Barton Damer’s design and motion graphics studio, Already Been Chewed (ABC) had been working with Nixon on several different watch releases when they were asked to develop a series of teasers and trailers for the company’s new line of Star Wars-themed watches and accessories known as the Star Wars™ Nixon Collection.

Nixon collaborated with Disney and Lucas Films to create the high-end watch series, which masterfully combines iconic Star Wars themes with elegant design. Released just before Comic Con in San Diego, the launch also coincides with the newest film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Teasers and trailers Damer and his team created are currently being used as digital ads on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, as well as on Star Wars and fashion websites. 

In all, ABC created 12 animated videos, including a 60-second Nixon Collection Launch spot (above) in five weeks using a combination of Cinema 4D and After Effects. As they worked on the campaign, every aspect of the design had to be approved by Disney.

“They wanted the spots to have a look that felt like Star Wars but was definitely not Star Wars,” Damer says, explaining that there needed to be no confusion between the films’ storylines and what was depicted in the ads. 

The Dark Side
Damer and his team devised the creative brief for the first phase of the project, the Dark Side release, a collection of Storm Trooper, Boba Fett and Imperial Pilot-inspired watches and accessories, as well as a limited edition Darth Vader watch. A series featuring the good guys, the Light Side, is planned for release for 2016. 

Once those ideas had been combined with input from Disney and Lucas Films and approved, they got to work on animations based on CAD (computer-aided design) models provided by the client. Watches for each spot were custom designed and modeled—the inside parts being Star Wars-inspired. Texturing was done in Cinema 4D, and for the most part the process went smoothly. In some cases where the polygons were jagged and unusable, ABC artist Bryan Talkish recreated parts in C4D. “Bryan has developed a technique for using R16’s new texturing system and it has worked so well, we’re embracing it more and more,” Damer says. 

Textures created for Nixon’s Dark Side watch spots utilized several layer shaders containing stacks of blended noises, images and effect layers (tiles, Fresnels and gradients). In some cases, multiple texture tags were applied on a single object with varying alpha channel strengths.

“Custom shaders were typically used and adjusted across multiple channels in a texture, including color, bump and reflectance,” Talkish explains. “Some objects required additional subtleties, such as dings, scratches, discoloration, and scuffs, so a separate semi-transparent material was created using the alpha channel that was then applied over the main texture tag.”

For the Darth Vader watch trailer (above), Damer created an abstract version of Star Wars’ meditation chamber, which was used by those looking to charge up their powers of the Force. The video begins with the watch building up from nothing as the familiar sound of Darth Vader’s labored breathing can be heard. 

While the Nixon logo forms the dial, the animation recalls the walkways and bridges Luke Skywalker and Vader traverse during the epic fight that ultimately kills Lord Vader. Knowing they needed to be careful about how they represented the Star Wars brand, ABC made sure film references were abstract. All of the watches include artwork that Nixon’s team created, particularly on the back where various characters are depicted. 

Creating a Star Wars Feel

The Storm Trooper teaser was tricky. Damer’s team was going for a scene where sand appeared to blow away and reveal the watch, which was lying in the desert, which was littered with debris. In the background, smoke from bombs going off could be seen. 

In the end, though, Disney didn’t approve the scene because it departed from the Star Wars story. Instead, the team added a telescoping binocular effect reminiscent of Luke Skywalker’s POV in the desert. 

ABC used X-Particles to create the effect of the sand blowing away. A combination of emitters, forces and point level animation was used to reveal the watch in the sand. “Final compositing in After Effects allowed us to incorporate a low-frame-rate look with Posterize Time and add the binocular framing,” Damer says. 

Another effect Damer is glad to have been able to use is the time warp seen in some of the teasers and trailers. Created using the time warp effect in After Effects, the team started by using Trap Code Particular to make a space field and then had the camera fly through it. “In After Effects, you can set a certain amount of delay, almost like a shutter speed where you get more light blurs the more you adjust it,” he explains, adding that the ReelSmart Motion Blur plug-in helped make the warp look more interesting. Everything was rendered with Already Been Chewed’s in-house rendering system using five computers on Team Render. 

Damer says that he and his team will soon be starting work on the Light Side collection. “So that will be fun, and we’ll have a whole new set of challenges as we work to create a similar, but different, feel for all of those products.
Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.