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Super Bowl Ads 2007: Gone Nutty

Tara DiLullo Bennett once again tackles a few of the recent Super Bowl ads to find out what's eye-popping in terms of vfx.

If you have the QuickTime plug-in, you can view the spots by simply clicking the image.

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This year, CareerBuilder.com tried a new approach in its Super Bowl ads and called on Radium to create the vfx in a series of five spots, including Darts (above). All Darts images courtesy of Radium.

What's the Super Bowl anymore without the commercials? Ask any game watcher or party attendee and they'll confess the annual cavalcade of ingenious advertising featured in every game break for station identification is now half the fun of the viewing experience. Super Bowl 2007 offered a lot of new trends, especially with the addition of consumer-generated spots created by fans for products like Doritos and the NFL. But the big day also found a lot of what's become the staple of the show: high-end, high concept ads vying for attention spans with eye-popping visual effects. The game is an increasingly competitive market for vfx houses, both large and small, to land the accounts that will allow them to show off their skills to a global audience. Creating a buzz worthy spot not only translates to potential new clients and revenue streams, but it's also become a sought after feather in the cap of companies to achieve Super Bowl greatness with their contributions to a winning commercial launch. VFXWorld talks to three very different companies, Radium, Brickyard VFX and Sway Studios, about their 2007 Super Bowl spots:

Radium, Career Builder Darts

The office is a jungle -- literally for CareerBuilder.com. The career search website used monkeys in their past Super Bowl campaigns to illustrate the frustrations of the corporate world and the need to use their site to look for new, more satisfying employment. But this year, they tried a new approach by literally comparing the office rat race with the wilds of the jungle in a series of five spots called Darts, Promotion Pit, The New Guy, Performance Evaluation and Doughnuts.

Simon Mowbray, Radium co-founder and lead artist on the spots, says Radium came to the project by way of frequent collaborator and editor Jay Herda at Mad River Post in San Francisco. "He cut the Career Builder spots for last year's Super Bowl spots and this year's spots. They are very funny spots. They were beautifully shot in the forests around Vancouver. There are all metaphors like being dragged into a meeting is the equivalent of falling into a pit in the middle of a jungle. Or if an office manager herds you up for some meeting and you end up running off a cliff because you can't stand the meeting."

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"From the effects standpoint, it's not a big effects job per se but there are a lot of individual pieces that work in there," he continues. "The biggest spot was really Darts. There is one shot where all these people are running off a cliff at the end of the spot. We shot a plate of a ravine and then had practical people running out at the plateau of the ravine. There was a fence on the edge of the ravine and of course they didn't jump over the edge, but stopped at the fence. We had to continue the people in the wide shot running and jumping off the edge of the cliff. Firstly, we had to clean up the cliff because of the fence. Then there was a piece of rock that was ugly so we did some matte painting work to clean it all up. We then created hundreds of CG people that matched the real people. The real people run behind a tree that we added and at that point they are switched to CG people and are little creatures that fly off the cliff like lemmings. There is a bunch of other stuff too, like the employers are on horseback up in the hills and they come running down to herd everybody up for a meeting. They are firing these blow darts that are actually ballpoint pens that come flying through the air. We added all the pens.

"In another spot, Promotion Pit, it's like a Gladiator take with his big fight for a promotion. Everybody is battling one another and they are wearing office furniture as shields with binders and such. We added burning flames to a mop the janitor was flailing around. There is another spot called Performance Evaluation, where there is a guy walking on a bed of burning coals. Of course, they weren't really burning but we had to make them look like it, so we added the glowing flames and coals. It was a lot of CG and Inferno and Maya. There was also another shot where a man is getting a giant wedgie and another man is hanging from a tree from his underpants. Unfortunately at that time of day we were losing a lot of light, so there was a lot of color correction and isolation work. We had to bring out the underwear -- digital underwear enhancement," he laughs. "There is also another shot of a guy falling out of a tree and binder clips are being clipped to his nipples and stomach. We didn't have any clips on his back, so I had to add a bunch of digital clips to his back as he walks out of frame. We also had to do all the compositing when he falls from the tree because he falls behind a receptionist desk so we had to composite the receptionist in the foreground.

"Another spot was The New Guy, and this new guy is dropped from the sky in a helicopter into a clearing, while the older employees are looking on. He gets attacked by the older employees and his clothes are all ripped off. We added the helicopter and him hanging below the helicopter before he is dropped. In the last spot 'Doughnuts,' the premise is that there are meetings, which are actually pits in the ground and they are baited with doughnuts. We added the doughnuts spinning up into the air for a comedic touch. We also added an ice cream cake in the middle of the jungle. The one they shot was too small so we created a big one. It was really a lot of little things that added up to a lot of work. I think it was about 30-35 shots for all the spots."

Proud of the campaign and their work, Mowbray adds, "We are very enthused to be working on Super Bowl spots like these because they are very funny. In some respects, even they might not be huge effect spots like the spots are, I think they will have more impact because they are so funny and they have humanity to them. The nice thing is that the vfx add to the spots, and aren't just effects for effects sake. For Radium, it's definitely good for the profile."

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For the Emerald Nuts Boogeyman spot, Robert Goulet was shot on greenscreen and made to look as if he was hanging upside down. He was then extracted from the greenscreen and composited on the background office plate. Courtesy of Brickyard VFX.

Brickyard VFX, Emerald Nuts Boogeyman

One of the nuttiest (yes, pun intended) spots of the game was a bizarre expose on what really happens when people get sleepy in the afternoon at work. Within the spot, singer Robert Goulet is dramatized sneaking around an office wreaking havoc with supplies until he is almost discovered by an Emerald Nut lover, to which he then is seen scuttling across the ceiling to escape. The gravity defying effect was brought to life by Brickyard VFX of Santa Monica. Diana Young-Gomez, the exec producer for the Emerald Nuts spot, says the wacky original concept was a huge draw for their group. "The creative on Emerald Nuts spots is always zany so it was a fun spot to work on right out the gate. I mean who could resist working on a spot that features Goulet as the office menace?"

She says the spot was created with a tight staff of two artists, one specializing in Flame and "the effects demanded in the spot were pretty closely in line with what the agency wanted based on their final concept."

Detailing how they achieved the ceiling "crawl" for Goulet, Young-Gomez says, "Goulet was shot on greenscreen on his hands and knees on the floor. Thanks to good ol' gravity, his sweater and pant legs were hanging down toward the floor. In the Flame, Brickyard VFX Pacific co-owner and Flame artist Patrick Poulatian tucked his shirt back and inverted his pant legs so that it looked like he was actually hanging upside down from the ceiling. We then extracted him from the greenscreen and composited him on the background office plate. This shot was pretty challenging in that it required a lot of manual finessing and cleanup, other than that it was a relatively straight-forward composite." Pleased with the response generated by the ad, Young-Gomez says of the experience, "As always, we enjoy working with the folks at Goodby, who we've collaborated with on several different campaigns (Comcast, Milk, etc.) over the past couple of years."

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Sway created a CGI version of the live-action robot for the GM spot Robot, using eight artists and a combination of LightWave, Studio X for the 3D effects, Flame, Photoshop and NVIDIA. All Robot images courtesy of General Motors/Deutsch LA.

Sway Studio, GM Robot

Meanwhile, Robot proved to be one of the more interesting amalgams of live action and CG technology merging for a standout spot. The GM vehicle commercial storyline revolved around a quality control robot at GM getting fired because he drops a bolt on the manufacturing line. Left to wander utterly dejected about his fate, the robot wanders the streets until he ends up on a bridge, throwing himself over the edge only to wake up and realize the entire scenario was just a horrible nightmare. While the ad earned some post game controversy because of the imagined suicide (which was slightly edited for airings after the big game due to protests), Mark Glaser, creative director at Sway Studio, says the spot provided his team and him with some clever challenges.

"We approach any project the same way but we had a little extra excitement because we knew this spot would have a much larger viewer ship than most of our work. In terms of the Super Bowl, these are the biggest ads of the year and we are very excited about being included in that.

"The spot uses photoreal effects, which we do really well," Glaser details about the spot. The major sequence of the ad comes in the last third when the robot tumbles toward his doom in the water, which was created entirely by the Sway team. "We thought the most challenging thing was going to be doing the CG water. We shot the location for the bridge sequence in downtown LA at a bridge that crosses the LA River but it's basically a trickle of a stream most of the time. It's pretty much a concrete basin and we knew we would have to fill it in with water. Water is something that can be tricky and there are three shots of it. When we started working on it, we knew what it had to look like and it came together a lot smoother than we anticipated. It had a lot to do with the artists. There's no special water tool that we use. We combine procedural textures built into any 3D software, but the planning helped. We talked about what makes water look like water and what the different layers would need to be to make it work. We came up with a plan and we followed it and it worked great."

The other major project for the spot was creating a CGI version of the live-action robot introduced in the factory. Glaser adds, "For the robot we had to match exactly the live-action shots of the real robot and the CG robot. It wasn't difficult, but it took some time to take the measurements, get it exact and photograph the real robot for textures. Once it was done, we pretty much had an exact replica of the real robot. We used about eight artists and they used a combination of LightWave, Studio X for the 3D effects, Flame, Photoshop and NVIDIA. NVIDIA Quadro-based solutions allowed us to easily work at this high level of resolution and detail in realtime, which saved us a considerable amount of time throughout the project. The length of the project was 18 days total and about a week before delivery; they changed the edit so they needed a couple more shots, which was no problem."

Glaser adds, "It says a lot that we did this one and two others Super Bowl spots this year. For a boutique studio like we are, this is pretty flattering. We hope it leads to more work like this. The artists really enjoyed it and we hope it gets a lot of recognition."

Tara DiLullo Bennett is an East coast-based writer whose articles have appeared in publications such as SCI FI Magazine, SFX and Lost Magazine. She is the author of the books 300: The Art of the Film and 24: The Official Companion Guide: Seasons 1 & 2.

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