Brilliant Machines

Fri 4th Apr 2014, by Meleah Maynard | Production


Brilliant machines are powering us into the future. That’s the tagline behind General Electric’s recent campaign promoting the company’s advanced hardware and analytical software. If the very thought has you imaging boring, fact-filled ads about obscure technology, think again. GE teamed up with BBDO New York to create the “Brilliant Machines” spots, which were directed by David Gordon Green and based on three futuristic films featuring advanced technology, The Matrix, Back To the Future and Star Trek: The Next Generation.



Framestore’s New York studio produced the three spots in collaboration with BBDO, relying primarily on Cinema 4D, Maya, Flame and After Effects. Timelines were short, about a week for The Matrix and Back To the Future spots and two weeks for Star Trek, so Framestore had to work fast to bring shots to life and they had a lot of fun doing it, says Marc Smith, Framestore’s senior design director.


Agent Smith


BBDO had a vision for what they wanted for each spot and supplied Framestore with creative briefs that were open enough to evolve and change with the process. The Matrix-inspired spot, “Agent Smith,” was first in the lineup. Focused on GE’s innovations in medical technology, it features Hugo Weaving, who played Agent Smith in the film. Wearing his trademark suit, sinister shades and earpiece, Weaving pops up on gurneys and exam tables, marveling at machines that are connecting patients and caregivers effectively and efficiently.



To create the illusion of many Agent Smith’s in one place at the same time, Framestore used body doubles, head replacement and rotoscoping. Most of the spot was created in Flame with After Effects used for some of the Matrix-inspired text. Nuke was used for some keying, rotoscoping and tracking.



The Future is Now


“The Future is Now,” the second installment in the campaign, was the most interesting to work on, Marc Smith says, because each department at Framestore had a different section to work on. Inspired by Back To the Future, the spot aims to demonstrate the powerful potential of GE turbines whether they’re powering entire cities or a time-traveling DeLorean. Michael J. Fox provides the voiceover.



After two days of shooting on set with the actual DeLorean from the 1985 film, Framestore got to work creating a detailed CG version of the car in, adding elements like ice on the hood for a more cinematic feel. Using Agisoft PhotoScan, they were able to make a rough model of the car that they could use to begin the modeling process in Maya. The spot’s most striking moment comes when the camera takes viewers deep into the car’s interior, traveling through a GE turbine and ending at a factory.





Freelance motion designer Johnny Likens worked with Smith and Framestore designer/animator Akira Thompson on the 10-second turbine sequence. Referencing images of GE’s Renwood factory provided by BBDO, the trio modeled the interior of the factory from scratch. Likens lit the scene and animated the camera as it moved through the turbine. Watch the process video Likens created here:


To ensure that the CG factory looked accurate, Framestore paid close attention to scale and textures while doing several passes to refine the composition, Smith says. Smooth integration between C4D and After Effects helped the team keep pace with revisions while staying on deadline, Smith says. “Meeting shot deadlines was a very real challenge to our team, but using C4D-Lite within After Effects CC, we were able to provide our clients with updated compositions in near real-time before rendering.”




“Enterprise,” the third spot in the campaign, touts GE’s deep-sea fuel safety systems, which the ship’s science officer demonstrates while using a futuristic user interface. Likens and motion designer Chase Massingill ( worked on the holographic 3D interface featured in the spot. They began by designing a system of user elements that were relevant to the storyline, including the Enterprise’s engine status, power levels, as well as GE’s data archives along with various other readouts and stats.




Likens sketched out all of his design elements in Photoshop, or a notebook, before translating them into vector assets in Illustrator. After the design language had been established and all the elements were ready to be animated, he imported the graphics into After Effects and worked on 2D animation. Individual user interface widgets were rendered and loaded into Cinema 4D as materials, making it possible to map them onto the 3D geometry.




“Using the spline wrap tool in C4D allowed me to easily take the series of animated 3D screens and bend them around the console table and still maintain complete control of the overall curvature of the screens,” Likens explains. The holographic ocean was generated with the help of a Houdini Ocean Toolkit, a third-party plugin. Watch the process video here:



Smith says he and his team enjoyed the fun, fast-paced project, which allowed Framestore’s New York office to employ the diverse skills of many of its artists. Seamless integration of multiple toolsets and knowledge of third-party plugins also played key roles in the success of the campaign. “We look forward to other projects of this nature, mixing the media of design and VFX animation to provide our clients with the most effective solution to any visual storytelling challenge,” he says.




Related Links


Framestore’s New York studio

Agent Smith on Framestore

The Future is Now on Framestore

Enterprise on Framestore

Johnny Likens

Maxon - Cinema 4D

Houdini Ocean Toolkit 

SideFX - Houdini

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Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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