Framestore has created photoreal CG animals doing weird and wonderful things for MJZ’s Dante Ariola and Y&R New York. Shot on location in Thailand, the three-part global campaign uses realistic-looking animals with extraordinary abilities to promote LG’s Infinia TV. Butterflies sees a single cocoon release tens of thousands of CG butterflies; Elephant sees the mammal rebuilt in CG to gracefully climb a tree; and Lure sees a CG fishing lure find its freedom whilst following a playmate in the deep blue sea.
This enormous creative task included designing and animating intricate CG whilst rebuilding complex backgrounds. All post production was completed in just five weeks, leaving very little margin for error. Each commercial posed vastly different challenges, with the team leads – Alex Thomas (2D) and Diarmid Harrison-Murray (CG) – constantly having to adapt their thinking when jumping between commercials.
In Butterflies, the main challenge was to create thousands of butterflies that looked real as a swarm, whilst retaining the intrinsic beauty that these fascinating insects possess, particularly during flight. The 3D team had to find the right balance between naturally chaotic flying and choreographed flying that could neatly tell the ad’s story of ‘infinite flow’. Caution was taken to ensure the butterflies didn’t become too stylised and bird-like, especially in the more crowded shots.
The opening hero butterflies were hand animated for a smooth and organic feel, but the wider shots used a particle system to disperse the insects when they begin to number in the thousands. Range of colour and attention to detail were crucial, so the team created unique butterfly designs and added touches like rendering a fine layer of fur to avoid a plastic or solid look. Meanwhile, the 2D team painstakingly rotoscoped around the foliage so the butterflies could ‘fly’ behind some of the leaves. The 2D brief required a delicate hand to enhance the film’s magical lighting in Flame with subtle effects like lens flares and volumetric light.
Although Elephant’s eponymous animal seems to be climbing skillfully, it maintains an arduous sense of weight. Alex Thomas and Diarmid Harrison-Murray worked closely with Dante Ariola on set, shooting a variety of setups with real elephants, so that as often as possible, the real animal could be used, even if the background had to be rebuilt. At times the final shot is a combination of real elephant and CG.
Considering the elephant’s climb was entirely unnatural, it was given amazingly authentic-looking movement through careful 3D animation and convincing 2D compositing. Given the intense schedule, raw CG renders of the elephant struggled in extreme close up, so tight shots were enhanced with 2 D projections of the real elephant.
The 3D team also worked on augmenting the tree to make it appear more climbable and generated the tree trunk base to replace the elephant’s live action step. The jungle canopy needed to be closed in selectively in 2D and soaring CG parrots were added to draw attention to this sole opening. The final vista was built as a labour of love in Flame using location stills as a base. Flame was also used to create quiet but enriching visual effects like leaves that fall as the elephant strikes the tree.
Lure sees a fishing lure meets its doppelganger and so had the strongest narrative requirements. The animation challenge was in conveying a seemingly inanimate object being propelled by underwater currents, without it coming across as cute Pixar-esque character. Both the lure and the fish were designed in CG, with iridescent colour being a client priority.
The underwater footage provided no tracking markers and few lighting references. Fortunately, though, a solid track wasn’t appropriate due to the fluid environment. In the absence of HDRs, fish and lure reflections were based on procedural HDRs generated by creating an artificial environment that emulated underwater colours and movements.
The shoal required a delicate balance between natural movement and narrative choreography and the light that comes through it was built using shaders to create a sense of light travelling through the fishes’ bodies. CG elements were degraded in Flame to mimic the backplate’s natural imperfections. For example, a chromatic aberration effect – where the channel splits at the edge of frame in underwater footage – was applied as a blue blur to the edges of the fish and lure.
Framestore’s Flame artist, Alex Thomas, who has worked with Dante Ariola several times before, said: “This project presented a lot of creative and technical challenges which had to be completed in a very short space of time. But the 3D and 2D teams pulled together brilliantly, pushing the technology in many ways. We were always in contact with Dante and the agency as well, who together steered the ship on a daily basis, pushing to get the best at every stage. Personally, I really enjoyed the experience. And the chance to collaborate with so many talented people.”
Click here to view all three commercials.
AGENCY Y&R New York
AGENCY PRODUCER Robert Beck
PRODUCTION COMPANY MJZ LA
DIRECTOR Dante Ariola
PRODUCER Nathalie Richardson-Hill