Martian Labs Helps Digital Kitchen and Altoids Explode onto Screen

Martian Labs recently collaborated with production and design studio Digital Kitchen, to create a chocolate “atomic explosion” for Altoids’ latest spot entitled “Cloud.” The spot, which takes place in a liquid environment, was produced to promote Altoids’ new chocolate mints.

The fully cg spot opens with an Original Altoids tin free-falling into a rich ocean of chocolate. The calm before the storm quickly erupts into a chocolate mushroom cloud that eventually showers rich dark chocolate onto an emerging Chocolate Altoids tin ending with the tagline “Curious?”

‘We had four weeks to create a fully cg environment and we knew that Martian Labs were expert water and fluid creators so it seemed to be a great collaborative fit’ said Kent Smith, Executive Producer at Digital Kitchen. ‘We found the process to be streamlined and worked perfectly for our needs.”

To create the dynamics of the chocolate ocean for the opening shots, Martian Labs used several techniques in conjunction. The base geometry was generated using Houdini 9’s beta Fluid Solver. ‘The fluid solver was surprisingly easy to use and quick to make changes in,” remarked Brian Knudson, cg artist at Martian Labs. ‘Since it works right inside Houdini, our existing tools worked well with it and changes could be more precise since we did not have to address errors from the importing/exporting of files.’ Building upon the base mesh generated from the fluid solver, Martian Labs used a mix of custom VEX operators and proprietary plug-ins to smooth out the motion and time the action precisely to Digital Kitchen’s specifications.

For the chocolate mushroom cloud, Digital Kitchen wanted an ominous but not too scary simulation of a nuclear blast and supplied Martian Labs with many visual references for the explosion, including clips from classic cartoons and archival footage of nuclear blasts. ‘We wanted to create an explosion that was a bit playful, but kept that edgy ‘Altoids’ sense of humor. The look and behavior of the chocolate cloud had to hit just the right note between realism and caricature’ said Camm Rowland, the Creative Lead from Digital Kitchen. Martian Labs artists worked closely with Rowland to create that balance.

‘The techniques used to generate the cloud were fairly low-tech,’ commented Ivan DeWolf, lead artist and founder of Martian Labs. ‘We avoided the lengthy simulation time , difficulties of control and lack of high-frequency detail with fluid solvers by instead writing animated procedural mesh displacements in VEX, a Houdini shading language. This gave us an analytical solution that was completely controllable and highly art directable.’

Since schedule was so tight, Martian Labs offloaded deformations into geometry instead of displacing the geometry at render time. This allowed Digital Kitchen the opportunity to add new angles and camera locations in the last days of the production, including extreme close-ups, without worrying about the displacement bounds.

The exact look and feel of the dark chocolate ocean in the final product shot was achieved with a proprietary implementation of Jerry Tessendorf’s Iwave algorithm. VEX coding and proprietary tools were used to create the ripples, chocolate raindrops, and a hand-built chocolate coating that rolls off the tin, necking smoothly to the chocolate oceans’ surface. Product lighting was done in Houdini by cg artist Stu Mintz.

All elements were rendered in Houdini’s Mantra, using custom shaders and delivered to Digital Kitchen for final compositing. “We used deep rasters to deliver 13 layers to the compositing artists at Digital Kitchen for final sweetening. It is always vital to allow for the compositors to have as many different layers as possible to dial in the exact look across all shots,” stated Dewolf.

“Constant changes from art direction — even up to the last minute — were possible due to the resourceful and creative ways the artists at Martian Labs had originally set up each shot.” stated Sara Lee, Executive Producer at Martian Labs. ‘It was a lot of fun and a pleasure to collaborate with a creative design powerhouse such as Digital Kitchen.’

Martian Labs:
CG Lead: Ivan DeWolf
CG Artists: Brian Knudson, Stu Mintz
VFX Producer/EP: Sara Lee

Digital Kitchen:
Executive Producer: Kent Smith, Tom Leonard
Producers: Erica Rangel
Creative Lead: Camm Rowland
2D Artists: Noah Conopask, Jeremiah Moorehead, Daniel Pernikof, Luke Choi 3D Artists: Kenji Yamashita

About Martian Labs
Martian Labs is a Hollywood-based visual effects and custom software company specializing in creating photoreal effects of natural phenomenon (dust clouds, water surfaces, explosions, smoke), particle dynamics and procedural animation for commercials, feature film and television. The company has recently created complex CG elements for BlackBox Digital, Digital Kitchen, Furious FX, MacGuff, Method Studios, Sea Level Venice and Visual Goodness. Martian Labs’ ocean surface simulator, Hydrous Tools, was recently used in Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima and Stealth.

About Digital Kitchen
Digital Kitchen is a full service production design firm. We fuse live-action, graphics and editorial to come up with powerful new ways to portray your story. Major brands, TV networks and advertising agencies call upon our director/designers to navigate the confluence of branding and entertainment.

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