Frantic Films Software, the software development arm of vfx studio Frantic Films (a division of Prime Focus Group), announced that its high-volume point-based particle renderer Krakatoa was used by German post facility Unexpected on a recent commercial campaign for Snickers Russia.
The two-spot effort via ad agency BBDO Moscow and Spy Films, Toronto, combines feature film-quality VFX with live-action to tell a story of biomechanical creatures that use Snickers as their energy supply. The first spot RUGBY, is currently airing throughout Russia, while a second spot, TAG, breaks in fall 2008.
Founded in 1999 and currently boasting a 35-member team of directors, vfx artists and animators, Stuttgart, Germany-based post-production studio Unexpected is behind some of the most vfx-intensive commercial, TV and film projects in Europe.
Unexpected's vfx team is led by Managing Director and Co-Founder Alexander Kiesl and Head of Visual Effects Steffen Hacker. Krakatoa was added to the company's Autodesk 3ds Max production pipeline in October 2007.
Krakatoa is Frantic Film Software's production-proven volumetric point renderer ideal for creating believable and finely detailed natural phenomena, like dust, smoke, silt, ocean surface foam, plasma and even solid objects. The latest Snickers campaign was the studio's first project using Krakatoa, which was employed to help boost several key CG shots.
Steffen Hacker, Head of Visual Effects at Unexpected said, "Our studio's primary tools are Autodesk 3ds Max, Pixologic Zbrush, Adobe Photoshop CS3 and Adobe After Effects CS3 running primarily on Dell Dimensions with Windows XP x64 running on 64bit CPUs. Krakatoa integrated effortlessly with our pipeline and renderfarm, and it proved to be a powerful addition to our VFX arsenal on this recent job."
In addition to heading up Unexpected's VFX department, Kiesl and Hacker are also award-winning commercial directors.
Working under the moniker Alex & Steffen, the duo has been helming commercials for the likes of Microsoft Xbox, World Wildlife Fund, and the Finnish Ministry of Transport since 2005. Alex & Steffen are repped by Spy Films in Toronto, but bring all projects into Unexpected for visual effects and post.
This is the second Snicker campaign from Unexpected and Alex & Steffen. Their first was in 2006, with the spots ROBOTS and RACE. That campaign was such a success; BBDO Moscow approached the company again to raise the bar even higher for the 2007-2008 effort.
In the Snickers RUGBY spot, hybrid robot-human creatures play rugby on an abandoned military plane bone yard. In the ad's climax, one of the creatures loses all its energy and disassembles into a huge cloud of dust and debris.
"We didn't want to go for a seen-before morph and didn't want to use the mechanical explosion disassemble we used to animate the first two Snickers spots, so a more natural, organic transformation was needed," explains Hacker. "We experimented a lot with other plug-ins for 3ds Max, but none of them achieved the look we were going for. Then we discovered Frantic Films Software's Krakatoa."
The transformation and re-transformation shots in RUGBY were to include a huge amount of particles. Unexpected had originally planned to do all the particle animation using 3ds Max's particle system Particle Flow. However, the team discovered that its renderer-of-choice couldn't churn out the number of particles it wanted to integrate into the transformation shots. So after researching all the particle simulators available, Alex & Steffen decided to give Krakatoa a shot.
"The first test scenes that particle artist Emil Stefanov set up while we were shooting contained several hundred thousand particles and were extremely quick, and then our more sophisticated test scenes containing millions of particles outputted pretty efficiently as well," said Hacker. "It was then that Alex and I looked at each other and thought, 'Hey, maybe this Krakatoa is actually going to do the job!' We found Krakatoa's saving-out feature of particles to PRT sequences a particularly brilliant tool. This allowed a calculation to be recycled for different passes such as for the diffuse layer, RGB layer for different PFlow events and, of course, for changing values afterward, like size of particles. Even though Krakatoa doesn't support Particle Age, color info could still be saved out within the PRTs to use as a mask for the compositing artist."
Krakatoa was mainly used for all transformation and re-transformation shots of the main characters. In addition, the tool was employed to create discreet and detailed particle animation, such as falling rust and dispersed dust from the moving characters. Krakatoa also gave the Snickers product shot added appeal by integrating several million particles to accentuate the Snickers bar's movement.
Krakatoa features that Unexpected particularly liked included how the toolset handled matte objects as selection sets, and the intuitive and clearly arranged renderer user interface. Frantic Films Software substituted the small checkboxes with checkbuttons that were hard-to-miss, and right-click options made the settings overview and troubleshooting easier. And because the UI is a MaxScript, it can be adjusted individually to suit the artist, who can add more functions or change the color of the background buttons to different shades at will. Even the learning curve was not as steep as anticipated-Unexpected's 3ds Max TD Jorg Haberle learned Krakatoa during the project in a very short period of time, and was fully working with its project files a few days later.
"Krakatoa performed under our very demanding commercial production schedule, and we've seen only a fraction of what the software can do. Without a doubt, we'll be using Krakatoa on future projects. I highly recommend this tool to anyone with a general knowledge of particle setups and a lot of creativity, because you can really help make magic with this useful tool," said Hacker.
To view Snickers RUGBY and to find out more about Unexpected, visit www.unexpected.de.