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Hot Spots Showcase: The Best in Animated & VFX Commercials

Rick DeMott collects some of the best animated and visual effects commercials from top companies to highlight the wonderful work being done in the medium.

Many independent animation houses make their monthly nut doing commercials. So often you hear artists, especially younger ones, professing their hatred for working on commercials. Its like theyre selling out. However, theyre not looking at the positive side of doing work on spots. Innovation is often present in the medium. The short format, which is highly funded, has opportunities that TV and film project sometimes dont have in regards to experimentation. Agency creative directors are always looking for new and innovative ideas that will make their clients product stick out from the rest.

Therefore, weve decided that it was time to highlight the eye-catching work that is being done in advertising. We put out a call to various leading animation and visual effects houses to make the difficult decision of picking one spot that represents their work. Its amazing the range of styles and feel to the commercials we received. Some are silly, some are informative, some are dramatic. All of them capture your attention. This is great for an advertiser, but its also skills that are greatly needed in all forms of storytelling.


Curious Pictures Target Airstream.

Curious Pictures

Joan Raspo was commissioned by PMH advertising in Minneapolis to direct a third spot for Targets DVD sales campaign. The audience for the spot is the 25-35 year old market demographic, and it focuses on romantic comedies and dramas. The two previous spots of this campaign, Treehouse and Traffic, were recently honored at the 2003 BDA awards in Los Angeles. PMH art director, Carl Byrd relates We wanted to work with Joan again and her team at Curious because they really get what we are trying to say. Joan added a lot to this project, from a sweeping, cinematic opening camera move, to little details which give the spot tons of texture and flair.

Credits for Target Airstream

Airstream was shot in HD in order to capture high-resolution facial features. After AVID editing, the footage was digitally rotoscoped.

Advertising Agency: Peterson Milla Hooks Agency Creative Director: Dave Peterson Agency Art Director: Carl Byrd Agency Account Executive: Ken Barlage Agency Copywriter: Nate Morley Agency Producer: Aldo Hertz Director: Joan Raspo Producer: Sara Nahas Production Manager: Dana Discordia DP: Stuart Dryburgh HD Technician: Abby Levine CG Shoot Supervisor: Damon Ciarelli Editor: Anthony Orkin Designers: Joan Raspo, Justin Harder, Austin Shaw Compositor: Mario Stipinovich 3D Artists: Lewis Kofsky, Joseph Cross, Paul Liaw Rotoscope Artists: Kyle McCulloch, Connie Conrad, Sheldon Drake, Tim Dingersen Casting: Becky Moore at Donna Deseta Casting Original Music and Sound Design: Rick Meyer at Modern Music


DUCKs M&Ms Strip Poker.


The M&Ms Strip Poker spot represents what we as a small studio do best: character animation. We recognize that a crucial aspect of animation is the personality exuded by animated characters. Our focus, therefore, has always been to bring life, and humor, to the projects we undertake. And we get plenty of opportunity to do this working with such popular icons as the Yellow and Red M&Ms characters. Although this spot was not overly challenging on the technical side, the animation had to shine, and to be convincing. We wanted to animate the interactions of Yellow and Red (with each other as well as with the human characters in the spot) in a way that enhanced the humor of the writing and added a touch of innuendo to the situation. We are proud of this spot and feel we successfully achieved our goals. director Lane Nakamura

Credits for MasterFoods M&Ms Strip Poker To match the lighting on the CGI characters with the live-action lighting, we use a technique called High Dynamic Range imaging (HDR) to accurately record the lighting conditions of the set. With this technique, photographic images of a highly reflective (chrome) sphere are taken at the set, merged and then converted into a lighting map within the 3D software, where they are used to light the 3D character models.

3D Modeling and Animation: Alias Maya 3D Render and Lighting: NewTek LightWave 3D Translation Software: The Beaver Project Compositing: Adobe After Effects Texture Map Creation: Adobe Photoshop Tracking: 2d3 boujou

Advertising Agency: Clemenger BBDO Agency Producer: Jenny Livingston Creative Directors: Jacqui Patterson and John Akritidis Live-Action Director: Paul Middleditch Live-Action Editor: Michael Horton Executive Producer: Mark Medernach Animation Director: Lane Nakamura Animation Editor: Melissa Timme Technical Director: Jiannjyh Chen Animators: Jiannjyh Chen, Lane Nakamura, Laura Sasso


Framestores Johnnie Walker Body and Shoal.


The CG people needed to have enough variety so that they didnt look overly synchronized, like marching troops, CGI supervisor Andrew Daffy recalls, So I came up with a character sheet giving different swimmers different swimming styles. We had travelers, powerkicks, generics, gliders and coastdwellers. The CG process, whereby the shots could proceed from animatic to finished shot, operated via several stages. (1.) A shot plate was created, often tweaked for lighting effects by the inferno operator. (2.) Daffy then sketched rough paths over a still of the shot plate within Photoshop, giving an indication to the animators for the swim-paths. (3.) The animators blocked out the scene with a small number of low-resolution people. (4.) With a small amount of tweaking, the random people generator would then create hundreds of the high-resolution, fully defined people. (5.) The shot would then need to be rendered. This was done by Jake Mengers and Simon Stoney. Smaller models of the swim cycles were given to Andrew Chapman, technical director, who developed the early shots featuring the huge shoals. The power of particle technology in Maya, meant that he was able to create a vast number of people at times reaching 8,000.

Credits for Johnnie Walker Body and Shoal Advertising Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty Agency Producer: Amy Sugden Production Company: Spectre Director: Daniel Kleinman Producers: Johnnie Frankel DOP: Ivan Bird Editing Company: Cut and Run/Steve Gandolphi Post-Production: Framestore CFC VFX Supervisors: William Bartlett, Murray Butler inferno Artists: William Bartlett, Murray Butler 2D Matte Artists: Stephanie Mills, Sophia Tufail, Bruce Nelson CGI Supervisor: Andrew Daffy Modeling: Howard Sly Character Setup: Rachel Ward, Felix Balbas Animators: Craig Bardsley, Brendan Body, Rosie Ashworth, Gwilym Morris, Kate Hood Shoaling: Andrew Chapman Lighting and Look: Jake Mengers, Simon Stoney R&D: Alex Parkinson, Tim Aidley Telecine: Dave Ludlam Post Producer: Helen MacKenzie


Kurtz and Friends Burger King Burger and Chickens.

Kurtz & Friends

I love silly animation and what could be more silly than hip marching clucking chickens. It was fun to choreograph the chickens as though they were members of a southern college marching band pelvis thrusts and all. director Bob Kurtz.

Credits for Burger King Corp. Burger and Chickens Advertising Agency: Amoeba Producers: Nick Coxe, Len Fink Director: Bob Kurtz Designer: Robert Peluce Animators: Pam Cooke, Gary Moody, Shane Zalvin Digital Ink & Paint Supervisor: Jody Carmen Editor: Kevin Locarro


Wild Brains Lamisil Its Alive.

Wild Brain

Wild Brain created Its Alive for Novartiss anti-toenail fungus drug, Lamisil via Deutsch Inc., NY. The spot follows a sinister creature named Digger who lifts the toenail of a human foot and corrupts it with fungus. The agency wanted Digger to be a memorable character, but not come across goofy or cuddly. Wild Brain created a sinister guy who is smugly confident and unabashed about his intent to wreak havoc under your toenail. A few variations were tested of him being hairier, but a smooth peach-like fuzz on top of subtle scales was the result. To help him feel slightly crusty, scabby stuff was added to his back and creepy little red hairs sprouting from unknown sources. A hand-held camera feel was used in the first half of the spot, and Wild Brain played with racking focus here and there to make it feel that Digger was being pursued by some unknown cameraman. The world under the toenail was designed to feel organic and look believable. director Phil Robinson

Credits for Lamisil Its Alive Modeling, animation and lighting in were done in Maya and composited with Shake. An innovational thing done, using the tool in Maya to create mattes in 3D to show the tissue changing from unhealthy to healthy right at the end. The matte spreads like a waterspill over the bad tissue and reveals the healthy tissue.

Advertising Agency: Deutsch Inc. - NYC, NY Agency Producer: Rich Horlick Director: Phil Robinson Producer: Nina Rappaport Animation Supervisor: Joe Henke CG Technical & Lighting Supervisor: Ed Davis Editor: Alex Hauser Head of Commercials: Andrea Mansour Music/Sound Design: Fluid - NY, NY


Red Rovers ADT Big Bad Wolf.

Red Rover Studios

When asked to send our best spot, we as a studio agonized and struggled over the decision. After a few days of looking for the answer, we decided to change the question. We sent our favorite spot. Big Bad Wolf gave us the opportunity to go back to our roots of classical animation. This is something were not able to do often. All movements and effects are hand drawn. head of sales & marketing Dave Clark

Credits for ADT Big Bad Wolf Advertising Agency: Doner, Baltimore Producer: Randi Yaffa Directors: Greg Court & Andy Knight


Rhythm + Hues EA Sports NASCAR Thunder 2003.

Rhythm + Hues

NASCAR Thunder 2003 represented a number of creative and technical challenges for Rhythm + Hues Commercials. The goal: to seamlessly blend the Eisenhower-era epic Ben Hur with high-speed, modern NASCAR racing, all within a two-week timeframe, while wrangling an approval chain that included OWN&P, Turner Ent. and at least two different NASCAR racing teams. Director John-Mark Austin says hes relatively certain that viewers will recognize the piece as a playful nod to a filmic masterpiece, and that the integrity of the original will remain untarnished as a result. Still, he expects a few doubletakes from his list of production credits. At least Ill be able to say we worked on Ben Hur the NASCAR version. director John-Mark Austin.

Credits for Electronic Arts NASCAR Thunder 2003 Advertising Agency: Odiorne Wilde Narraway + Partners Agency Creative Director: Jeff Odiorne Agency Copywriter/ACD Pete Crosby Agency Art Director Mark Bell Agency Producer/ Head of Broadcast Production Chris Weldon Agency Account Executive: David Rosenberg Director: John-Mark Austin Executive Producer CG + Post: Amy Massingale Hassler Head of CG Production: Jane Stephan CG/Post Producer: Deborah Gates Austin Digital Artists: Karl Denham, D.R. Greenlaw, Mark Kochinski, Patrick Perez, Brian Tatosky, Jesse Toves Flint: David Sweeney Production Assistant: Daniel Seidner

Rick DeMott is managing editor of Animation World Network. Previously, he served as the production coordinator for sound production house BadaBing BadaBoom Productions and animation firm Perky Pickle Studios. Prior to that position, he served as associate editor of AWN.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
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