• Levi's Odyssey - The Making of
    18 September 2002 | Leonard Teo&Ali Tezel
     Image: Actress Antoinette Sugier tears through a solid brick wall, with the help of Framestore CFC and cutting-edge digital effects.

    “Odyssey” tells the story of two young souls breaking free from their physical and emotional confines. Wearing Levi’s Engineered Jeans, the two run through the walls of their apartment building and find a brave new world above and beyond. Directed by Jonathan Glazer and produced by Nick Morris, London-based Framestore CFC was commissioned for post production and visual effects.

    On initial review of the storyboard frames, Markus Manninen, Joint Head of 3D at Framestore CFC knew that Glazer was after something very different. “The first stages looked difficult but not impossible,” says Manninen. “It got to the impossible stage when Jonathan described how he wanted it. We could tell that he wanted to do something very different.”

    Glazer wanted a very quick and fluid look to the commercial, which was a personal character piece with a lot of close-up shots on the actors faces. What was unique in this commercial was that the characters would run through the walls fluidly while interacting with the pieces of the wall. All pieces that had to appear to be pushed out by the characters and appear physically correct – no styrofoam wall substitutes. Framestore CFC also had to create a computer generated forest that the male and female leads would run through at the end of the commercial.

    Image (below): Previsualization allowed for director Jonathan Glazer to conceptualize the entire commercial.

     

    During previsualization, Framestore CFC helped Glazer conceptualize the entire commercial, the timing and pacing of the film. Previsualization also allowed the set designers to work out how large the rooms and corridoor would be, that would allow the actors to run with a few strides per room. On a more practical note, it also allowed the producers to see how many rooms could be re-used and how often the actors could run through the same room without the audience noticing. The actors Nicolas Duvauchelle and Antoinette Sugier, both from Paris, were trained physically to tackle Odyssey. In the commercial, no speed-up was required in post as both actors ran at their full pace.

    For the walls that the actors break through, it was decided that the best way to produce the effect was to have physical walls with big gaps that allowed the actors to run and jump through. The pieces that would actually break off the wall and interact with the actors would be added in 3D. Having the actors run and jump, however, was not enough to create a convincing effect, as something had to react with their bodies. To do this, the physical effects team used guns that shot up dust and debris as the actors leaped through the opening. As the debris hit the actors, they would naturally react to it by trying to avoid the dust and pieces, conveying a certain hardship as the characters broke away from their physical and emotional confines. With dust in the original film plates, Framestore CFC had a good reference for reapplying dust effects in post. The other advantage was that the actors were dirtied from having physical dust on them, which was realistic.

      
  • On the 3D front, Framestore CFC built an automated procedural software system that rotoscoped the actors on the background plate and matched it with 3D collision models. As the 3D actor approached a wall, the system would detect where the actor’s body first interacts with it and the wall would start breaking apart from that central point, much like glass splintering. As the actor continued to break through the wall, the system would detect which part of the body was breaking through at any one point and have the wall pieces explode. The pieces would fly out and rigid body dynamics would have them fall to the ground and bounce around. Although the system was automated, it turned out that the result was not exactly what director Jonathan Glazer had in mind. For the final shots, Framestore CFC meticulously hand-modelled the walls and created localized explosions based on which part of the body broke through – for example, an arm or a leg passing through the wall at different times. The effect that Glazer was after had the remnants of the wall fit tightly around the characters, with many localized explosions rather than a large one.

     

    Image: A breakdown of the elements used in the production of a wall-breaking shot.

    The 3D wall was produced in Maya, and the wall explosion system used to automate each break-through effect. The animation was then frozen and each piece of the wall was hand animated such that the pieces would be closer to each actor’s body, for a more localized feel. Several dust passes also had to be composited in, for example, dust coming from the woman’s hair. Every piece of wall that fell out also needed a dust trail. Overall, the explosion effects took two and a half months to work out and complete.

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  • The 3D forest also proved to be a bigger challenge than originally thought. Glazer wanted trees that had the proportions capable of having the actors run up the trees vertically, without looking too large. Research into various types of tree found that a combination of redwood and pine trees would be just right. Two “hero” trees were modelled for each actor to run up, and a virtual forest for the background also created. Maya Paint Effects was used to create the leaves, branches and trees quickly based on libraries of different models for each. A library of trees with different attributes was created and this tree library was accessed randomly to populate the 3D forest.

    As attempting to render all trees in a single shot would be too heavy, a custom tool rendered every tree individually and used each as a layer in compositing. This allowed the compositing artists to easily decide on the final layout by moving the trees around, or removing unwanted trees. The virtual forest also needed to appear “alive”, so a noise function that simulated wind moved the branches. As the shots were fast and short, the effect had to be amplified so that the detail would be apparant.

     

    Image: An entire forest was created in 3D for Odyssey.

    In total, the production took 7 months to complete. The core team had ten artists working during pre-production, which rose to twenty at the height of production. Alias|Wavefront Maya was used for all 3D, with many custom tools written such as the wall system and tree libraries. Rendering was mainly executed with the Maya renderer, though Mental Ray was also used for various elements. Compositing was mostly performed on Discreet inferno suites.

    Despite the heavy use of 3D and digital effects for the commercial, the emphasis was still on the effective communication of the story to the audience. “Odyssey is a character piece. It’s a love story between two people,” says Markus Manninen. “We didn’t want to impose effects shots on the production, nor make it more technical. We wanted to create a beautiful film.”

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    Related Links
    Levi's Odyssey Quicktime video (9MB)
    Framestore CFC
    Levi's

    Credits
    Words: Leonard Teo
    Interview: Ali Tezel
    Images: Framestore CFC

    Special thanks to Markus Manninen, Joint Head of 3D, Framestore CFC.

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