Search form

Summer 2013: Sizzling VFX Hot Spots

A collection of some of the very best animated and vfx-driven summer commercials.

As we roll into fall, it’s time to take a look at some of the standout spots of the season behind us—a summer filled with trolls, photo-real apes and chimpanzees and F1 racing legends, as well as pop-up books and quirky 2D animation.

PETA “98% Human”

Mill+ and The Mill NY teamed up with BBDO NY to create a totally believable, photo-real CG chimpanzee for “98% Human,” an astonishing and groundbreaking new spot for PETA’s multi-platform campaign, “The Great Ape Pledge.”

“This was one of the most exciting and challenging projects I've ever worked on,” said animation director Angus Kneale. “Crafting PETA ‘98% Human’ was more than about creating a totally believable, photo-real CG Chimp. It was about establishing an emotional connection and empathy with the audience. In the past we would have used motion capture and mapped a human actor's performance directly onto the CG character but we wanted to approach this project in a different way, so we decided to rely on the skill of our animators for the final chimp performances, only using an actor for previs.”


Honda “Hands”

UK-based Analog  teamed up with Nexus and Wieden + Kennedy London to create Honda “Hands,” an extended spot featuring a set of hands folding, twisting and turning iconic Honda products from over the years. The ad has become an instant classic, racking up over seven million views to date alone on YouTube.

"We knew from the outset that it was hugely important for the hands to physically hold, grip and inspect ‘something’ as it would immediately ground the spot in reality,” says Analog’s Mike Merron. “Our initial tests showed just how important it was to have articulated props.”

Working from references provided by Honda, Analog and Nexus used Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya to create each of the 25 photo-real models for the spot. Analog then took on the assembly of the multiple shots, removing props and completing tracking for all of the objects, then shading, lighting and rendering out the various elements. All of the FX animation, compositing and grading also took place at Analog, with Nexus providing the character animations and the subtle physical secondary movements of the objects.


DirecTV “Troll”

The creature animation specialists at Method teamed with director Noam Murro and Biscuit Filmworks and ad agency Grey NY to create this latest ad for DirecTV promoting the company’s new service which allows users to watch recorded programs across multiple devices even away from home.

The production of “Troll” employed an extensive list of visual effects techniques. Aside from the computer generated creature itself, Method artists were tasked with creating matte painted backdrops, fluid and cloth simulations, set extensions, atmospheric FX elements such as dust and mist, CG animals and, of course, composting everything together.

To create the giant Troll, Method artists developed a highly detailed 3D model rigged with complex facial muscles to ensure that emotions were properly conveyed by his expressions, while the body was animated using an actor and motion capture data. Overall, a team of more than 50 CG artists, compositors and matte painters utilized a complex toolset including programs such as Autodesk Maya, Pixologic’s zBrush, The Foundry’s Mari and Side FX’s Houdini to execute this large-scale VFX project.



Chumash Casino Resort “You Too Are Chumash”

Blacklist partnered with agencies Hen’s Teeth and Fellow Inc. to create this elegant spot for Chumash Casino Resort. The spot was directed and designed by directorial team Vogel&Wishart.

The smooth transitions and watercolor properties of the spot take viewers on a historical journey through the Santa Ynez Valley, where the Chumash people have lived for over 8,000 years. The team blended seamless 3D camera moves and animated elements with painterly 2D textures to create the soft, artful look of the spot.


Square Enix “Murdered: Soul Suspect” Game Trailer

Square Enix and Airtight Games teamed with Digital Domain and Mothership directors Neil Huxley and Vernon Wilbert to create a 90-second trailer to launch their new game, Murdered: Soul Suspect, which releases later this year.

To realize the stylized, movie-like piece, Huxley and Co-Director Vernon Wilbert used the tools and techniques of filmmaking. They began by developing a story for Ronan, which then defined the structure and limitations of his environments. For the shoot, they segmented the script and shot it in sections, like a typical feature film, instead of shot-by-shot, the more common approach for games marketing.

“By working this way we were able to help the actor stay in the moment during the shoot and capture several different camera angles, which helped us avoid re-shoots," said Huxley.

"Digital Domain has worked with some of the biggest directors of the past 20 years and brings that film knowledge to every project," said Wilbert. "We took things like lens flares created for the game environment and re-created them so they could work in a real world. We adapted some of the visual rules of films that inspired us, and brought their style of lighting, cameras, shooting -- even the contrast ratio from color grading -- into this piece because they were great metaphors for this story."

Huxley and Wilbert conducted a live action stage shoot to capture the mood, tone, lighting and body/face/voice performance that drove the digital characters and assets, tapping the studio's advanced facial capture and animation process and pipeline.


McLaren F1 Tooned 50 “Episode One - A Night to Remember”

London-based Framestore created a second series for Tooned to help celebrate the F1 brand's 50th anniversary. Tooned 50 recreates the history of McLaren's cars and the champions such as Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Mika Hakkinen. The series also introduces a new character—a mysterious old mechanic, and features guest appearances from F1 legends such as Murray Walker, alongside Tooned's original cast of Jensen Button, Sergio Perez and Professor M.

“Using a high-end CG route means we can tap into McLaren's impressive heritage whilst recreating its legends in a contemporary way that engages youth audiences,” commented Framestore's executive producer, Simon Whalley. “This quality approach also means that the content feels more like watching a credible TV comedy series, so the marketing messages get baked-in in an engaging but unobtrusive way.”



Oreo “Bedtime”

Psyop and The Martin Agency came together with Smuggler on this nostalgic spot for Oreo, letting viewers see the world through the whimsical eyes of a young girl as she wards off sleep.

The story follows our pint-sized hero’s imagination through different scenarios she and her dad could have if he would only let her stay up for a cookie or two. Live action grounds the scenes in a cinematic reality while overlaid typography and illustration visualize the imaginative elements of her song.

 “We wanted all the inconsistent but endlessly fascinating actions and imagination of children to come through — fits, cuddles, deviousness,” commented Psyop Creative Director, Todd Mueller.


Xbox/Ryse: Son of Rome “Explosion” game trailer

For the E3 Launch of the Xbox One flagship titled RYSE: Son of Rome, agency twofifteenmccann turned to Ntropic to create the visual effects and production of the full CG experience. The trailer titled Explosion, was technically challenging to execute from a design and construction point of view. Creative Directors Andrew Sinagra and Nate Robinson offer an inside look into how Maya and Zbrush were utilized to build all of the fragments and storytelling dioramas.

“Finding a new way to tell a story about ancient Rome is a challenge to say the least,” said James Robinson, Executive Creative Director, twofifteenmccann. “Ntropic and immaterial helped us develop an idea that was utterly unlike any we'd seen before, and then completely surpassed our expectations in the execution.”


Jarritos “Glass Blowers”

Following the aesthetic of stop-motion animation, this CG spot for Jarritos from New York-based CHRLX and agency GSD&M is spot-on adorable.


APES “APES: A Project of the Conservation Trust”

Ogilvy & Mather Chicago and MassMarket collaborated on a compelling cause-marketing spot from director Paul Dektor and production company Cartel for APES, a branch of The Conservation Trust. Aiming to raise awareness for wildlife conservation, the project stresses the importance of protecting all primates and giving every endangered animal equal attention.

Shot from the perspective of a secluded observer, the camera follows a lumbering gorilla through the wild when it happens upon a deserted paint can and brush. Covering its face and torso in white, the ape is transformed as the screen cuts to the words, “If I were a panda, would you save me?”

MassMarket helped create a realistic approach to the spot by seamlessly tying all the elements together from modeling and painting to composing and editing. “We had to make it feel like the gorilla really painted himself,” said MassMarket Head of CG, Dean Robinson. “We hand painted over a lot of the shots and then projected it in Mari to touch up the finer details.”


Blue Moon “Brewmaster’s Inspiration”

The Integer Group and Los Angeles-based Moo Studios have taken the classic concept of the pop-up book to new artistic heights for the latest installment of the “Artfully Crafted” campaign for Blue Moon Brewing Co. The spot is the third in the campaign series that speaks to the detailed care and artistry that goes into every handcrafted bottle.

“Brewmaster’s Inspiration” was shot at Moo Studios’ 5000-square foot LA stage using meticulous stop-motion, featuring Blue Moon Brewmasters Keith and John. The completed spot sees the notebook transformed into an illustrated picture book, each turn of the page presenting various environments to depict the inspirations behind the beer’s flavors.


Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Jennifer Wolfe is Director of News & Content at Animation World Network.