Creating a new species of CG creatures is not the most daunting brief you can offer Markus Manninen, Framestore CFC's Head of 3D Commercials; his recent work for Xbox (mosquitos) and Kellogg's (cows, bears) has given him ample experience in bringing a range of animals to digital life. Yet the news that this time around the 'creatures' would be shopping trolleys did, he admits, give him pause.
The animated trolleys are the stars of a new television spot, created by Lowe for Tesco Personal Finance. It breaks on terrestrial and satellite channels this week, and features the voices of David Jason, Kathy Burke and Kevin Whately. The spot is produced by Passion Pictures and directed by John Robertson. A further two spots - to be produced and animated entirely at Passion Pictures - will appear later in the year.
'Carrie Says Her Bit' is set in the car park of a Tesco store. It is dusk and, with few humans around, it is safe for the trolleys to talk to each other. Carrie (voiced by Kathy Burke) bustles over to a group of trolleys with an important piece of gossip: she's just heard that Tesco will be doing a credit card. There is much consternation among the trolleys at this news – one of them faints – and they discuss the implications of this for trolleys. "As in 'Toy Story', when people aren't there these inanimate objects come to life and, naturally, they have trolley issues to talk about," deadpans Manninen.
Attending the shoot for Framestore CFC were Inferno operator Angus Wilson and Technical Director Robert Krupa. "As so often happens," recalls Wilson, "The weather and a shortage of time conspired to make sky replacement a necessity, and also meant that the lighting of the 3D elements had to be carefully monitored."
At first glance the animation set-up seemed as if it would be relatively simple, but the team discovered that, while problems such as muscle movement and secondary motion were no longer an issue, the trolleys brought their own animation 'issues' to the table. "A trolley is essentially resistant to animation," explains Manninen, "It doesn't 'want' to move. So we had to find ways of making it move in a believable manner, as well as creating within it the essence of a personality."
"John Robertson (the director) wanted to maintain a strict photo-real quality in the trolleys," Framestore CFC producer Lara Hopkins elaborates, "He didn't want them bending and flexing all over the place, so finding the right balance between the liveliness and personality of the voices and the intrinsic rigidity of the trolleys was quite a challenge." There are actually three different trolleys brought to life by Framestore CFC. As well as reflecting the different size trolleys available at Tesco stores, they provide a handy visual shorthand for different personality types and ages.
The animators were fortunate to have available a reference tape of Kathy Burke filmed during her sessions for the spot. "It was after watching this that the animation really took off," says Hopkins.
Various factors conspired to create a real need for speed by the Framestore CFC team, but a big team (up to 12 animators at once worked on the spot) meant that 40 seconds of animation were produced in a two-week period. That such a large amount of work could be delivered so quickly and to such a high standard is due, insists Hopkins, in no small part to John Robertson's experience. "His background is in animation, and so he knows exactly what he wants," she says, "His attentiveness and eye for detail helped make sure we were getting it right."
Angus Wilson worked on the background plates and composited the shots in Inferno. Elements such as drops of water on some of the trolleys and a few moths placed around the light were added at this stage - tiny details that the eye scarcely registers, but which make the difference between 'good enough' and 'great'.
Click to watch the Quicktime
Director John Robertson was more than satisfied with the results. "With such a large number of animators working over a pretty short time, it was a challenge to maintain a unified style and develop just the look I wanted for the trolleys," he says, "Framestore CFC really rose to that."
Agency: Lowe & Partners
Creatives: Tom Hudson, Steve Paskin
Producers: Charles Crisp, James Stoker
Production Company: Passion Pictures
Director: John Robertson
Producers: Andrew Ruhemann, Cara Speller, Spencer Friend
Post Production: Framestore CFC
Head of Animation: Markus Manninen
Animators: Sophie Lodge
Tracking: Jason Baker
Technical Directors: Martin Parsons
2D Compositors: Angus Wilson
Post Producer: Lara Hopkins
Back to 3D Festival