Behind the best of the Super Bowl ads

Each year fxguide rounds up some of the best VFX from the Super Bowl commercials. Here is our look at spots from Super Bowl 50, the good, the bad and the completely ‘off-the-dial-are-you-kidding-me-weird’. Most of the spots below used VFX effectively to tell the story and underscore the Brand communication, some … well … (try this acid test; 3 minutes after you have seen the spot – see if you can remember which brand the spot was actually advertising?)

Death Wish – Storm’s a-Brewin’

The brief: Death Wish Coffee won a Intuit QuickBooks Small Business Big Game competition to have a spot made for the Super Bowl. The brief to visual effects studio MPC was to help realize a viking ship in a stormy sea that actually turns out to be the inside of a coffee mug.

The effects: MPC took storyboards and turned them into detailed previs that allowed for the shooting of a viking boat with actors on a bluescreened gimbal set. The studio then created the stormy ocean conditions and the final tumble into the coffee drinker’s mouth.

How MPC pulled it off: “All the references were very filmic and dramatic,” outlines MPC Head of 3D Vicky Osborn. “It felt like a mini-film. We started with some great storyboards and then we spent quite a long time doing a full previs. It wasn’t just visualizing what it would look like, it was a technical previs also. The method for shooting this was quite challenging. We had the boat built on a gimbal in a studio, and the camera moves were compensating for what the boat would be doing, because we just couldn’t the boat as much as we wanted. So our previs figured out how we could shoot it. It also helped make decisions on the studio size and where does the bluescreen go.”


The boat was partially built on the set, although the part that would touch the water we would do digitally. In addition to the gimbal rig, a special effects crew would blow spray and mist with wind machines over the actors.

For the water sims, MPC relied on Houdini (their Flowline approach is mainly used for feature films). “We had such a tight turnaround on it so we did all the ocean sims in Houdini which is much more manageable and produces great results,” says Osborn. “The idea was to make it very filmic and have it quite misty so you can’t quite see everything clearly. Then there was the white water and foam and spray. We also needed to feel like maybe we were in a cup of coffee – steamy and dark.”

The final shot into the mouth was, according to Osborn, “the trickiest part, which says a lot seeing as we did full ocean simulations! The brief was to go from this world that still felt real and go to that world with the guy’s mouth for the reveal, in such a short amount of time. Everything was shot separately. The guys on the boat were shot separately. Then as it tips over we did a CG take-over and continued to animate it falling. We really had to rely there on a lot of reference from Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

HEINZ – Wiener Stampede

The brief: “The Mill collaborated with DAVID Miami and Director Jeff Low of Biscuit Filmworks for Heinz’s epic ‘Wiener Stampede’,” says The Mill Creative Director and 2D Lead Artist Tim Bird. “The spot sees an adorable pack of wiener dogs charge into the arms of a family of Heinz condiments, complete with adorable two-year-old ketchup ‘packet’.”

The effects: Mostly shot in-camera, The Mill assisted by combining multiple plates of the dogs and by adding in CG dogs for crowd shots.

How The Mill pulled it off: “The original plan was to shoot the entire stampede in camera,” notes Bird. “We had three steadicams, a five acre field, three locations, thirty dogs…and a one day shoot. We soon realized that we could only run eight dogs at any one time, therefore limiting the scale of the live action stampede, but increasing the scale required using CG.”

To achieve the look required, multiple dog plates were combined and then supplemented with CG dogs in the mid and far background. Wider crowd shots also required VFX from The Mill, as Head of 3D and Creative Director John Leonti explains: “We animated a number of dog run cycles from footage shot on set and used Massive to generate the ‘crowd’. This gave us the flexibility to add or remove any number of dogs and alter their path until the composition and density felt right in relation to the rest of the commercial.”

Coca-Cola: Coke Mini (Hulk vs. Ant-Man)

Behind the VFX of this ad is Luma Pictures, a studio with a wealth of Marvel experience. They also helped bring a CG Hulk to life for a previous commercial. Hulk has always been extremely tricky to get right, not least is just his color. The green needs to look real and yet this alone fights with the realism of the character. Luma does an excellent job of not only solving the complex facial animation but also with these more subtle rendering/lighting/texturing skin issues.

Luma has a behind the scenes featurette on the Coke work at their website.

Mtn Dew Kickstart – Puppymonkeybaby

What else needs to be said about this spot? MPC was behind the VFX.

  • We are speechless…

Snickers – Marilyn

Some clever roto work and staging from The Mill enabled this spot in the classic Snickers series. This spot really extends on the campaign and with an execution that adds memorability to the brand.

Schick Hydro – Robot Razors

Once again, The Mill has contributed in a big way to Super Bowl spots, this time for transforming blades. In the end this TVC works due to just hard core character animation of inanimate objects – Transformers style. As such The Mill needed to work in the shadow of both the audience’s familiarity with the feature film level animation (exceptionally good) and years of similar script ideas from other products. The Mill’s animators met and exceeded the brief. It may not have been an original idea, but it was well executed.


It’s already been dubbed the ‘Super Bowel’ commercial and surprised many during the telecast with its upfront and whimsical tale. The memorable character was realized by Aardman Nathan Love.