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Guru Makes Robin Rap For Fox Spot

When PWLC London was looking to create a rapping robin for its new Fox's biscuits campaign, it brought the script to Toronto's guru animation studio. Armed with only a sketch and a Snoop Dog reference, cd Frank Falcone and his team went to work on developing a 3D character that was not only hip hop fabulous, but kid (parent) friendly.

The ROCKY spot combines live action and 3D character animation. It plays like a music video, with Rocky R rapping about his new "fresh" biscuits in a world full of bling and booty.

After some storyboard collaboration between guru and 235 Films music video director Harv, they decided to put a pimped-out robin roosting in a stretched Lincoln Navigator and poolside at a sprawling Credit River mansion. The video was shot over a two-day period in the blistering June heat with many tween extras.

Rocky was the most technically involved projects this studio has ever attempted, according to animator Mark Ainslie. Not just by one aspect, which has been our past experience, but by a whole multitude of shiny technologies with big words invented by people with lots of letters after their names. Not to mention, this is our first live-action integration job as a studio. Not that it's a real biggie because Anne, Frank, Bryan and myself have all worked on such projects in the past, but we had a whole slew of new buzzwords to bat around with our chrome ball.

The guru team had to tackle the triple problem of rendering clothing, hair and feathers. The character was groomed with 2,000 or so feathers. For the jacket, Maya Cloth and Joe Alter's Shave and a Haircut were used. Both are simulations of cloth and hair and both have a nasty habit of doing exactly the opposite thing than what they wanted them to do, the guru animators found.

guru used mental ray as a rendering platform for the first time as well as HDR (High Dynamic Range) lighting, Image Based Lighting and Ambient Occlusion to help the character live up to his reputation of being "Lord of the Bling."

The biggest challenge as a studio with adopting mental ray has been the learning curve, said Ainslie. Under the hotpot of production it can create some interesting challenges to get everything working smoothly when you're used to doing things differently. In the end the difficulties are worth it, because we ended up with some kickass images and will increase the quality of our rendering at guru.

The studio took many exposures for HDR lighting, because a regular photograph just can't capture all the light values in your average scene, explained Ainslie. If you expose for the shadow areas, the lights clip to white. If you expose for the lights, everything else goes black. HDR images will get everything. By using this technique we were able to light our 3D model with the image that we created from the set. Some R&D was needed since we never really attempted this before.

Ainslie said guru decided to use AO is a way of incorporating all the lighting that they sampled from the scenes to give its renders dark contact shadows in the creases. It's a process that Blue Sky and ILM have been using for some time to give that global illumination look without increasing render times through the roof, he said. Our R&D showed us that the best way to work with this is to paint out the brightest light sources on our HDR maps (i.e. the set lighting, the sun, etc) so that we could have full control over those as CG lights. That left the Ambient Occlusion technique to give us the right amount of fill lighting that would have been time consuming and difficult to do with traditional lighting methods. The big challenge for us was working with the three separate renders that this process created.

There was a CG pass which was just the main CG lights, an ambient pass which was just the colors projected from the surrounding HDR map, and an occlusion (or dirt) pass which darkened the areas in the ambient pass that would never have been illuminated, he continued. This made it difficult to light our scenes interactively because we didn't see what things looked like until the renders were done and blended together in a compositing package. In hindsight, for future projects we'll be combining all the passes into one.

To catch the spot and learn more about guru, go to

Credits:Advertiser - Foxs BiscuitsBrand - Rocky RoundsAgency - PWLCCreative directors - Pete Camponi and Rick WardAgency producer - Teresa QuinnProduction company - guru animation studioDirector - Frank FalconeModeling and set-up - Mark Ainslie, Tim Dormady, Andrew Kim and Paul WollenzienAnimating - Mark Ainslie, Bryan Huo, Frank Falcone, Timmy Kan, Taras Primak, Dave CalderLighting and rendering - Mark Ainslie, Tim Dormady, Timmy Kan, Taras Primak and Dave CalderFur and coat - Bryan HuoLive action - directed by Harv of 235 filmsEditing - Mark Morton at SchoolMusic - Thomas Neuspiel and Keith Power at Keen MusicFinal compositing and online - Terry Rose at Soho