With A Twist provided the VFX excitement for a new television spot in which liquid mercury bubbling out of a city street is used to introduce the latest innovation in cell phone technology. Conceived by edgy New York ad agency Taxi and directed by Three Legged Legs, the spot promotes Amp’sd Mobile which has been carving out a niche among young cell phone users with its high speed service, unique entertainment features and ultra-cool handsets.
The company new ad promotes those features in dramatic fashion as a wave of gold-toned mercury explodes out of a ribbon of asphalt. As shimmering globules slither along the pavement, images form in their surface, representing entertainment, sports, music and gaming features available through the Amp’sd service. Just as quickly as it burst apart, the liquid mercury reforms, but now it assumes the shape of Amp’sd customized Motorola Moto Q phone. A man, standing before a cityscape, raises the phone in the air as the voice-over announces, ‘It unlike any Q you’sve ever seen.’
With A Twist created the liquid VFX using the software tool Real Flow. Although artists based the look, texture and motion of the liquid on real-world mercury, they did so with a certain degree of artistic license. ‘The liquid is an actor in the spot, explained With A Twist VFX Supervisor David Burton. ‘The movement appears to be organic, but it is actually very carefully choreographed to tell a dramatic, visually engaging story?‚àö√ë‚àö√Üthe shooting angles, too, are intended to heighten the sense of mystery and drama.’
‘The software allowed us complete control over the animation?‚àö√ë‚àö√Üincluding the tension of the liquid, its fluidity and how it came together or broke apart,’ added Project Lead Frank Synowicz. ‘
Choreographing the liquid required a lot of experimentation with the liquid simulation software. ‘We ran a massive amount of simulations to get the right look and performance,’ Burton said. ‘We put our whole pipeline to the test. Every resource was dedicated to this project. We had to continually rerun the simulations to perfect the behavior and the choreography?‚àö√ë‚àö√Üand some simulations took two days to compute.’
‘We watched in awe as Frank rendered the sims,’ recalled With A Twist Executive Producer Pam Hammarlund. ‘For choreographing the liquid, he is the man.’
The lighting scheme used to illuminate the mercury and its environment was also highly complex. ‘We used three or four reflection environments,’ explained CG Supervisor Brandon Bartlett. ‘We were simultaneously reflecting three different worlds into the surface of the liquid. Each shot had a dozen or more layers for the liquid and a dozen more for the ground. The client wanted an orangish glow from the lighting source, but cooler reflections to give it a nice ?‚àö√ë‚àö‚â§push/pull, warm/cool’s feel.’ The end shot of the animation sequence, where the mercury reconstitutes itself as the Moto Q phone, involved some 30 layers and more than 100,000 individual particles. ‘
With A Twist also produced elements for the background environment, including the cracked, asphalt street that the mercury bursts through. ‘We shot reference photos of the asphalt outside the production company office,’ Bartlett said. ‘We repainted and remodeled it, and used displacement mattes to create different surfaces.’
For Burton and his team, it was gratifying to work on a project where the visual effects played a central storytelling role. ‘We worked collaboratively with the directors and also got to add a lot of our own creative input,’ he said. ‘It was a very satisfying project.’
Client: Amp’sd Mobile
Agency: Taxi, New York.
Production: Green Dot Films, Santa Monica, Calif. Three Legged Legs, directors.
VFX: With a Twist, Rochester Hills, Mich. and Venice, Calif. David Burton, VFX supervisor; Brandon Bartlett, CG supervisor; Frank Synowicz, project lead, Pam Hammarlund, executive producer; Paul LaFond, Ryan Romans, Matt Nowacki and Matt Hammarlund, CG artists; Chris Bloyer, matte painter; Kelly Brittingham, studio producer.