The best of the Super Bowl spots – part 1

Part 1 of fxguide’s Super Bowl XLVII coverage begins with a breakdown of Method Studio’s visual effects for the Kia ‘Space Babies’ spot. We also take a look at MPC LA’s VFX for an Allstate commercial and The Mill’s Blackberry 10 effects work.

Method in space

Never work with babies and animals, they say, but in Kia’s Sorento Limited Super Bowl spot this year, there are plenty of both. Titled ‘Space Babies’, the TVC from agency David&Goliath was directed by Jake Scott (RSA), with visual effects by Method Studios. fxguide spoke to visual effects supervisor Andy Boyd who helped to bring the ‘Where do babies come from?’ idea to the small screen.

Watch the 75sec version of Space Babies.

Baby mountains

An early shot of baby shaped statues on ”Babylandia’ hints at the tone of the commercial. A small team filmed plates on Kauai, Hawaii which were then used as a template for the final shot. Method created the water in Houdini, added the sky and pulled the original mountains a little further apart.

Babies and animals emerge

As part of a four day stage shoot, separate elements of babies and animals were filmed for scenes of them coming out of the jungle, and in a launch control room. “The shot of the babies walking down away from us with all the animals running around was about 15 plates put together,” says Boyd, “and of course a lot of the animals are CG.” Method’s creature work relied on modeling, rigging and animation in Maya, and then fur work and rendering in Houdini through Mantra.

The right stuff

The ad’s signature shot features a space-suited baby and accompanying suited animals walking in slow-mo ready for launch. “We hired a little person to perform the walking role in the space suit coming out a tunnel that we extended,” explains Boyd. “That was filmed at 96fps to get the ‘Right Stuff’ look. Then with the same locked off camera, we filmed a baby being pulled in a little walker with wheels on it – which became the baby head plate.”

Only the puppy and pig were filmed for real, although they still required CG body replacements to put them in spacesuits. “We got the puppy to run and the pig to run as two plates,” says Boyd. We did that just because it’s our manta – whenever we can use real animals rather than CG, we always try to.”

Watch the making of ‘Space Babies’.

The CG animals – penguin, rhino, panda, giraffe, elephant, hippo and orca – each required separate R&D to configure walk cycles and the necessary fur or sub-surface scattering for skin (rendered in Houdini/Mantra) along with cloth sims for the suits. Interestingly, too, Method began animation in slow motion, but, according to Boyd, “it just never felt right, so we actually did the shot in realtime just to get the animation, and then slowed everything down afterwards and that had the right spirit of a slow motion walk.”

Rocket launch

The shiny surface rockets and launch pads were modeled, rigged and animated in Maya, and then rendered in V-Ray. For the smoke and rocket trails seen on Babylonia, Boyd actually pushed more towards a realistic feel, referencing Apollo and shuttle launches, including the ‘sheeting ice’ look. But in space, there was a specific requirement for the rockets to appear like sperm approaching the earth (an egg), and so their trails were somewhat more stylized.


Seen inside the rockets, the babies and animals wear a reflective helmet. “When we were filming the helmets,” notes Boyd, “we filmed a real one on set in situ and then also got them to film it with a big black balloon – and filmed that again for reflections which became just a black surface with reflections on it, which we could replicate in CG and comp.”

Flying cows

The animals then parachute from the sky to their new-found parents. One of these is a cow passing through the clouds. Method created a new cloud system in Houdini for the fully CG shot and also paid close attention to the blowing fur as the cow passes by camera. Says Boyd: “We wanted the fur to flap around, so we did some realistic dynamic sims but it didn’t feel quite right so we ended up cheating it with geometry and different ways of combining noise to create the feeling of fur blowing.”

Giraffe takes flight

Another flying animal is a baby giraffe, seen landing next to its mother somewhere in Africa. “That was actually filmed on Tejon Ranch just north of LA, where they shoot a lot of Africa stuff,” explains Boyd. “We dropped the trees in and did some matte painting ground and sky. The adult giraffe was real that they brought out to film, and the baby giraffe and parachute were CG.”

Soft landing

The final shots show the human baby parachuting into the sun roof of an occupied Sorrento. After the outdoor car shoot, Method post-viz’d CG shots of a baby coming in to land, which we there re-created as moves on stage, before comp’ing.

MPC LA crafts the Garden of Eden

In Allstate’s ‘Apple’, MPC LA worked with agency Leo Burnett and director Phil Morrison to bring some mayhem to the Garden of Eden. Artists worked to give a storybook feel to the spot, reference different landscapes and areas, such as Yellowstone and The Hudson River Valley, Thailand and Ireland. MPC modeled and animated a digital snake, a dinosaur facing an asteroid, plus other cataclysmic events including the Greek Trojan Horse and Great Chicago Fire – played out in a dramatic montage.

Fire and rubber duckies, by The Mill

This ‘What Blackberry 10 CAN’T Do’ spot, for agency AMV BBDO and directed by Peter Thwaites, features no less than a jack-knifing truck, thousands of rubber duckies, the hero walking with elephant limbs and, most spectacularly, the hero on fire – all with VFX by The Mill. For the fire sequence, the special effects department designed a gas controlled mannequin in black that The Mill matched to. “For our wide shot,” said The Mill’s head of 2D Gavin Wellsman, “our stunt team gave us great flame elements of separate human arms and legs on fire walking for us to wrap around our hero character. It is this interaction of flames around these body parts that really helped us to make the sequence interesting. We kept the flames over cranked at 48fps to give the look of the fire a slightly more hyper-real and graceful characteristic.”