I had a very enjoyable encounter today – I was invited by Ella Boekeman at MPC to come and talk about animals. Not the living breathing kind, but the impossibly detailed CGi ones that they make at MPC London. Lead animator Tim Van Hussen, was also in the room, to add some of the background detail to these amazing creaturesLong known for their creature development in top feature films (Prometheus, The Chronicles of Narnia, X-Men…) MPC also work on a lot of shorter sequences that serve the whims of the advertising industry.
We started our chat talking about The Smirnoff Applebite commercial - where a powder pink dressed couple walk into a bar and then get served their drinks by two snakes that come out of the bartenders arms…
Tim explained that in a scenario like this, where the snakes are not meant to be entirely “natural” the first things they talk about is how human the creature will be. They often discuss something that animators call the “uncanny valley” when animating in a very realistic way. It’s a phrase coined by a robotics professor called Masahiro Mori in the 1970s and it describes the process of animating something in a progressively more photo realisitic way – until you get to about 95% and the viewer perceives it to be not quite real enough and they become uncomfortable with it.
So, with the Smirnorff snakes – despite their real texture and movement, they had to modify a few things so as not to make the viewer uncomfortable with the idea that they are being used to sell a product. In this case they were given different colours, performed human acts of drink preparation and twitched in time to the music.
The process starts with the bartender being filmed in-camera with rigs designed to mimic snake movement inside his clothing, so later, when the CG snakes appear its as if they emerge from his sleeves.
Tim told me “after we have considered the anthropomorphic qualities of the creature we then start with basics like how it moves – we only add texture & skin effects later. Extensive research was carried out into both animal behaviour and physical attributes – from anatomical, skeletal and muscle structure, through to surface texture. In general if something looks or acts in a human way, the viewer will relate to it more.
Once the filming is complete extensive rig removal was carried out including the removal of an ice crusher and bike chains that were used to squeeze the apple. All the modelling was done in Maya before adding individual textures and colours. Snake behaviour and movement were studied extensively to bring the boa constrictor, viper and cobras to life. Lighting was generated with Arnold renderer from Solidangle, employed to give an instantly rich and realistic look.
What makes this ad so cool for me is not just the amazing effects, but also the quality of the script and the music behind it. I found myself just wanting to be in that bar and seeing what happens next… and it’s true the snakes seem realistic, but not threatening in any way… (does anybody else think that the barman looks a bit like David Bowie…?
The other piece of work we focussed on was the The platypus ad for First Direct. Tim elaborated some more “there was not a great deal of source material to go on – mainly paintings made by 19th century explorers and some very limited footage which we found on Youtube.
Again, we had to go through the process of deciding how “human” this creature would be. After all he talks like a regular man on the street, but only moves and expresses himself with in the confines of what is broadly realistic for an animal – he is not animated in a “cartoony” way. We started by taking in the existing footage and then present four possible walk cycles to the agency. Interestingly, the one they chose was the most different from the original! (and most naturalistic)”
“The other thing that we really care about is the ‘performance’ or the acting ability of the creature – we worked hard to conevy the character and the emotions of the creature without turning to anything like eyes bulging, or body parts stretching. This is where I feel that the client really relies on our expertise to carry this off.”
“Again once the movement and the style of the creature have been decided, we start working on the fur dynamics – the direction and movement. At MPC we have our own proprietary software for hair and fur called “Furtility”. This is amazingly detailed and we can adjust individual hairs to go in any direction. The “Groomers” who handle hair also have to think about where the’skin’ finishes and the fur starts on any given creature”
Just to finish off this seamless platypus/real life scenario they also created some bloopers (one of them below) – which lend even more credibility to the ‘realness’ of this character
Both ads are a perfect combination of strong ideas by the agency, great direction from the production company (in this case Dom & Nic from Outsider), and incredible detail and expertise from the VFX team – and I think we should be really proud of this stunning hig quality work that we are producing in the UK. If you want to see more examples, then head over to the MPC website.
Smirnoff SnakesCredits: Agency – Mother, Production Company – RSA, Director – Johnny Hardstaff, Creatives – Mother, Production Company Producer – Ben Link, DoP – Carl Nilsson, VFX Producer – Dionne Archibald, VFX Supervisor – Adam Crocker, CG Supervisor – Anthony Bloor, VFX Team – Yousuke Matsuno,Graham Eglin, Martin Blunden, Ted Lister, Tim Van Hussen, ChiaraAntelmi, ChristopherAntoniou, Sean Ray, Tim Civil, Yosuke Matsuno,Graeme Eglin, Anbarasu Elangovan, Raju Ganesh S, Grade – MPC, Colourist – Mark Gethin
First Direct Platypus Credits – Agency – JWT London, Production Company – Outsider, Directors – Dom & Nic, Executive Creative Director – Russell Ramsey, Creative Director – Jason Berry, Art Director – Kevin Masters, Copywriter – Miles Bingham, Agency Producer – Sian Parker, Production Company Producer – John Madsen, VFX – MPC, VFX Producer – Ian Luxford, Line Producer – Rebecca Little, Creative Director of 3D – Jake Mengers, VFX Supervisor – Chrys Aldred, CG Supervisor – Anthony Bloor, Lead Animator – Tim van Hussen, VFX Team – Jim Spratling, Karen Weiss, Chiara Antelmi, Christopher Antoniou, Eduardo Castells, Emanuele Pescatori, Gian Luigi Granieri, Mark Robinson, Sean Ray, Tim Civil, Grade – MPC, Colourist – Jean-Clement Soret