When Nike needed innovative animations to showcase its new Air Jordan XX (AJXX), the new, advanced basketball shoe, it turned to New York City-based creative collective Tronic Studio, continuing a two-year collaboration.
Tronic previously worked with Nike on the products featured on Nikelab, and as part of the Nike Speed campaign they directed and animated the fully-CG short film, A LONG TIME AGO, TOMORROW, which documents one man's attempt to travel at the speed of light.
"This project marks the intersection of Web interactivity and broadcast," said creative director Jesse Seppi. "You're on the Web watching video and audio as if they were on TV, but they're also interactive."
In a magical turn, a pair of AJXXs appears in the dark, on a glossy, reflective floor, and begins to play basketball. With only sound design suggesting the bounce of the ball and the squeak of shoes on the court, the AJXXs execute a slam-dunk, make a three-point shot and generally tear up the court.
"Nike has its own motion-capture studio in Portland (Oregon) where they captured data from NBA players, which we imported into our software and tweaked for the right movements, speed and timing to produce an action loop," added Seppi. "Through motion capture we could see the basketball moves without showing the player's body or the ball. Even with only the audio of the ball, the idea of actually playing basketball comes across really well."
Tronic imported the motion-capture data into Autodesk 3ds Max and Character Studio, after initial prep work with Kaydara software. The segment required extensive camera animation on Tronic's part so Seppi linked his camera to the hip of a skeleton player then hand-animated the camera to manipulate the view.
Using Character Studio's biped feature Tronic created a series of keyframes of the on-court action. They then applied Max's Physique modifier to the photoreal AJXXs they had modeled in Max so the shoes would experience toe and ankle deformation as the player ran and jumped. The last step was to hide the player's skeleton so all that was left was the shoes.
Finally, Tronic patterned the highly reflective floor with a texture map of the same lace cover iconography, which appears on the AJXXs.
The website encourages viewers to "explore every angle of the AJXX." Clicking on this feature points out the shoe's upper, toebox and lace cover/icons in action on the court in Tronic's animation. Clicking on any of the shoe components further spotlights its innovations.
"We modeled the AJXX, and all of its layers, as realistically as possible so people could learn how the shoes are constructed, why the technology is so advanced and why the AJXX offers the best performance for basketball players," said Seppi. "Once we modeled the shoes in Max in high detail, we could build up the layers abstractly through a glass texture so there's a lot of reflection and refraction of the components."
A segment on the AJXXs' upper shows its advances from forefoot flex channels to a unique iridescent colorway; another segment on the toebox highlights it as a key wear and important foot-mechanics zone. A third segment on the shoe's distinctive lace cover reveals the meaning of the pattern of laser-etched icons and shows how the cover increases mid-foot stability and keeps laces secure.
Tronic employed SplutterFish's Brazil to render the shoes and their layers using HDRI to achieve a photoreal quality.
Tronic Studio (www.tronicstudio.com) is a NYC directing, design and animation studio founded in 2001 by Columbia Architecture graduates Jesse Seppi and Vivian Rosenthal.