The Mill Create GE Dragon & Discus for Olympics

The Mill, BBDO and Traktor teamed up to create “Dragon” and “Discus” GE spots which were debuted during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic GAmes. In the impressive spot titled “Dragon” the team first began with referencing Chinese dragons in order to develop the most authentic and striking 3D design.

‘The Asian dragons that we are used to seeing are often represented as drawings, on 2D planes, and implementing this as a 3D realistic creature proved to be a challenge,’ shares Yann Mabille who led the 3D team. He adds, ‘We spent a good amount of time creating the scales and finding a nice mix of reptilian patterns that could read as a Chinese dragon while being realistic.’

Zbrush, software that allows an artist to sculpt details by painting details on a surface in real-time, was used to create the intense details, especially in the face. While a muscle system was created for the body and the face using Maya muscles.

According to Mabille, ‘this system allowed us to have realistic muscle structure and behavior under the surface of the body. It really adds another layer of realism to the 3D character as it allows the skin to slide on top of muscle volumes.’

Maya nCloth was also used to simulate the beard animation, as well as other flexible details on the dragon like the whiskers, the tail and the thin skin between the spikes on the back. The entire project was animated in Maya, but rendered in XSI.

VFX Supervisor Alex Lovejoy, who led the 2D/Flame team, attended the shoot. While on location in a practical cave, a flamethrower was shot in the environment in order to receive the most authentic looking flames, as well as natural glows and flickers which were captured on the floor of the cave while shooting the action.

Once the flamethrower was removed from the live action plate, the flames were composited into the position of the CG dragon action. In addition, a dragon head on a 14 foot pool was used for proper eye line and framing while shooting. Twigs, dust and grass were also shot in the cave while being thrown up with a large fork. Lovejoy later added these elements into the scene where the dragon eats from the pile, further embedding and integrating him with the action. Practical pipes were shot for the foreground, though background distance required a CG pipe extension. Steam elements were also later added in Flame.

Like ‘Dragon,’ ‘Discus’ was an incredible undertaking within the given time frame. It was as a consequence of the team size, and pure talent, that The Mill could accomplish the task at hand.

Following the main two day shoot, a third day was spent shooting background plates on both 35mm and digital stills. With Andrew Proctor leading the 3D team, they first built CG hillsides and buildings in the background which established the environment and geography in the opening wide shot. The designs were later finessed using matte painting techniques.

Dan Williams, who led the 2D team shares, “we used the master wide shot as a reference to create the backgrounds of all the following scenes.” In addition to setting the look, the 3D team also animated the discus flying and populated almost every background scene with digital people using Massive. In order to achieve the populated crowd in the mid-foregrounds, the 2D team tiled together multiple live action plates of the extras that were shot in various areas of one static shot.

An impressive 13 foot Parthenon model was created by Weta in New Zealand.The facade columns collapse practically while the rest of the building destruction was meticulously created in CG by The Mill. The advantage of shooting the miniature is that what is captured on film is exactly what is happening! Dust and debris are created naturally and bits break away from the columns and fall to the ground realistically. In Flame, Williams and his team seamlessly composited the multiple layers together and added in layers of atmosphere to give the scenes additional depth.

About The Mill
The Mill is a world-leading visual effects company with bases in London, New York and Los Angeles. In 2007, industry magazine ?‚àö√ë‚àö‚â§Shots’s named The Mill ‘the most-awarded VFX company in the world’ and in March 2008 The Mill was awarded the BTAA (British Television Advertising Awards) Fellowship award for ‘outstanding contribution to the production of commercials’. The Mill has built relationships with the industry finest directors including Chris Cunningham, Frank Budgen, Fredrik Bond, Ringan Ledwidge and Michel Gondry.


Product: GE
Titles: Discus and Dragon
Agency: BBDO NY
Executive Creative Directo EVP: Don Schenider
Art Director: Ted Shaine
Copywriter: Tom Darbyshire
Director of TV Production EVP: Regina Ebel
Producer: Filmena Lovecchio
Assistant Producer: Regina Iannuzzi
Director: Traktor
Producer: Rani Melendez
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