative freedom as possible while shooting. The practical set of the atrium was built having a ground floor and mezzanine floor (that was suspended) but extending only 16 feet deep. To create the vast Macy’s store that existed in the minds of Levinson and the agency creatives, the set had to tracked and extended by the team at Framestore NY. In addition, the designer boutiques existed on a 60X60 set, with no walls or ceilings. Framestore’s challenge was to integrate these areas in a continuous seamless visual, giving the viewer the sense of being inside the store.

“Barry Levinson’s team wanted Macy’s to appear as a grand store that was never-ending,” says Framestore NY senior producer Laney Gradus. “Framestore was selected to bring the concept to life.”

This was done via 3D set extension, as virtually everything beyond the small practical onstage set was built in CGI to look real. 3D Technical Director Jenny Bichsel pointed out, “Everything beyond 10 feet above ground level to the mezzanine was nonexistent and there were no walls anywhere. Virtually everything beyond the basic set had to be built in 3D.”

Lead Flame Artist Maryanne Butler says, “It was important to give Barry and Bob unrestricted freedom to shoot on set. That required more work from our end but it was the most vital work of all.” Framestore NY collaborated in-depth with Levinson during the filming and took extensive visual notes on display cabinets, the designer areas and the set itself.

Bichsel continues, “Vast amounts of reference photography were taken. We built and designed our own detailed set in 3D and extended it to what appeared to be at least two hundred meters beyond the physical set.”

All told the Macy’s spots took two full months for Framestore NY to wrap.
Elemental duties included deep prep into 3D tracking (Matchmover Pro) matched to onset camera action. Preliminary texturing was done in Adobe Photoshop. Several weeks of production focused on modeling, final texturing, and lighting (Autodesk Maya) of a vast library of Macy’s objects that included complex walls, displays, furniture, mannequins, racks, and track lights. Equally important was the 3D art direction led by Bischel.

In the end, the Framestore NY visual stamp fills every spot in the Macy’s campaign and is basic to its success. But it’s not the kind of vital work that calls attention to itself. In fact, Framestore NY’s many achievements were invisible.

Such “invisible” results are rare praise and a sign of a task well executed within the visual effects trade. Butler says, “When people look at our visual effects work and say things like ‘what did you do’? It’s the highest compliment that can be paid in our industry.”

Framestore CFC was formed in December 2001 through the union of two of the most creative and dynamic companies in the industry: FrameStore and The Computer Film Company (CFC). The company is now the largest visual effects and computer animation company in Europe, with over 30 years of combined experience in digital film and video technology.

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