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    NZ VFX house Digipost pulls out all the stops for Cascade beer ad.

    Thursday, 22 November 2007

    Digipost pulled out all the stops on a recent TVC project, delivering one very cool looking spot for the new Cascade Premium beer campaign, ‘The Natural Order’.

    Taking a cue from the Tasmanian Tiger on the bottle's label, the commercial features characters whose personality is represented as animal heads, meticulously tracked over the actor's heads. With a heavy slice of film noir the fast paced action follows the hero Tiger through a poker room to a bordello via dark alley ways as he tries to outsmart and out-run other members of the urban jungle.

    Click on the image above to view the spot.

    A small team of VFX artists and compositors worked for 18 weeks to bring the new look Urban Tiger to life in 3D, along with a bevy of shady characters that includes a stupid Chimp, a greedy Pig, a slimy Snake, a 'Mad Dog' Rottweiler and a waitress that is pure Fox! Oh yeah, and a whip cracking dominatrix Poodle called Fifi whose sauciness mostly ended up on the cutting room floor. The live action was directed by Jesse Warn of Film Construction and it took a team of 4-6 artists 18 weeks, from character design, supervising the shoot, high res print stills and then working through 52 shots in a 60 second commercial.

    Cunningham recounts the careful technical planning do these animal heads. “They had to look completely real, like they had been there on the day. We had to be conscious of everything, from the shape of each animal's head, the actor's performance, down to the costumes they would wear on set.” All of this started at pitching stage, where Cunningham and the 3D team crafted a series of sizzling visuals that were integrated into the pitch for the director, Jesse Warm. Several design variants were developed for each animal, allowing the director and agency to pick the one they liked the best.

    Click on the Chimp image to see the stages of construction.

    It was decided there would be seven 'hero' heads to be tackled with 3D. Cunningham explains: “We had to come up with a way to track the actors’ heads in some fairly fast-paced and dimly lit scenes. We hand-built battery powered tracking helmets covered in little lights for the actors to wear and we also had them wearing furry balaclavas to give us lighting reference for the fur and a blend point for the necks.” The three nights of shooting on location in the seedy underbelly of Auckland was supervised by Cunningham, who worked alongside Academy Award winning DoP John Seal and prosthetic specialists Glasshammer creating the background animal heads.

    “I am very grateful to the 2D team,” says Cunningham. “They mostly painted and tracked in Shake and Combustion. In the really hard shots they used 3D tracks that we did of the camera move, tracking painted elements into the 3D space.”

    Click on the Fox image to see the stages of construction.

    After the shoot the 3D team continued production of the hero animals and once the edit was locked off they began tracking the plates. A new tool to Digipost's pipeline is the camera and object tracking software Syntheyes. Cunningham recounts: “we tested several options and Syntheyes was by far the most powerful, reliable and fastest tracker for what we needed. We could show the software what it was tracking and that gave us rock solid tracks even though in every shot the camera was moving and zooming”.

    This single camera tracking solution provided extremely accurate head movements, nearly as good as motion capture. It also helped immensely with the animation. Cunningham: “we used as much as we could from the actors. Their performance was great so by matching it we got really close to signed-off animation. But one thing we had to learn was to pump up the facial performance so it would read as clearly as the human face”.

    Click on the Rotti image to see the stages of construction.

    The other big technical hurdle they faced was a whole mountain of fur. Maya remained the main solution for the team but they needed to add Renderman to realise the fur. Cunningham: “Renderman made the fur not only doable but also look great. It wasn't too hard to light and the deep shadow system looks fantastic”. The skin was rendered with Mental Ray to make use of the available skin shaders and then the passes were later combined into the beauty pass.
    It can be dicey working with animals – 3D heads, creating realistic fur and skin textures - it can go pear shaped very quickly if you are not careful. The final digital surgery of head replacement over the live action took the subtle control and finesse of Digipost's lead 2D Flame artist Stu Bedford.

    Modeled with Maya and ZBrush
    Camera and object tracking: Syntheyes
    Animation: Maya
    Rendering: Mental ray and RenderMan for Maya
    Compositing: Shake and Flame

    VFX Supervisor: James Cunningham
    3D Artists : Nick Wilson, Matt Sutherland, Jay Renner, Leslie Chan, Glen Dawick, Kei Kasai.
    2D Artists: Stu Bedford, Matt Westbrook, Katy Wakefield
    BG masks by Glasshammer.

    {digg}Related Links:
    'The Natural Order' campaign

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