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Framestore Heads For the Clouds in New British Airways Spot

Framestore CFC created the ethereal and lovely vfx for CLOUDS, a new spot for British Airways. Made by Ed Edwards and Dave Masterman at BBH, and directed by Daniel Kleinman for Kleinman Prods., the spot is currently appearing in :30 and :40 versions in markets that include the U.K., the Middle East and Africa.

CLOUDS emphasizes both the value and the customer care offered by BA, and it does so by showing the pleasure and wonder still inherent in the miracle of flight pleasures available to the carefree, pampered BA customer. The spot starts with establishing shots of a BA jet speeding through and above a sea of clouds. The clouds themselves are then transformed, becoming a school of dolphins that frolic around the plane.

VFX supervisor William Bartlett supervised the project for Framestore CFC, attending the shoots and leading the Inferno work, while the CG cloud creatures themselves (and the jet seen in many of the shots) were created by a 10-person crew from the company's 3D Commercials team, headed by CG supervisor, Dominic Parker.

The one-day aerial shoot took place in March, with the aim of capturing as much backplate material as possible. "We needed a plane from which hi-res images could be shot above the clouds, said Bartlett The only one like that in the U.K. could only support up to a 16mm camera, so we went to L.A. Unfortunately, that city lived up to its reputation for sunshine and blue skies on our shoot day. But we had good weather information, and so we headed north, cloud hunting. We ended up trolling some 1,100 miles up the West Coast to find usable clouds, eventually landing in Seattle that evening."

Bartlett also supervised three further days of shooting at Black Island studios, two for the airplane interiors, and one spent shooting overhead shots of dry ice and snapping high-speed pictures of small explosive charges being detonated invaluable elements in the final compositions.

There were two main 3D elements in CLOUDS the jet which we see cruising the skies, and the dolphins themselves. One of the advantages that Framestore CFC offers its artists and operators is that of the cross-fertilization of techniques between film and television. Thus the Commercials team was able to use a cloud-making tool that the company's film team had developed initially for THUNDERBIRDS, and also used on the forthcoming X-MEN: THE FINAL STAND and SUPERMAN RETURNS. This tool operates within Houdini, utilizing Houdini's I3D voxel rendering technology. It came to the team as a tool for cloud rendering, and it was necessary to develop new techniques to use it as a tool for cloud animation.

Of the process itself, Parker explained, "Clouds can move in two ways: sometimes they simply translate, scudding across the sky, and sometimes they evolve and develop growing in one direction and dissipating in another. We discovered that we needed a bit of both these states. We need things to move enough for them to be interesting from an animation perspective, allowing us to produce some body animation within the dolphins; but we also had to ensure that there was enough of the evolutionary aspect that it didn't look like a cutout. That was the challenge throughout this project: to try to find a beautiful way of bringing these things to life, but one which didn't separate them out from the backgrounds."

Added Bartlett: "The more they looked like clouds, the less they looked like dolphins and vice versa. Somewhere in that middle ground was the ideal place that we were searching for. The trouble is, of course, that it's a slightly different place for every viewer..."

The desired organic relationship between 2D and 3D elements meant that the look continued to develop throughout the spot's time at Framestore CFC. "To get the balance just right, " continued Bartlett, "There was a lot of back and forth between 2D and 3D." Added Parker, "It was a two-way learning process going on between Will [Bartlett] and ourselves. An eddy in the backplate might lead us to create something echoing this in the animation."

Kate Hood created the actual dolphin animations in Maya, chiefly, based on a model built by Alex Doyle. These animations jumps, swims, dives etc., all with several variations were of the dolphin before it had even achieved its final cloud form. The Houdini team then took small sections of these moves for the cloud creatures. Andy Boyd, Simon Stoney and Doyle handled the plane, with Boyd doing the shading and rendering with help from Paul Jones. Telecine work largely on the sky material and interiors was by senior colorist Matt Turner.

London-based Framestore CFC (www.framestore-cfc.com) is one of the leading visual effects companies working on effects for feature films and commercials. Recent film work includes X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, SUPERMAN RETURNS, V FOR VENDETTA and HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE.

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