PETA 98% Human

Tue 4th Jun 2013, by Paul Hellard | Production

CGSociety :: Production Focus

4 June 2013, by Paul Hellard

The 98% Human project was germinated in early 2011 when the BBDO agency emailed The Mill EP Verity Grantham to say they had a top-secret script they were committed to. They were looking for a visual effects company to help them realize their vision. After the script for 98% Human was sent over to The Mill, the team all read it and agreed that The Mill had to be involved with this project.

The spot focuses on the use of primates and is part of PETA's campaign “The Great Ape Pledge” which drives viewers to the newly developed microsite where they can register to take the vow to stop the use of primates as actors.


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“It came in around the same time the Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out and obviously, creatively, ‘Caesar’ was a benchmark to reach beyond,” says Vince Baertsoen from The Mill's New York studio. “They said we'd have more preparation time than a normal commercial production. This sort of character had to be 100% correct. We didn't actually get into production until February this year (2013) because it was finally confirmed in November the previous year. From the outset the script was a challenge to our artistry as a VFX company.” The brief asked for a CG chimpanzee to be created that would appear completely real and authentic. If they couldn't create a creature that fooled viewers the message would be lost.

BBDO and PETA wanted the message to be that it was no longer necessary to use real animals in moving imagery. That CG creatures can be made at such a high quality and believability that the industry of abused and misused animal performers is officially obsolete. The work by the crew at The Mill only began with studying the movement of both the natural chimpanzees and the movements. They weren't going to use a single hair from a real chimp, be it a plaster cast, a taxidermy animal, or a tuft of hair from the bottom of a cage.

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"Starting from the script, the first thing we did was analyse the chimpanzee," explains Baertsoen. "There's a huge amount of video reference online, everywhere. There were stills for referencing hair, skin, face and neck, all this kind of thing. But the tiny details in the life of the eye, is where people will garner the emotions from, because the viewer needs to see the chimpanzee make a choice. We decided to work with an actor on set." This actor workshopped and rehearsed for weeks on end to emulate the movement and emotion of the chimpanzee.

The Mill developed new techniques from simulated bloodstreams, skin tension and even individual pores at the base of every hair on the chimpanzee, all with the aim to create a creature that is practically indistinguishable from his flesh and blood counterpart. The chimpanzee was largely generated in Autodesk Softimage, with a great slice of R&D in its ICE (Interactive Creative Environment). For The Mill’s CG artists, the most exciting part of the project was the implementation of these new techniques crafting a creature that literally has bones, muscles, pumping blood, skin and hair.

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The Mill worked in Softimage almost exclusively, together with the previz, which helped them immensely to ensure they knew where they were going before going out on set. "We knew exactly what to do," adds Vince. "There were also a lot of lighting tests in the room, on location. We gathered the look development of the chimpanzee in the room with HDRI of the lighting we were to use. This was to make sure we could see what the lighting would do to the CG chimp we had at the time. That way, we didn't need to tweak any lighting afterwards. That was it."

By doing this, The Mill crew was able to leap ahead, making sure the chimp would look right with the lighting that was to be used in the shoot. It was an overhead diffuse light, very simple. That way, Vince could then confer with the DP about how they can use other lights to be more dramatic. “The project was also incredibly lucky to have Maryse Alberti on board as Director of Photography. She brought some great mood lighting working very nicely with the look development we started in CG,” says Baertsoen.



Life is in the detail

The Mill crew even generated a heart beat, setup to 120 bpm based on actual chimpanzee heart rates. “We used this to get blood attributes travelling through the body, then the distance between the skin and the muscle and skeleton was measured to help identify the quantity of blood that would be traveling through the body. This technique helped us color the skin differently and make the chimpanzee feel more alive,” explains Vince. “Every single hair is attached to the chimpanzee's skin, but to make it feel completely real, we had to connect them by generating pores on the skin at the base of each hair. This raised the level of realism as all the elements feel like they are part of one entity.”

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The skin tension and wrinkles were one of the most challenging parts of the process. The bones had to be seen sliding normally under the skin, and the eyes had to sell the story most of all. Then the mouth, and then the hands, and then the whole body. "Then you look at the whole body, and the skin is sliding over the muscles as the chimp walks, and the hair is effected by this obviously, so it was quite a ballet to create on screen," Vince adds. The team developed a complex epidermal simulation algorithm that helped them reach this level of realism.

This type of animation is normally captured through the process of Mo-Cap but they didn’t want to be locked into a performance of someone pretending to be a chimp. So they filmed the actor to use him solely as a base reference for the animation, composition and placement. This provided the team of animators with the ability to mimic chimp like movement with far greater accuracy.
Throughout the spot the viewer is looking in on the chimp through a window, so the compositor had to create the glass over many of the shots. He selectively graded each shot to guide the viewer's eye. By lifting or turning down the grade to draw the viewer's eye the compositor could actively focus the viewer's attention to the subtle actions of the chimp’s eyes, mouth, and hands. As well as the chimp and the room itself, the glass is also tooled to guide the viewer.

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“We have reached a tipping point with technology; we don't actually need or have to use animals in advertising,” adds Vince. “We were very excited to be able show it is possible to do feature film quality emotion and story telling with CG animals, without necessarily costing that much. To create PETA '98% Human' we created a totally believable, photo-real CG chimp. All previous primates include some form of motion capture, making this project one of the most detailed and technically challenging jobs we have ever taken on.”

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PETA Credits:

Client: PETA
Agency: BBDO NY
CCO - David Lubars
ECD - Toygar Bazarkaya
Copywriter ACD - Alessandro Fruscella
Art Director ACD - Daniel Aykurt
Account Director - Ben Griffiths
Account Executive – Alfredo Lang
SVP/Group Executive Producer- Brian Mitchell
Senior Producer - Tara Leinwohl
SVP/Director Music Production - Rani Vaz

Client contact - Julia Gallucci

Production Credits:

Production Company: Mill+
Director: Angus Kneale
Producer: Nic Barnes
Head of Content: Ian Bearce
Line Producer: Richard Schwab

Post Production: Mill NY
Creative Director:Angus Kneale
Head of Production: Sean Costelloe
Producer: Colin Blaney
Lead Compositor: Kyle Cody
VFX Supervisor / Lead CG Artist: Vince Baertsoen
CG Artists:
Lighting: Thomas Bardwell
Lighting: Kevin Ives
Animation: Alex Allain
Animation: Henning Koczy
Animation: Navdeep Singh
Rigging: Peter Agg
Modeling: Paul Liaw
Modeling: Olivier Varteressian
TD: Dave Barosin
TD: Jimmy Gass

Colorist: Fergus McCall



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