Pinball Wizards

Posted on August 22, 2007 in Ad VenturesBehind The Scenes

Be the ball… In this final installment of a trifecta of visual FX spots for Mexico theater chain , we take the viewer on a journey through the machine. Completing a huge re-branding campaign, this exciting, fast-paced theatrical policy trailer reinforces the company’s brand partners and touts the theater’s numerous amenities while encouraging behavior from it’s patrons. This project is the culmination of our efforts through agency SOS Publicidad for client MM Cinemas, in what has been a very successful transition for the company.


Given only the general concept, it was up to us to design the look, direct the action and move the story. In addition to reiterating the typical policy message i.e. turn off cell phones, no smoking… We also had to highlight features such as digital surround sound, the food court, wide aisles and comfortable seating… among others.

Conveying these messages with only a few , flags and drop targets proved to be quite a challenge. For some of the trickier concepts we departed from traditional pinball mechanisms and scale. A good example of solutions for some of the more difficult to convey messages are the scenes describing stadium seating and digital audio.


With most of the story-line and visuals figured out we began constructing the pinball machine. 3D modeling was carried out in practically single-handedly by our own Jeremy Kenisky. It was like modeling a small city! There were hundreds of individual elements to construct and numerous of the model were presented before reaching it’s final form. The model had to literally function yet be consistent and visually interesting. Design modifications and additions occurred right up to final delivery as we made sure were getting the best use of available real estate to tell our story.

As the model neared completion, references of it’s geometry were sent to the graphics department to begin the arduous task of . Geomedia artist Rudy Martinez handled the bulk of the 2D design of the table and prepared most the texture maps. A blackbelt in both Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, He crafted a beautiful theme and palette based on the re-branded motif of the theaters. Additionally, hundreds of functional design elements i.e. arrows, pathways, logos, lights… would need to be designed and consistently integrated. All textures received careful attention to insure sufficient resolution in close-up shots. It was an enormous undertaking given the huge number of geometric elements in the model, all requiring individual textures. Rudy also designed and animated 2D motion textures which appeared on the backglass and pathways. The finished spot would not have turned out as special without such terrific design and artwork… Kudo’s Rudy!


While modeling and texturing continued, scene blocking, animation and lighting were being developed. Animation Director Troy Davis was responsible for lighting and the overall look of the spot. Troy also oversaw animation and camera work as well as render wrangling and technical direction. The scene had well over 100 lights. High dynamic range arcade environment maps were used to great effect on the highly reflective pinball and metallic surfaces of the machine. , shadow and motion vector passes were rendered separately to be incorporated later in compositing. A particularly challenging aspect to the lighting was the sequencing of lights illuminating the playfield during specific moments of game play. The pinball table had around 75 embedded playfield lights. Manually keying believable and interesting sequences would be a bit tedious… Scripting to the rescue! Geomedia artists developed a small animated image map which corresponded with the placement of the 3D playfield lights in XSI. Troy wrote a script in which a light is triggered to be on or off based on the animated image map. Utilizing this method quick changes could be made to the lighting sequences simply by editing the animation of the 2D image map in . We tweaked the image map animation until we had something we liked and then plugged it into our XSI script to trigger all the lights automatically…


Rendered image passes of the film-resolution frames were composited in After Effects. Ambient occlusion and shadow levels were dialed in. Motion vector data files output from XSI were utilized in the composite to generate as a post effect. This greatly reduced the already substantial rendering burden of processing the 2K files. Color correction tweaks and subtle glow effects were added on a shot-by-shot basis as needed. Fireworks effects were created via 2D particle system and tracked to match the camera move in the climactic final crescendo as the player scores the ultimate point. Audio was scored and posted in Mexico. Final frames were delivered as digital files for film-out and duplication in Mexico City.


Once again, I’m thrilled by the creativity, talent and teamwork exhibited by the entire Geomedia crew in pulling off such a large and complex project. We’re told that the spot looks awesome on the big screen. We’ve received effusive compliments from the MM Cinemas client and the spot has become very popular with the audiences.


CLIENT: MM Cinemas

AGENCY: SOS Publicidad

ANIMATION/FX: Geomedia, Inc.
Troy Davis, Animation Director
Martin Jaeger, Compositing/FX
Jeremy Kenisky, 3D Modeling/Animation
Rudy Martinez, Graphics/2D Animation

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