Remember The Bear, the Canal+ spot featuring a bear rug as director? Or The Closet, in which a male philanderer caught in a cupboard concocts an elaborate story about how he got there. Both spots were directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and included visual effects from Mikros Image. That team is back with Unicorn also for Canal+, which investigates the myth behind the magical creature and its link to Noah's ark. We find out from key members of the Mikros team how the visual effects were done.

fxg: Can you talk about the brief Mikros had for this spot? How did it help having worked on Bear and Closet in terms of your communication with the director?

Fabrice Damolini (head of commercials): Working with the same team 75 (Yuki Suga) and Natthijs was simple as we are used to the way he works. At the same time, it's a huge challenge to enhance and push away our knowledge to always offer the best to Matthijs.

Laurent Creusot (visual effects supervisor): As always with Matthijs, we've been able to achieve big challenges but it's a real pleasure to work with him. The communication is very easy and we had great interaction during all the artistic work. He's really involved from the beginning (design and research) to the end (final comp and finishing). This is the third time that Canal+ has worked with BETC, 75 and the director to create a promo for the channel, prior there was The Closet in 2010 and The Bear in 2012, that ended up most awarded campaign of the world of the year and got Mikros Image’s team a Visual Effects Society Award for the creation and animation of the bear character.

Canal_Unicorns_01

fxg: What were the planning and concept stages involved in this project?

Fabrice Damolini:​ A​s soon as 75 shared with us the script, we started to share visual references and ideas with them. As we had to face a short schedule and a strict budget, we had to be creative and reactive.
The main stage was to fix the look of the ark, the number of animals, the chaotic weather atmosphere: rain, meteors, threatening clouds, water...and then maybe the most tricky vfx of all: how to do CG unicorn balls!

fxg: Where were the exterior ark shots filmed? Can you talk about the effects necessary for the boat, environments, rain and flooded ground?

Laurent Creusot: The commercial was shot in Romania, both in the countryside and in studio for the interior sequences. For the wide shot of the ark, we shot in a river without anything in place, only some props around and we built the ark in full CG. For the rain we tried when it was possible (not for the drone shot, or long traveling) to have a layer of real rain in front of camera for the interaction with the actor, and we extended all the middle and background with CG rain. There was also a lot of work for all the outside shots on the atmospheric effect to add clouds, lightning, meteors, erasing the sun (and creating the sunny mood) and for adding rain effect and interaction on the grounds (the famous plip­plip effect like we named it with the team).

Canal_Unicorns_02_inside_ark

fxg: How were animals in the ark realized? Were these shot for real and how did you build up multiple elements inside the ark?

Guillaume Ho (CG supervisor): Inside the ark, animals seen in the background are all CG. In the foreground, either the animals were shot on set or composited afterwards. We also carried out set extensions inside the ark. Ahead the shooting, we shared information with the set designers to anticipate the CG set and make it match the live one, as intended by Matthijs. This allowed us to place animals inside their boxes to be prepared for shooting.

fxg: The forest and mountainous environments in this spot look incredible ­ can you talk about using real plates and reference for augmenting and creating these?

Laurent Creusot: The forest was shot in Transylvania (close to the Dracula's castle) and I'm sure it's why the forest is so incredible. Unfortunately we had a lot of sun during the shooting day in the forest, and we spent a lot of energy in post just to remove it and all its interaction on the ground and trees, but behind the trees and leaves you can easily imagine the challenge.

For the wide shot with all the meteors in front of the mountain, we never found the good spot to shoot the landscape, it's why we decided to build it in full CG. In this shot nothing is real except the back of your hero who was shoot in front of a bluescreen.

Canal_Unicorns_meteors

fxg: Tell me about the meteors ­- how did you reference the look for these?

Laurent Creusot: We did a lot of research to find the good balance and look, regarding for example the size, the speed of the fire and the speed of movement in the space, the amount of smoke, lifetime etc. The lava bombs were a real good example for us to start to build the effect in CG. We used Houdini to create all atmospheric effects and are pretty happy with the results.


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