Two recent spots from Sony really caught our eye at the fxguide tech bunker. The simplicity of the ideas and the faultless execution of these commercials has become a hallmark of Sony’s advertising internationally in the last couple of years. We caught up with Dave Morley, one of the founders of FUEL international, about their work on the spots.

Two recent spots from Sony really caught our eye at the fxguide tech bunker, the simplicity of the ideas and the faultless execution has become a hallmark of Sony’s advertising internationally in the last couple of years and these are no exception. fxg caught up with Dave Morley one of the founders of FUEL international to discover just how they pulled them off.

“Creative Side”

FUEL International recently finished two amazing spots for director Garth Davies of Exit films. Davies is no stranger to visual effects, having directed the infamous and highly awarded ‘Tongue’ ad for Tooheys Extra Dry Beer, in which a tongue leaves it sleeping owner mouth and goes out for a beer. The Sony campaign from Saatchi and Saatchi follows in the footsteps of Sony’s global branding – dramatic, visually stunning and without traditional voice over or annoying supers. The elegance of the spots led to major complexity for the team at FUEL as neither spot allows anywhere to hide effects or mask any visual effects problems. Nearly 100% of both spots contains visual effects.

In “Creative Side” a person visually sits looking at their ‘creative half’ on the other end of the same sofa they are sitting on. To solve this spot a seemingly simple visual on screen spot that is both eye catching and mesmerizing.

Dave Morley, visual effects supervisor, explains that “Creative Side’ seemed much simpler when starting out but as we got into it we realised just how much need to go into each shot to help sell the gag, everything from tracking in whiskers onto the face to overlap onto the clean plates, hair poking out of the back of the head.” The shots also need to show at times the inside of the hero along the cut line. This was a particularly complex problem creatively as the spot wanted to neither be ‘graphic’ or turn views away, While skin and body parts were explored, in the end the solution was to go for a very “nondescript” dark texture that would not draw attention to itself or be in anyway seen as offensive.

Even with the accurate line provided by backup on the day, it was discovered that slightly exaggerating the line helped sell the effect. However, moving the ‘cut’ line was not as easy as it might sound, since moving the line towards beyond the halfway mark revealed the green makeup – which mean both colour correcting and replicating textures. “We found we ‘sculpted’ the shape more to exaggerated the curves and help give more depth to the slice… definitely more a 2d exercise.” explains Morley. By the end of the spot 70% of the solutions were 2D but “30% was 3D – with HDRs used for textures and alike” says Morley.

One major problem was addressing shadows cast by body parts from the negative space, some shadows are cast from the half of the body that is seen, but clearly the negative space would cast no shadow, so for most shots the shadows needed to be manually solved.

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Shadows posed a real issue
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While the actor is dressed in green and has green makeup the solution was mainly roto and keying was not really used.

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The final comp

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His lips and the definition of them needed to be hand tweaked

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The inside of the body was designed to not draw attention

“Kiss”

In this second spot, a woman in one long single take ages while kissing her lover. With the camera never cutting and the camera constantly moving in a revolving closeup, Morley joked that “its not often such a simple idea comes through the door that keeps you up at night thinking ‘how the hell am I going to do that’, well here it was!”

The Brief

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The younger woman

“We open on two young lovers in their late teens. They stand in a tight embrace kissing passionately but tenderly. The camera travels around them. While the guy remains the same age the girl slowly ages… she’s 19…25….45…65″

Right from the get go the client said, “this can’t be a morph”. For the team it was all about realism and not some cheesy post gag, “we had to think out of the square to come up with a solution that not only fulfilled the brief creatively but to give us the flexibility to ‘play’ with how fast or slow we would age the talent” says Morley.

What they ended up with was as complex as it gets, with just three weeks from delivery of plates that had to be scanned, build, sculpt, texture and light a full CG human head that would evolve from live-action to CG then back to live action over the course of a single 25-second shot.


The Process

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The older woman

FUEL began the job by testing a CG head to determine how we would go about rigging the face shape and changing the texture over time. This would eventuate into the ‘proof of concept’, allowed the agency and the director to see the rate of change and how, structurally, a face may change over time – i.e. jaws widening, brow dropping, wrinkles appearing etc.

The first step was to determine the best method to film the elements. FUEL decided on using motion control to align the various actresses together within the same camera move. So working with the locations dimensions and the motion control rig measurements they constructed a pre-vis of “Kiss” to make sure the camera and motion control rig would fit within the space. This way, the move was pre-worked out so the team was not wasting time on the day of the shoot testing moves. The data from Maya was then translated into the motion control rig and set up according to the pre-defined positions.

The basic VFX principle was to shoot the young talent all the way through the move kissing the young man, then shoot it again, with the older talent kissing the young man, her action matching as closely as possible the young girl’s performance – via feedback from the on-set video-split. Morley comments “we would then match-move the young girl’s face and track to it an aging CG face. Live-action projections of both the young and elderly faces were used so that they could be revealed, as necessary, to assist the transition from live action to CG”.

On location FUEL digitally photographed both actresses to help build the textures and details of the CG face transition. The talent were also ‘marked’ with dots that were strategically placed over their faces to be used as rigging points in the CG face. These points were correlated to points on the 3D geometry to aid the object tracking process, which was done using a combination of Matchmover and Syntheyes.

Back At The Lab

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UV pass rendered from 3d for displacing cg head

Back at Fuel the CG team, comprising Andreas Wanda, Tim Sotiri, Roy Malhi and Grant Warwick went about building the models using photographic reference. This was done in Maya by Grant Warwick and then exported into Zbrush for final displacements and sculpting of detail. Sotiri explains, “3d geometry for the young and old women shared identical topology so that an animated blend between the models would be possible.”

Wrinkles, bumps and other fine details were extracted from the 3d scans and Z-brush sculpting, baked into textures and used to displace the 3d geometry. Other textures such as colour and specular maps were painted from on-set reference photos. A material that simulates the translucent properties of skin was developed and on-set lighting was recreated using a high-dynamic-range environment map generated from on-set photos.

FUEL also utilized animated camera projections of the live-action performances and baked them onto the 3d geometry surface and used them to transition between the CG and live-action elements.

Because of the desire to return to the live-action of the older woman the team had to work out the best way to transition from one hair to the other. In the end they ended up utilising photographic projections layered up in Maya to facilitate the transition, a task that took a 3D artist the majority of the job to paint the textures.

Putting it All Together

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Matte placement in shake using roto shape

All the layers were composited in Shake with Matt Wynne and Sam Cole. Wynne explains, “Being close up on a human face is a difficult task at the best of times, but throw in hair and skin interaction with a live action actor and you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

Moving seamlessly from the live action to the CG was certainly a difficult task to achieve. “We couldn’t just cut to the CG version of our actor due to the slow moving nature of the shot so we had to introduce different parts of our CG face over time” says Wynne. For the first half of the shot the team retained as much of the live action as possible, the body, the hairline and parts of the face, such as the eyes and the lips.” By the time she starts to pass behind the other actors head the face is 90% CG” explains Wayne.

When the hero woman emerges on the other side she is 100% CG apart from a few key live action elements like eyes that were tracked on in Shake. Because the camera is moving around, the lighting changed significantly throughout the shot, particularly as they passed in front of the windows throwing them into a strong backlight. Some fairly complex dynamic grading was required to get around this, grading our CG differently at key frames and mixing between them. “We were also able to key off the shadows from our live action girl and use them to grade our aging CG face for a closer lighting match” says Morley.

To add to the complexity of the shot, the male actor – who was always intended to be one take, ended up being a combination of two different takes. So the final part of the shot required multiple takes, live action and Cg all mixed together. The entire shoot was shot on location. The material was shot 35mm but transferred HD and worked on at 1024×576 resolution. The spots were finished 16:9. The team only had 5 weeks to produce the Kiss, with a couple of extra weeks to deliver Creative Side.

The overall look achieved by this combination of 3D work and photo-projection texture mapping is a filmic and seamless blend of the two separate live-action shots of the women appearing like a one-take commercial.

FUEL does both feature film and commercial work, and the same teams work in both areas, allowing the team to bring a cinematic eye to their TVC work.