New York visual effects studio Guava recently completed work on a compelling spot created by ad agency Lowe New York for GMC. Directed by Sean Thonson of production company MJZ and highlighting the automakers extremely well-received new Acadia sport utility vehicle, the spot utilizes imaginative use of 3D text to make the vehicle s positive reviews a palpably physical part of the environment through which it travels.
The spot brought together the Lowe New York team of Creative Director/Art Director Gordon Bennett, Creative Director/Copywriter Bruce Hopman, and Producer Michael Pelham, with the Guava team of VFX producer Janine Bottazzi, VFX Supervisor/Lead Artist Alex Catchpoole, and 3D Technical Director Adrian Graham. Sister company Nice Shoes completed the transfer.
“When we challenged them, Guava found ways to work out our design issues,” says Pelham. “They set realistic expectations and created a collaborative environment. With enthusiasm to produce something dynamic, they embraced an idea that could have become a bland type treatment execution and made it great.”
Opening near an apartment window, the spot begins with a gust of wind magically blowing the letters from a magazine through the open window. Switching to the city street outside, the Acadia turns a corner and passes a newsstand, trailing 3D letters in its wake. As the news vendor watches the vehicle pass, the trailing letters bounce off of him and his wares, before forming one of the laudatory reviews.
As the Acadia appears at the far end of a country road, a series of colorful roadside mailboxes emit more 3D text which, in turn, assemble themselves into another celebratory sound byte before the vehicle runs through them, scattering them to the four winds. And the quotations just keep on coming, briefly forming in the Acadia s slipstream before dispersing once more.
“It was definitely exciting to be involved so early in the process,” admits Catchpoole. “As we brainstormed, we grew more and more determined to make the type a physical entity in the world; to have it realistically collide with people and physical objects. Our initial idea turned into the scene with the news vendor, where the type washes over him and bounces off his head. There is a real sense of solidity, presence, and digital interaction. Sean then came up with the idea of the car actually driving through the type after it had emerged from the mailboxes. Thats a truly great moment in the spot.”
Indeed, the realism is striking. And, as today s visual effects artists know all-too-well, such 3D realism requires a great deal of effort and time. In order to minimize the latter, technical director Graham immediately started work on how to create workable, realistic letters in an efficient manner.
“Even before we had approval on what the quotes would actually say, we started working on a technique to streamline the process,” he explains. “Using Autodesk Maya, we created a set of tools that would allow arbitrary blocks of text to attach themselves to a 3D particle simulation. We wanted these particles to either be random strings flying through the air, or to be in a fixed line, but they always had to be moving, never static. We ended up with a library of character sets in Adobe Illustrator consisting of about 10 different fonts. Our custom tools were able to read this library, giving us the ability to change the font or the quote at the client’s every whim. Once changed, the simulation would then regenerate the quote in the requested font, and we didn t have to start from scratch. We were able to make changes in minutes instead of days.”
Having the technique set up so early in the process was a tremendous help, according to Catchpoole:
“The utility was extremely helpful,” he says. “When I tried to bring some scenes into Flame and integrate it into the backgrounds, there were instances when things were too busy for the type to be truly clear. We needed it to be a heavier weight. Sometimes screen space was limited and we needed a more condensed font. With the help of that set of tools, I could go to the client and suggest important changes, without worrying about added grief. Changes at the eleventh hour are particularly problematic in 3D, because you usually have to do everything over. We didn t have that problem this time.”
In the final analysis, however, both Catchpoole and Graham count a generous timeline and a smooth collaborative process for the success of the spot:
“Thanks to a fairly relaxed timeline, we were able to polish things the way we wanted to,” says Catchpoole. “We went back and forth a lot with the client about the character of the letters, determining their exact nature. That ended up with some wonderfully nuanced emotive qualities. The letters are actual characters in the spot, and they tell a great story. Sean was a great help there; he was instrumental in pushing the shots to looking real and present, and truly sharing the spot with the Acadia.”
Drawing animators, producers, designers, 3D and vfx artists from a global pool, New York-based visual effects company Guava is dedicated to making imagery for commercials and other media, such as music videos, film, and art installations, including work in the permanent collection of MOMA .
Agency: Lowe Worldwide
Producer: Michael Pelham
CD/AD: Gordon Bennett
CD/CW: Bruce Hopman
Prod. Co: MJZ
Director: Sean Thonson
Exec. Producer: Jeff Scruton
Producer: Rita LeRoux
Edit. Co: One Division
Exec. Producer: Susan Shipman
Editor: Zena Sfeir
Post Production: Nice Shoes
Colorist: Chris Ryan
Visual Effects Co: Guava
VFX Producer: Janine Bottazzi
VFX Supervisor/Lead Artist: Alex Catchpoole
Designer: Jay Sienkwicz
3D Technical Director: Adrian Graham
3D Animator: Spyro Serbos
3D Animator: Jim Collins
3D Producer: Steve Giangrasso