As part of the in-house team at Moo Studios, Sebastiano D'Aprile worked on the Blue Moon 'Artfully Crafted' campaign, collaborating with the ad agency The Integer Group.
The 'Inspiration' campaign was just the latest TVC in a series for the Blue Moon product awarded to the Moo Studio crew. At the beginning of 2012, D'Aprile was involved in the shooting and post production of 'Brewmaster's Touch'. Both spots play on the metaphor of the brewmaster as an artist. 'Brewmaster's Touch' shows how the brewmaster, with his magic 'Midas touch' turns everything he makes direct contact with, into paintings. "The production involved a stop motion shoot of the whole spot and then we layered real, painted, thick brush strokes on top of the footage, to have everything the brewmaster touched shifting into a painted world," says D'Aprile.
"When The Integer Group came to us with a rough storyboard of the new spot, the director Shaun Sewter and I immediately thought it would be a cool project," D'Aprile says. "The storyboard showed the brewmaster in the brewery opening a book. In each page, beer bottles, glasses, ingredients and environment elements grew up from the sketches, coming out of the book. They were not photo-real, they lived in the same painted world we saw in the previous spot. Like a pop-up book they came out of the pages, but unlike pop-up books they weren't made of paper, they were three dimensional painted objects.
It was immediately suggested they take a CG approach to the production of the spot. Layering brush strokes on top of live action footage, like in the previous spot, would not have worked this time, since the painted elements had to form already in their final style. The Moo crew were intrigued by the idea of featuring the three-dimensionality of the paintings with a nice and slow camera move lasting for the whole, long, main shot of the commercial. "We made a motion test to show the agency what our approach would have been like and to get familiar with the process," says D'Aprile. "The agency liked it. The test used a mix of different media: stop motion and CG animation.
One of the most important factors in the spot lay in the stop motion animation. It helped to give the different elements some tactile movements perfectly matching the 'artfully crafted' image of Blue Moon. "We decided that everything except the elements coming to life from the pencil sketches (and the beer kettles in the first and last shot) would be shot in stop motion," says D'Aprile.
The first step was to create an animatic. This is always a very important and creative process. It defines timing, camera moving and framing. The animatic was entirely done in Maya and After Effects. "We didn't use any footage, only basic models and rigs in Maya," D'Aprile explains. "I always prefer this approach for this pre-visualization step as it gives us the freedom to easily re-time each shot according to the agency and client's feedback. Finishing the animatic and getting approvals on it took us two weeks. Once the animatic was approved, we shot the first and last shots (the kettles and the background outside the window were added in post) and the whole sequence in the second shot, with the hand opening the book and turning the pages four times. Everything was shot in stop motion, using Dragonframe. We used a motion control rig to move the camera by small increments every frame. That allowed us to shoot multiple passes that we composited together to achieve a clean plate before starting to add CG elements on top. We also shot a tracking pass that I used in SynthEyes to create a camera to be imported in Maya and After Effects. In this pass nothing but the camera was moving."
The following step was tracking each page, since all the elements had to convincingly sit on the pages and react to their action. Each page was manually tracked in Maya, using the clean plate of the book as a backplate for the camera which came from SynthEyes. Thanks to the tracking points on the table and on the book itself, the artist knew where the book was sitting in space, so they created four curves for each page, perfectly matching their borders. A cluster was then created for each vertex of the curves and all the clusters were animated through the render camera, matching all the page turns. The planar tool was used to generate the surfaces perfectly matching the real pages moving.
"Since the shot with the book was too long to be treated as a single Maya scene, we decided to split it into five segments, one per page. A different beer selection for each one: Belgian White and the Seasonal, Expressionist, Vintage Ale and Graffiti collections. Each beer collection had a different painting style. The team of CG artists (Jonathan Bliss, Daniel Edery, Ruta Lauzikaite, Lily 5Heng, Josh Suyemoto, Shaun Sewter and myself) was ready to build the magic coming out of the brewmaster’s book. We modeled and textured all the elements for each page. To break the edges of the otherwise too-clean and CG-looking models, we added planes with brush stroke textures hanging in space close to the models. We imported all the elements into Maya projects and we constrained them to the animated pages."
Each object was revealed by animated opacity, painted in Photoshop using the UVs as guides. Photoshop has a better brush selection than After Effects and using the built-in timeline it was fairly easy to create the image sequences as needed. The elements would reveal from bottom to top, as they were growing, directly from the pages. "To match the stop motion feel of the whole spot we tried to reveal entire brush strokes each frame," explains D'Aprile, "as if the artist was painting in a three dimensional space, using the air above the book as a canvas."
For the key elements like the beer bottles and glasses, Moo Studios used animated maps plugged into the diffuse color of the shaders. Doing so, they could emulate what real painters do, painting different passes on the same portion of the canvas, to get the final artwork. The bottles are revealed and then the labels are painted on. "For some elements, like the ground in the first page, we shot real paintings forming while the painter (Joan Doyle) was making them (using UV printouts as a guide)," adds D'Aprile. "We shot them in stop motion, on green screen. Once keyed, we used the footage as perfectly matching color and opacity maps for our CG models. This process helped to give more realism to the render."
Almost everything was rendered in mental ray, using nearly flat shaders (high value in the ambient color), baking highlights and shadows in the color maps of the elements. The shaders weren’t completely flat because they wanted the 3D paintings to react to a virtual lighting setup matching the one used while shooting the hands and the table with the book and all the props. They also used V-Ray to create photo-real renders of bottles and glasses so they could composite with the mental ray painting-like renders, to achieve a more interesting look on the product being promoted and help the eyes focus on them. "As a final touch to the main shot we added a subtle fog pass that reacts to the turning pages and the five different worlds growing up from them," he adds. The team of compositors (Shaun Sewter, Bjorn Walters and Alessandro Schiassi) did a great job adding all the different render elements coming from Maya to the several passes shot in stop motion. Foam and bubbles were composited on top of bottles and glasses, to keep the beer alive. The goal of having stop motion footage and CG renders living together to create a seamless, organic and tactile look for the 'Artfully Crafted' beer was achieved.