CGSociety :: Production Focus
6 January 2013, by Meleah Maynard
From arc welders, mason jars and lawn mowers to incandescent light bulbs, gyroscopes and pasteurization, all great inventions got their start somewhere, and that somewhere is often a simple garage or basement. Swedish television show, Uppfinnarna, celebrates budding, do-it-yourself inventors by scouting the country for those who just might be onto the next big thing.
Scans of real toast from CG Textures were used to create this scene in which golden slices of bread pop out of an inconceivably complicated toaster.
Swedish graphic designer and producer Joachim Ljunggren used MAXON’s CINEMA 4D and Adobe After Effects to create the show’s title sequence, which captures that magical moment when an unsung inventor finally brings a beloved prototype to life.
“When I start a project, I learn as much about a show as I can and with Uppfinnarna, I cracked it immediately,” Ljunggren recalls. “Working late into the night after his ordinary job, the inventor uses whatever parts he can find to build a weird machine, and nobody knows what it does but him.”
The Art of Invention
Ljunggren was hired by Swedish production company Meter Television to create the 27-second title sequence for the show, which airs on TV4. Having worked for both the network and production company many times in the past, he was given quite a bit of creative freedom to come up with concepts. Inspiration came from his love of the look of machinery and an old Swedish song by Michael B. Tretow called “Den Maka Makalösa Manicken” (The Amazing Machine-thingy).
Ljunggren tried several different strategies for animating this accordion-style machine before succeeding with PLA (point-level animation). Dynamics on the springs, bolts and cables made the machine feel more “alive.”
Once concepts were approved, Ljunggren created style frames and did animation tests before starting work on the animatics. At the same time, Johan Landqvist began composing music for the spot. And though neither artist had seen or heard the other’s work, everything came together so perfectly the music appears to be nearly timed to the frame. “It always amazes me how well motion and music fits together when two creative minds work from different parts in this country,” Ljunggren says. “It almost happens like magic.”
Ljunggren says he didn’t really know how the “weird machine” would turn out. He just kept building until he got what he wanted. “It was a bit scary because I’d never worked with connectors before and I was on a tight deadline so there wasn’t much time to test,” he says.
With the exception of Landqvist, Ljunggren was the sole artist working on the title sequence, which took about a month from start to finish, including creation of the Uppfinnarna logo and additional graphic design of the titles themselves.
Asked to describe his creative process, Ljunggren explained that he started by writing down a short synopsis describing what would happen in the spot. Next, he modeled the main parts he was sure he would use in CINEMA 4D. One of the objects that took longest to model was the EKG machine seen in the establishing shot.
The EKG machine in the opening shot was inspired by old oscilloscopes used in WWII.
Before starting his animations, Ljunggren, who uses CINEMA 4D R14, made style frames of some of the objects and the inside of the garage where the invention takes shape. “I tried different lighting and color corrections to get the mood that I wanted, and when I was happy I started animating,” he says, adding that it was a big help to have a draft of the music in hand by then. Compositing was done in Adobe After Effects and Premiere CS6 was used for editing.
Because this scene was so heavy, Ljunggren needed to keep objects as low-poly as possible, except when they were near the camera such as the light bulbs.
As Ljunggren worked, he faced a familiar challenge: how to make something that’s about 20 seconds long that people will understand. “I usually try to cram too much in and have to scale back,” he explains. In this case, it was challenging to model everything, and it was more complicated because some of the objects used connectors, springs and dynamics and I hadn’t worked with that combination much before.”
Cogwheels + Toast and Umbrella
Early scenes in which cogwheels turn several different gears were animated first and set the tone for the rest of the spot, Ljunggren says. MoGraph cloners, plain effectors and delay effectors all contribute to the complex mechanical look and feel of the machine. “And I really like how the cogwheels reflect the environment, too,” he says, pointing out that sparks were added in post, using a clip from Video Copilot’s Action Essentials.
Getting the umbrella to unfold before taking off under the power of many tiny trumpets was no easy task, says Ljunggren, but he was pleased with the way it turned out. “Getting the metal structure to unfold and bend up while the fabric followed along convincingly was the trickiest part,” he recalls. Ultimately, everything was keyframed by hand. Smoke coming from the trumpets was made using stock shots from Video Copilot’s Action Essentials.
“I put an omni light with zero intensity in every trumpet in order to get the position data in After Effects,” he recalls. “From there, I used the position coordinates to comp in the stock some video, which I think is much easier for stuff like this than trying to make it work in a 3D program with planes, textures and alphas.”