The folks at Framestore CFC are no strangers to television commercials. From outrageous dancing mosquitoes for Microsoft XBox to wall-breaking performances in Levi’s Odyssey, the UK-based company has proven time and time again its prowess in creating some of the most memorable effects-laden commercials. In ‘Cow and Bear’ for Kellogg’s® Eggo® Waffles, two animated plastic containers (a chocolate syrup-filled cow and a honey-filled bear) fight about which of them will have the pleasure of dispensing their contents over a plate of the waffles.
Directed by James Wahlberg for agency Leo Burnett (Chicago) with Framestore CFC veteran Markus Manninen as Animation Director, this project was a milestone for Framestore CFC as it was the first time that the company was given the opportunity to produce photo-realistic character animation for a prominent US client. Moreover, it also marks the first time that the entire post-production process was handled over the Internet. After shooting the live action and elements in Toronto May 2002, the rest of the production was managed using Framestore CFC’s proprietary on-line communications systems where links were established between London, Chicago and Los Angeles. This allowed the client to view the progress of Framestore CFC’s work from the comfort of their office via a set-top box, eliminating the need for costly travel or exchanging tapes.
Post production for ‘Cow and Bear’ began in June and ran into mid-August 2002. Although the number of staff who worked on the commercial ran up to about fifteen, only four or five were working on it at any one point in time. Early stages of the production required a modelling artist, ‘look’ technical directors and a character setup technical director. When the background plates came in, two animators performed the camera tracking while another four animators handled animating the characters and a technical director covered lighting and rendering. In August, an After Effects compositing artist and an inferno artist were added to the team for finishing the spot.
For shooting the commercial, as much live action was captured in-camera as possible. Although the background plates contained all of the table objects such as the toaster and jug of water, these were modelled in 3D so that the characters could be better integrated into the scene with proper shadow casting, reflections and refractions.
The character designs were based on real bottles with careful attention taken to match the look of the real bottles and the content within. Once this was done, artistic license was used to adapt the look of the characters to give them more human characteristics when animated. Very specifically, the purpose of the animation was to make the characters move the way plastic bottles would move if they had life, while staying true to the material and what it would allow and limit the characters to do. At the same time, the table top world had to be its own universe where Cow and Bear existed.
As Cow and Bear were obviously very skilled fighters, they were able to overcome their physical limitations (the fact that they’re made of plastic and filled with viscous fluid) to perform fantastic fighting moves. One of the first things that the Framestore CFC team did at a conceptual level was to find out the motivation for the characters. The view was that this is an ongoing situation in the lives of Cow and Bear – fighting with competitors on the table. The storyline has an interesting ambiguity as well – did Cow and Bear want to become the topping on the Eggo® waffles or did they simply want to eat the waffles?
Director James Wahlberg and Animation Director Markus Manninen used physical models on the shoot for each character so that the agency could edit together a version of the spot using their ‘puppet version’ for previsualization purposes. As Wahlberg has much animation experience, both directors explored some funny, impromptu animations on-set, most of which actually ended up in the spot.
Our syrup-filled adversaries in rigging pose without textures applied.
Framestore CFC relied on SOFTIMAGE|XSI v2 for modelling and animation. Rendering was performed on version 3 to take advantage of the new version of Mental Ray.
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A user-friendly animation setup allowed Framestore CFC to animate the characters using puppet controls. This gave animators the ability to hide the skeletons and concentrate on the posing of the actual characters. The customised character toolset also contained a deep facial animation system that used muscle animation for very fine levels of control. As all the feedback was real-time, animation was extremely efficient.
Framestore CFC relied on SOFTIMAGE|XSI version 2 for all interactive 3D work and rendered in version 3 to take advantage of the new version of Mental Ray. Existing proprietary image-based lighting tools were improved on and ported to XSI specifically for this project to match the lighting with the live action set as accurately as possible. Apple Shake (formerly Nothing Real) was used while developing the look of the refractions and caustics through the coloured liquid on the Bear character. Adobe After Effects was used to composite the character elements together, and Discreet inferno for compositing the CGI with live action and additional effects elements.
Taking Advantage of the Internet
There are numerous advantages to doing all work online. As budgets tighten and air travel becomes more of a hassle due to restrictions, working remotely allows for these geographical constraints to vanish. There is also no longer a need for an extensive range of tape mediums to store and view work, nor is there a need to courier these to and from offices. Furthermore, archiving and retrieval of footage is made easier with digital content management systems in place. Working from their London location, Framestore CFC was able to work closely with Wahlberg in LA and agency Leo Burnett in Chicago without anyone having to leave the comforts of their office.
Framestore CFC is currently using the system for feature film work and a commercial future for the technology is being considered. [3DF|CGN]
Special thanks to Markus Manninen and Stephanie Bruning of Framestore CFC.
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