The British Telecom (BT) “Burst Pipe” ad campaign directed by Garth Jennings with visual effects by The Mill is believed to be one the of the UK’s most intensive Television ad campaigns ever. The 10-day high-profile ad campaign promotes the benefits of BT’s broadband high-speed Internet access. In the commercial, a BT broadband pipe explodes, releasing the contents of the endless possibilities found on the Internet, including a rhino, dragon, video game characters, a space shuttle and a World War II Spitfire aircraft.
CGNetworks' Ali Tezel speaks with Stephen Venning from The Mill, on the production of the stunning visual effects for the intense commercial.
Ali Tezel: In what timeframe was the commercial completed?
Stephen Venning: From the very first meetings, it was probably around six months. Initially we needed meetings where the creators were looking at ideas and conceptualizing. After an initial meeting with the agency to see how feasible some of the sequences would be, things went quiet for a couple of months while the agency looked into budgeting and resource management. We started the project in March 2002 and completed it at the end of August 2002.
Ali Tezel: Can you give us an FX breakdown of the rhino shot?
Stephen Venning: That’s our favorite shot! That’s something we worked really hard to achieve. Initially, we had some meetings with the guys on the best way of achieving this shot. Very quickly, we worked out that if you are trying to make a two and a half ton object falling from the sky and land on something, the best way to do it is to actually drop something that weights two and a half tons on that car for real.
So the car is real in the shot and what they did was build a two and a half ton piece of metal in the shape of a rhino (the body, head and four legs). They put it up on a crane a hundred feet high. As they only had one take, there were four cameras shooting simultaneously. The object simply fell from the sky and crushed the car! The great thing about this is that the shape of the neck left an indentation on the car. By using Discreet flame and Alias|Wavefront Maya, we were then able to composite our CG rhino over the top of the metal object. What really made the scene work was the use of the metal rhino. By capturing that fall with live action cameras, you get a feeling of weight when the car is crushed, and bounces back.
Ali Tezel: Can you tell us a bit about the pre-visualization stage of the commercial?
Stephen Venning: Ah yes the previz -- which was one of the most unpleasant parts! We had discussions with Garth (Jennings) the Director regarding several of the ideas he wanted to do. One of these was the plane sequence where a World War II aircraft swoops down on a busy marketplace. Garth had an idea about a specific market in London where he was thinking of shooting the sequence, so he took a DV camera, went down to the market and took some footage. Taking footage from various angles of the market, he came back with enough DV footage for one of the guys to track it manually and fly a CG plane through the street. From these very basic tests, we could see what was working and what things they would need to do in-camera to make the shorts look better.
For one of the tests that we did, we wanted to create the effect of wind rushing past the market stores as the aircraft flew through. There was talk about using pyrotechnics and a wind machine, including putting a wind machine on the back of a motorbike or four-wheel buggy. After doing some tests, we found that in order to create this effect, the bike would have to travel at 40 mph, and through a built up area like the market, this was simply impossible! So we encouraged them to produce the effect some other way and it was all open for discussion. By doing pre-visualization, we were able to see the different approaches to take for that scene.
With the gaming characters, the timing is very tight for location shooting at Victoria station – we had between four to five hours to shoot.
We took the very early models of the characters needed for the shot and the animator roughed up the actual fight moves, so we actually choreographed the sequence before the shoot. That way, the film crew had a certain visual reference to obtain the kinds of shots needed to comp in the moves. There were several different moves they wanted, such as a high kick, and we were able to very crudely put that on tape so that the crew got to see it before filming. It also gave the actors a visual reference so that they knew exactly where they should be looking at the correct times.
Ali Tezel: How long was the pre-visualization stage of the commercial?
Stephen Venning: The fight sequence took a week and a half, and the airplane shot took about a week. We had other different things that we tested as well such as objects falling from the sky, which we did a couple of pre-visualizations for. Altogether, it took about 3 weeks of pre-visualization.
Ali Tezel: All the characters in the commercial look familiar, are they loosely based on popular gaming characters?
Stephen Venning: I think with the gaming characters you are referencing Tekken, but in terms of animation, the guy we had animating it comes from a gaming background. So people are familiar with that style of animation for a gaming character. You don’t know the characters per se, but you feel you know them because of the way they move. With the dragon, he is all friendly, so very quickly you get to like him.
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Ali Tezel: Can you give us an FX breakdown of the scene where the dragon walks down the street and its tail pushes some cars?
Stephen Venning: This shot, again, turned out well because of the live action shooting. Using hydraulics, they moved the cars into the positions needed. When the live action came to us, all the flame artist had to do was retime the cars moving so that it appeared to have been bumped by a large dragon. We also matched it to our animation of the dragon, that’s why it looks so coordinated.
Ali Tezel: What was the biggest challenge in this commercial?
Stephen Venning: The thing that kept me awake at the beginning of the project was thinking about how to do the rhino. I looked at the plane and though “yeah we can do that.” The game characters were not a problem, neither was the dragon because it’s a fantasy character. So there was nothing that people could reference as they haven’t seen real dragon. With the rhino, however, we’ve all seen films with rhinos in them, or a real one at the zoo. Thus, for us it was a real live animal and we really wanted to make it look real. That was probably the biggest challenge. That and putting together a team of top people -- trying to find out who the best people were for certain tasks.
Ali Tezel: Which software and hardware was used in the making of the commercial?
Stephen Venning: A lot of everything really. We had a Maya team and an XSI team so it was kind of fifty-fifty split. We used Realflow to do the vortex. In Maya, we built the rhino and the dragon. XSI was used to build the plane, the space shuttle and the gaming characters. One of the advantages was that we were able to use both of the software’s renderers. Most of the characters are standalone who needed to have a certain look, so we didn’t have to do any matching of renders. In fact, we encouraged the slightly differing looks. We mostly rendered with Mental Ray. Initially the plan was to render with Mental Ray for Maya, but it was still under development and not totally bug free. So for the rhino, we used the Maya renderer. [CGN|3DF]
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