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Hot Spots Showcase 5: The Best in Animated & VFX Commercials

It's the fifth anniversary of AWN's annual "Hot Spots Showcase," which curates the best in animated and vfx commercials from our readers.

For the past five years, AWN has put out a call to its readers working in commercials to share their work. Each year the showcase is filled with innovative, funny and eye-popping spots. This year is no exception. It is a collection of commercials representing the best, and diverse, work these production houses are doing. These are ads you definitely don't want to skip past.


Helio Scuba Time 


"A52 really brought this concept to life. The work they did on the whale, the color and the environment helped us take this spot to another level." -- Nate Morley, vp/group creative director at Deutsch.

"The simple ideas always seem the hardest to pull off. A52 and the entire team made the very complex process of a whale eating a girl look so simple." -- Jennifer Parke, vp/group creative director at Deutsch.

"Jared did an amazing job directing this. It was a great cast, it was shot extremely well. From the rough-cut to the final version is truly unbelievable; A52's team absolutely brought this spot to life. From my perspective, this is one of the most extraordinary leaps from the rough-cut to the final version of a spot that I have ever worked on." -- Jen Dennis, producer at Deutsch.

A52's team, including vfx supervisor Patrick Murphy, vfx producer Sarah Haynes, 3D supervisor Andy Hall, lead Inferno artist Raul Ortego and others worked closely with the agency and production teams -- including director Jared Hess, line producer Laura Heflin and director of photography Munn Powell -- to determine what needed to be shot during the project's single day of location production, which was filmed at the Olympic Training Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Moving forward with the live-action footage of the divers, A52's post-production work began.

Under Andy Hall's supervision, A52's CGI team of Paulo de Almada and Dan Gutierrez modeled, textured, colored, animated and lit the "hero" whale, as well as a school of fish that appears throughout the spot, using Maya for the animation, and Mental Ray for rendering. From there, Raul Ortego artistically composited in the coral reef and appropriate screens for the Helio device, while also adding the CG fish and whale. His final touch was to color-grade the water to complete the spot's deep-sea illusion.

Credits for Helio Scuba Time A52Exec producer: Mark TobinProducer: Sarah HaynesVFX supervisor: Patrick MurphyInferno supervisor: Raul Ortego3D supervisor: Andrew Hall3D artists: Dan Gutierrez, Paulo de AlmadaDeutsch Inc., Los AngelesCco: Eric HirshbergGroup creative directors: Nate Morley, Jennifer ParkeArt director: David ZornCopywriter: JD JurentkuffDirector of broadcast production: Randy MortonAgency exec producer: Steffi BinderAgency producer: Jen DennisLive-action director: Jared Hess, Moxie PicturesLive-action director of photography: Munn PowellEditor: Paul Martinez, Lost PlanetEnd graphics: LoganSound design: Brian Chapman, Beacon Street StudiosFinal mix: Robert Feist, Ravenswork

Powershares Escape Average 

Acme Filmworks

Acme Filmworks is home to many of the world's finest animation directors and produces some of the most stylish commercials being created in the word today. Veteran Acme director and Time Squad creator Dave Wasson's latest work is representative of Acme's quality of artistic sophistication. PowerShares Escape Average combines a retro design that includes a classic action chase sequence accompanied by cool jazz that raises the bar for animated advertising. Under a tight deadline, Wasson and his team hand drew storyboards traditionally as well as in Adobe Flash. Wasson's final character designs and backgrounds were completed in Adobe Flash and Adobe After Effects was used for final composite. Euro RSCG of Chicago was the advertising agency to this fast-paced, action-adventure character piece for PowerShares that is a signature Acme FilmWorks production.

Credits for Powershares Escape Average Acme FilmworksExec producer: Ron DiamondCo-exec producer: Gwynn AdikDirector/designer: Dave WassonTechnical director: Nicolas MermetStoryboard artists: Dave Wasson, David KnottCharacter layout: Saharat TantivaranyooCharacter animation: James Krenzke, Justin Murphy, Rob LillyAssistant animation: James Krenzke, Greg FranklinAfterEffects artists: Nicolas Mermet, Brendan Burch, Mike JacobsonFlame artist: Philip InenoExploratory artwork: Bernie PetersonProduction managers: Eric Orner, Kerry Valentine, Brendan BurchProduction assistant: Albert RamirezEuro RSCG McConnaughy Tatham/Chicago Producer: Monica WilkinsExec creative director: Blake EbelCreative director/copywriter: Elyse McGuireCreative director/art director: Amanda Butts


Eureka Capture  

Blur Studio

"This all-CG spot is rendered with picture perfect photorealism and uses seemingly impossible camera moves link one scene to the next. We looked for creative ways to showcase each feature of the new Eureka vacuum and give it some personality. Although the agency considered a live-action approach, we strongly advocated CG because it gave us complete control and the flexibility to put the camera anywhere. The key to the spot is that it's more than a simple showcase for the vacuum's features. It's an adventure story. We kept the beginning very clean and simple -- white walls and highly reflective floors -- so that when the full room appears, it feels like a climax. It goes beyond conventional vacuum cleaner ads, yet it's still all about the vacuum." -- Norn Kittiaksorn, creative director.

Credits for Eureka Capture Creative director/designer: Norn KittiaksornCG supervisor/animation/Layout: Adam SwaabCreative consultant: Jennifer MillerProducer: Beth ElderLighting/compositing/modeling: Tim JonesModeling: Zack CorkHair simulation: Becca Baldwin, Jon JordanDonerVice-chairman/cco: John DeCerchioExec producer: Sheldon CohnProducer: Agnieszka PalarzExec creative director: Gary WolfsonCreative director: Glen HilzingerArt directors: Holly Ensman, Virgil AdamsWriter: Vivian White


Reese's Going Nuts 


"A lot of work comes through the pipe here and comparing them would be akin to apples and oranges. We are always proud of the character work we do and Reese's is no exception. There is a healthy balance between marketing a product and creating something artful and fun. In this case, the marketing (in which we present how the new Reeses candy bar was conceived) was the fun!

Like most spots we do, we extensively Pre-Visualize everything, working out timings (tricky for a 15 sec spot), and get everyone on the same page as early as possible.

In addition to the energetic animation style, these characters had to look realistic and delicious, no small feat when dealing with tons of peanuts and crispy chocolate crumbs everywhere!

In the end, we've designed and animated a trio of Hungry Peanut Butter cups evolving their way into something new and tasty, satisfying both our own creative appetite and the clients." -- Anthony Tabtong, animation director

"We took advantage of Maya 8.0's new geoCaching features extensively for this project which allowed the animators to be more free with their techniques, They could use clusters, soft Mods, sculpt deformers or sometimes just remodel using artisan to get the characters into the poses we wanted.

We also decided to use PhysX by Ageia a game physics engine that can be used in Maya. This allowed us to work faster and create more iterations of the peanuts (in the bowl)." -- Stephen K. Mann, lead character td

Credits for Reese's Goin' Nuts CharlexDirector: Alex WeilVP/senior graphics editor: Kevin MatuszewskiCG supervisor: Keith McCabeAnimation director: Anthony TabtongLighting director: James FisherLead effects td: Sebastian MarinoLead character td: Stephen K. MannSupervising td/effects: Seth LippmanLead modeler: Alex Cheparev Animators: Adam Burke, Sam Crees, John Wilson, Pat PorterLighting Tds: Gong Myung Lee, Cody Chen, Luis Cantillo, Jeff Chavez, Cesar Kuriyama, Keith McMenamyCharacter td: Andre StuppertModeling tds: Hungkit Ma, Anthony PattiDesigners: Will Kim, John O'CallaghanFlame artist: Mike MendizabalSound designer: Chris AfzalVP/exec producer: Adam IsidoreProducer: Chris VolckmannMusic Company: The LodgeTranslationCreative director: John McBrideProducers: Courtney Stovall, Joseph Ninivaggi, Lauren Hughes

Lux (Shine) Neon Girl 


Overall, production designer Dale Newton spent some six months on "Neon Girl," which includes a couple of months on inspirational design, through the early animatic work, to full production and delivery. "It didn't feel like an animation project, more like a film making project. It was more of a creative challenge than a technical one, from my point of view," he says, adding with a smile, "Though [senior technical director] Diarmid Harrison-Murray -- who handled the lighting -- might have a different take on it."

Diarmid Harrison-Murray, senior td, concurs. "The process we developed was interesting, actually," he says, "Dale started off by sketching everything on paper, and this was converted into vector art using Toon Boom, a vector animation package. From Toon Boom the work went through Flash, which gave us a file format that enables getting this 2D curve animation into Houdini.

In Houdini we'd put the animated curves through a feedback loop to generate all of the neons, whether they were on or off, and then we'd reapply their animation back on top of that to tell us which tubes should switch on at which point. So as well as the lighting and rendering, we were building all of the geometry of the neon tubes."

Because of the evolving nature of the project, a fairly automatic, procedural process was desirable. The elements couldn't be hand-modeled, because one change to the animation or design would mean everything would have to be done again. Explains Harrison-Murray, "The system we developed allowed us to plug the 2D animated curves at one end and get out neon tubes at the other end complete with all their bolts and trimming and a suitable amount of natural variation in appearance and behavior: a controllable but automatic process. We had to monitor this and keep an eye out for bugs - but we got a smooth pipeline going eventually."

One of the big challenges in lighting this spot was the question of 'indirect illumination.' In this case all the light cast by the neon lights and bounced around by their surroundings. With a lighting set-up this huge, quite a bit of time had to be spent optimizing a system that would give the indirect illumination and reflections needed, without bringing the render farm to its knees. Says Harrison-Murray, "We were rendering with Renderman, which has various systems in place to help you deal with a ton of geometry without running out of memory. In addition, the reality of production demands means that providing the result looks great, elegant fakery is quite acceptable..."

The architecture behind the look, the series of rendered passes, which create every facet and nuance of light behavior, was devised by Harrison-Murray. Once prepared, these passes were handed to Inferno artist Tim Osborne who prepared the final image, adjusting color values, brightness and contrast to ensure that the neons read correctly against the evening sky.

Credits for Lux (Shine) Neon Girl Framestore CFCProduction design: Dale NewtonDesign: Sylvain MarcAnimators: Dale Newton, Sylvain MarcAdditional animation: Florent de La TailleSenior technical director: Diarmid Harrison-MurrayTechnical directors: Guillame Fradin, David MellorJunior technical director: Paul JonesModeling: Mary SwinnertonSenior compositing artist: Tim OsborneProducer: Scott GriffinSantoGeneral cd/art director: Maximiliano AnselmoGeneral cd: Sebastian WilhelmCopywriters: Matias Ballada / Sebastian WilhelmHead of production: Facundo PerezAgency producer: Andres SalmoyraghiRattling StickDirector: Daniel KleinmanExec production: Johnnie Frankel


Nissan Dualis Pass 


Shoji Kawamori, cult Japanese designer and creator of Manga classics like Macross/Robotech and Patlabor, was asked by Nissan to design a robot to represent their new model Nissan Dualis. Given the stature of Kawamori in the Japanese design community, Fuel felt honored to be able to team up again with director, Josh Baker, in the challenge to bring the design to life. In the three spots, Jump, Rise and Pass the driver and the Dualis are transformed into a hybrid robot or "powered suit" representing the vehicle's blend of expert handling and advanced technology. And in the great Manga tradition, when faced with urban gridlock, the Dualis makes his escape in typical anime style.

The Nissan campaign pays tribute to Japan's tradition of manga, an artform that Hollywood has appropriated in blockbusters like The Matrix and, more recently, Transformers. Fuel wanted to pay respect to that tradition and at the same time contribute to the genre by developing something a little different -- a more "organic" animated transition, that blends man and machine into a suit of 21st century armor.

Simon Maddison, Fuel's VFX supervisor on the three spots, explains that, "The organic feel was not altogether straightforward to achieve. Three distinct models needed to be created: the robot, the car, and a 'car/robot hybrid,' which would help blend the shapes and geometry in the transition. The commercials were lensed in and around Sydney, and Maddison was on hand to supervise the visual effects shots, many of which involved either moving cameras or car rigs. "We were mindful of recording HDRI (high dynamic range image) lighting references on location, to apply later in post to the robot animation. In this way we are able to match the live-action lighting conditions and to reflect the city environments in the robot's polished metallic surface, all techniques that help with integrating the CG into the live-action."

Credits Nissan Dualis Pass Fuel VFX supervisor: Simon MaddisonVFX producer: Dave Kelly3D lead: Mike BainLead Flame artist: Karen FablingSydney Film Co.Director: Josh BakerProducer: Nicole Crozier


eBay Robot 


Peter Sluszka spreads holiday cheer in a new spot for eBay, featuring a not so typical family. The spot opens with a superhero dad as he plays with an "it" game, which he keeps away from his son. "It" ornaments decorate the tree while the family robot opens up an "it" present. The spot, done in conjunction with BBDO NY, culminates in a camera move that reveals the context of the snowy day.

Credits for eBay Robot Hornet Inc. Director: Peter SluszkaExec producer: Michael FederProducer: Greg BedardAnimation producer: Joel KretschmanDirector of photography: Ivan AbelMotion control operator: Richard CoppolaAnimator: Jason PattersonArt director: Tim McDonaldFabricator: Ben PhelanStoryboard/design: Fred FassbergerCharacter design: David ZungCharacter fabrication: Nathan Asquith, Julianna CoxSculptor: Michael LawrenceAdditional fabrication: Peter Erickson Compositor: Dan DeGloria, John EarleEditor: Anita ChaoProduction assistants: Aaron Rosenbloom, Ben Ruggerio, Michael Seiser, Ariana RenteriaBBDO NYECD: Greg HahnSCD: Chris TolandSCD/art director: James ClunieSCD/copywriter: Kara GoodrichProducer: Becky FriedmanAccount supervisor: Megan BundyMusic producer: Loren Parkins


Wiernerschnitzel's Nutter Butter 

an ideal world

"A dancing CG hot dog would normally take three months to produce, but the agency needed it in two weeks. After carefully reviewing the boards, we found a way to do it. Our solution was a hybrid approach combining still photography, 2D and 3D animation. We shot still images of cookies and Freezees against greenscreen. We also shot a bar of chocolate after smashing it with a hammer. We pulled the chocolate sequences into Maya to create the streams of chocolate that fly across the sky. We then integrated all of the live elements into our 3D world. For the character, we 'repurposed' animation from an earlier Wienerschnitzel commercial. For one sequence, we animated the hot dog's arms to make it look like he's swimming. The spot is basically a cocktail of pieces we put together through splicing and dicing." -- Robb Hart, creative director

Credits for Wienerschnitzel's Nutter Butter an ideal worldLead VFX Artist: Sharon DiazDirector/producer: Robb HartDirector of photography: Rich SchaeferKey grip: Tony PerijaGaffer: Brian RuppProduction assistant: Kristyn MancusoFood stylist: Norman Walton Stewart IIDGWBAssociate creative director: Jim RiddleMotion graphics artist: Brandt WisemanAccount supervisor: Michael GurrieriGroup account director: Doug KoegeboehnAgency producer: Carlos GutierrezExec creative director: Jon Gothold

Cover Girl Umbrella  

KromA"This spot for Cover Girl is based on Rihanna's Umbrella music video and uses water effects that are similar to those we created for the video. Liquid crisscrosses the frame, responding to her hand gestures and other movements. Water elements were shot practically with an HD camera, but were heavily manipulated digitally to make it appear to flick off her arms and conform to the shape of her head. We painted the footage frame by frame, in essence, choreographing the movement of the liquid through the frame while retaining its organic quality and feel." -- Bert Yukich, visual effects supervisor.

Credits for Cover Girl Umbrella KromA, Los AngelesVFX supervisor: Bert YukichExec producer: Amy YukichReactor FilmsDirector: Chris ApplebaumProducer: John HardinDirector of photography: Pierre Rouger

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