Working Towards a Higher Porpoise

Clouds is a new spot for British Airways. Created by Ed Edwards and Dave Masterman at BBH, and directed by Daniel Kleinman for Kleinman Productions, the spot is currently appearing in 30 and 40 second versions in markets that include the UK, the Middle East and Africa. Framestore CFC created the spot’s ethereal and lovely visual effects.

Clouds emphasises both the value and the customer care offered by BA, and it does this by showing the pleasure and wonder still inherent in the miracle of flight – pleasures available to the carefree, pampered BA customer. The spot starts with establishing shots of a BA jet speeding through and above a sea of clouds.

The clouds themselves are then transformed, becoming a school of dolphins that frolic around the plane. We then cut to a young child gazing out of the windows of the plane, and realize that we are seeing the clouds through his eyes. “We believe your holiday should start before you arrive. You’re our guest,” says the voiceover, going on to enumerate the ways that BA make this happen, while we go deeper into the boy’s fantasy, with the cloud-dolphins ‘submerging’ into a series of ‘aerial underwater’ shots. The spot concludes with a serene shot of the plane heading into a sunset.

VFX Supervisor William Bartlett supervised the project for Framestore CFC, attending the shoots and leading the Inferno work, while the CG cloud creatures themselves (and the jet seen in many of the shots) were created by a ten-person crew from the company’s 3D Commercials team, headed by CG Supervisor, Dominic Parker.

The one-day aerial shoot took place in March 2006, with the aim of capturing as much backplate material as possible. As is so often the case, it was not as straightforward as it sounds. Says William Bartlett, “We needed a plane from which hi-res images could be shot above the clouds. The only one like that in the UK could only support up to a 16mm camera, so we went to L.A. Unfortunately, that city lived up to its reputation for sunshine and blue skies on our shoot day. But we had good weather information, and so we headed north, cloud hunting. We ended up trolling some 1100 miles up the West Coast to find usable clouds, eventually landing in Seattle that evening.”

Bartlett also supervised three further days of shooting at Black Island studios, two for the aeroplane interiors, and one spent shooting overhead shots of dry ice and snapping high-speed pictures of small explosive charges being detonated ?Äì invaluable elements in the final compositions.

There were two main 3D elements in Clouds ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® the jet which we see cruising the skies, and the dolphins themselves. One of the advantages that Framestore CFC offers its artists and operators is that of the cross-fertilisation of techniques between film and television. Thus the Commercials team hit the air running, so to speak, when they were able to use a cloud-making tool that the company’s film team had developed – initially for Thunderbirds, and also used on the forthcoming X-Men: The Final Stand and Superman Returns. This tool operates within Houdini, utilising Houdini’s I3D voxel rendering technology. It came to the team as a tool for cloud rendering, and it was necessary to develop new techniques to use it as a tool for cloud animation.

Of the process itself, Parker says, “Clouds can move in two ways: sometimes they simply translate, scudding across the sky, and sometimes they evolve and develop ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® growing in one direction and dissipating in another. We discovered that we needed a bit of both these states. We need things to move enough for them to be interesting from an animation perspective, allowing us to produce some body animation within the dolphins; but we also had to ensure that there was enough of the evolutionary aspect that it didn’t look like a cut-out.

That was the challenge throughout this project ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® to try to find a beautiful way of bringing these things to life, but one which didn’t separate them out from the backgrounds.” Describing the process by which the final look was arrived at, Bartlett echoes these sentiments, “The more they looked like clouds, the less they looked like dolphins ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® and vice versa. Somewhere in that middle ground was the ideal place that we were searching for. The trouble is, of course, that it’s a slightly different place for every viewer…”

The desired organic relationship between 2D and 3D elements meant that the look continued to develop throughout the spot’s time at Framestore CFC. “To get the balance just right, ” says Bartlett, “There was a lot of back and forth between 2D and 3D.” Says Parker, “It was a two-way learning process going on between Will (Bartlett) and ourselves. An eddy in the backplate might lead us to create something echoing this in the animation.”

The actual dolphin animations were created in Maya, by Kate Hood, chiefly, based on a model built by Alex Doyle. These animations Рjumps, swims, dives etc., all with several variations Рwere of the dolphin before it had even achieved its final cloud form. The Houdini team then took small sections of these moves for the cloud creatures. Andy Boyd, Simon Stoney and Alex Doyle handled the plane, with Boyd doing the shading and rendering with help from Paul Jones. Telecine work ?√Ñ√¨ largely on the sky material and interiors Рwas by Senior Colourist Matt Turner.

With a gentle rendition of ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ acting as the perfect accompaniment to the balletic Bottlenoses, Framestore CFC have once again produced some startlingly lovely imagery to complement a highly original script.

Agency BBH
Creatives Dave Masterman, Ed Edwards
Agency Producer Davud Karbassioun
Production Company Kleinman Productions
Director Daniel Kleinman
Producer Johnnie Frankel
Production Manager James Hatcher
Editor Steve Gandolfi, Cut & Run

For Framestore CFC
VFX Supervisor/Inferno Artist William Bartlett
CG Supervisor/TD Dominic Parker
R&D Christoph Ammann
TD/Animation Dan Seddon, Guillaume Fradin, David Mellor, Andy Boyd, Michele Fabbro, Simon Stoney, Kate Hood
Modelling Alex Doyle
Tracking Paul Jones
Inferno Assistant Marcelo Pasquelino
Telecine Colourist Matt Turner
Post Producer Scott Griffin

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