Psyop keeps us happy

‘The Great Happyfication’, Psyop’s latest six minute short for Coca-Cola, delves this time into a singing and dancing world inside the Happiness Factory, via agency Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam. We chat to Psyop creative director Todd Mueller, producer Amanda Miller and 3D lead Kyle Cassidy about how the design and animation studio produced the spot.

fxg: You’ve delved into the Happiness Factory world a few times now – what was it that you wanted to create and where did you want to go with The Great Happyfication?

Todd Mueller: We wanted to have much more of a spoken narrative, an actual dialogue-driven and musically driven story. We wanted to take the world and turn it into as much a storybook as we could. We worked hard on creating on a poem and found a way to thread the key story points that are in the poem through each of the worlds within the Happiness Factory, and having each character featured for one of the key principles of happiness.

It was actually a bit of an odd challenge – start with the task of telling a good story, multiply it by the fact that we have to do it in this world with these characters and then put it to song, and then make it to so it relates to the world that we’re in, and try to come out with something that’s coherent. The main goal was a sing-a-long storybook about happiness.

Psyop breaks down The Great Happyfication.

fxg: What was the design process here, given that you were drawing on the previous film?

Todd Mueller: A lot of it was going back to the previous character designs to a degree, so that they could have more personality than they had before. Most of the characters, except for the cheerleader Wendy, were always more of a generic kind of worker bees. Only the cheerleader had been designed as a hero character.

Kyle Cassidy: From all the past spots, there are different characters involved, so the rigs tend to have different standards to them. So there was a lot of re-working on the assets and textures for certain angles and to enable them to do more. The main character Pete was the one we created from scratch.

fxg: From a planning point of view, what approach did you take to the concepts, storyboards and animatics?

Todd Mueller: There was a lot of storyboarding and songwriting and back and forth on that. At one point the kissy puppy moment happened first, but now that’s later down the factory. We worked with an extremely talented choreographer, Travis Payne, to help us nail the penguin back-up singers and their dancing. He was choreographing Michael Jackson’s last tour before he died. The choreography had a knock-on effect for our animatics, because there would be scenes in the dance routine that would need to be wider than what we had considered or tighter. Like anything, as you’re visualizing and drawing out the story, the shot choreography and composition become an important part.

fxg: So how did the dancing form part of the project?

Todd Mueller: It was all key-framed. I worked closely with Travis, and got my dancing shoes on as well. We had three talented dancers and we wanted the dancing to accentuate the lines, the theme, and have little gestures that would echo the meaning. We videotaped it on a stage for reference and animated off that. Even our characters were not human and moved in a very non-human way, it was still a really great utility to have that dancing reference. I’ve done a couple of other things without the choreography where you think, ‘Oh I’ll just keyframe it from my mind!’, but it’s never as good as having people there and seeing it with your own eyes and having fun with it. It also ended up being an inspiration to our animators, right Kyle?

Kyle Cassidy: Yeah, I would say so – part of the technical challenge of doing mocap on something this where they had odd shapes, if you look at the short and stubby legs, it can be hard to utilize all of the mocap to capture the subtleties of the animation. So it’s definitely a credit to the animators to be able to keyframe all the stuff by hand.

fxg: How was the production managed in terms of the crew size and talking to the agency?

Amanda Miller: We had about four weeks of previs and six weeks of animation. We had a great client in Coca-Cola who understood the need to have that previs process and lock things in as early as we could.

fxg: From a technical point of view, what kind of tools were being used the animation, lighting and rendering?

Kyle Cassidy: We used Maya, which had been used in the previous spots. The comp’ing was done in After Effects. We had the same sets and environments and we were keen to keep the same look. We’d set up some key rigs with lighting and then the lighters would go in and tweak it to the camera angles, and bring their own expression into it as well. We had six lighters and five compositors.

fxg: Another side of the film are of the effects – the snow, fur, greenery and grass. Was there a particular approach to those things?

Kyle Cassidy: One of the particular challenges was the kiddy puppies with the fur – that can always be a challenge because of rendering resources, caching and dynamics. With the grass we had two avenues to explore – whether to use hair fur or use Maya’s paint effects. In the past spots they had used paint effects, and we found it was a lot easier to do it that way. To render the grass, we couldn’t get it to work on the farm too well so we had to render locally. It was a good week and a half to two weeks rendering everything out, but at the end of the day all the love and care that went into it.

For the snow, a lot of that was generated through After Effects Particular, so the compositors helped take a lot of the load off us in 3D. The crowds were always going to be hard to get done with the compressed schedule. In the past they’d done projections onto cards with animated cycles. I took that and put my own spin on it, setting up the characters and multiple angles and rendering all the cycles out as image sequences from both sides of the stadium, since it had different lighting on both sides.

Once we had all that we were able to place cards throughout all the stands. I wrote a script that would randomize the assignments of all the different cycles we had. At the end of the day, the crowd was probably the easiest part of the entire process!

Psyop credits

Director: Psyop
Psyop Creative Directors: Todd Mueller, Kylie Matulick
Executive Producer: Kim Wildenburg
Producer: Amanda Miller
Assistant Producer: Chase Masterson
Animation Lead: Dan Vislocky
3D Lead: Kyle Cassidy
Compositing Leads: Danny Koenig, Jason Conradt
Storyboard Artist: Josh Weisenfeld
Editor: Brett Nicolletti
Lead Flame: Miles Essmiler
Lead Desktop Compositor: Danny Koenig
Compositors: Sohee Sohn, Falko Paeper, Cris Kong, Jason Conradt, Joseph Chan
Modelers: Wendy Klein, Rie Ito
Riggers: Sean Kealey, Vadim Kivayev
Animators: Matt Ornstein, Matt Connolly, Minor Gaytan, Chris Meek, Jakob Frey, David Bokser, Lindsey Butterworth, Sashdy Arvelo, Frantz Vidal, Kevin Koch, Jason Shum, Yvain Gnabro, Michael Cawood, Michael Warner
Texture: Wendy Klein, Rie Ito
Lighters: Kyle Cassidy, Katie Yoon, Robby Branham, Ryan McDougal, Barry Kreigshauer, Stephen Delalla, Yuichiro Yamashita
Particles: Kiel Gnebba, Wayne Hollingsworth, Victor Garza
Script: Jesse Kretschmer

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