With nary a breather after wrapping a previous all-CG production, the boffins in the Geomedia 3D department have kicked out yet another fully animated spot. This time with The Delta Group through Cougar Films for Sigma Alimentos,
The spot entails a group of four super-hero kids, each of whom represent the flavors and embody the beneficial powers, of a delicious new soy-based protein drink. We find the “Solé Kids” as they are known, in their futuristic ready-room being debriefed on an amazing new source of health and energy. Excitement builds in the Solé Kids, as their robot professor extolls the benefits of the product. Fielding the impatient questioning from our superheroes, the professor instructs them to share the healthful powers of Solé Kids with the children of Earth.
Delta Agency Creative Director Ernesto Barba wanted the spot to have a realistic, optical feel to the atmosphere and lighting in the spot, yet still have the Solé Kids read as cartoon characters with stylized realism. He supplied detailed character studies. Each character had it’s own personality profile to compliment their respective super power. Character style sheets of the Solé Kids were also provided as they had already been created for the product packaging and printed assets. The professor character was unique to the spot and the director would rely on Geomedia artists for his design.
3D modeling and texturing of the Solé Kids was done in-house by modeler/animator Jeremy Kenisky in Softimage/XSI. He also single-handedly designed and built the classroom set complete with props. The guy is a wonder and easily the fastest modeler I’ve ever seen! The character’s hero outfits and stylized proportions would require careful attention in modeling to achieve efficient geometry and insure clean deformation during animation. Early model tests were well received by the client… Except for one “colorfully worded” modification requested by the Executive Producer. It seems Jeremy had made the female character a bit too sexy!! She would have to be toned down a bit in key areas in order to receive a “G” rating! Was hillarious! Hey, the guy’s only 20, what do you expect. We all had a good laugh.
The professor was an interesting design challenge. The director wanted a simple character capable of emoting through facial expression yet still be obviously robotic. Initial concept sketches with predictable mechanical-hinged facial features were considered but never presented. More promising designs maintained mechanical body and appendages (except for the hands) but more “human” mouth and eyes… Still metallic but flexible. Worked great. Simple ball-socket treatments for elbows, wrists and an homage to the “Segway” for his means of locomotion… A few Jetson-esque detail flourishes, a flashing lightbulb and we had our “professor”.
After completion and approval of my design, I also had the pleasure of modeling him. Aside from the mouth and face, pretty straightforward stuff… Carried out once again in XSI. Gotta love those “subdees“
Rigging of the characters was accomplished by New York artist, Kris Rivel. Models were rigged with deep control capability including FK/IK blending and emotion controls. Kris also created “synoptic” views of each character. The synoptic view is a feature within XSI where selections to various rig controls can be accessed via hot links on a bitmap image. In this case hot links were created on an image of the character so animators needed only to click on, say the upper arm in order to invoke that element’s transform controls. As characters become increasingly complex, these workflow enhancements greatly speed up the selection and keyframing of myriad animatable parameters.
As our characters would be required to grasp, speak, walk and even play guitar!… The rigs required to enable this degree of control were fairly complex. To me, a fully rigged character and all its control objects is a thing of beauty! Here’s the character “Ran” including his control rig, playing some tunes! Is that a Stratocaster?
After approval of camera blocking and animatics, scenes were divied up among the animators. Audio tracks, from voice-over sessions conducted in Mexico, were imported into XSI in order to time action and, of course, lip synch when the characters speak. Even though we animate with computers, the animation process is still done by hand, frame by frame… The apparent simplicity of the final product understates what’s really going on beneath the surface. XSI offers incredible control over any animatable parameter. Editable function curves modulate the rhythm and velociy of motion. The dope sheet is a hold-over from traditional animation and can control the timing of many parameters at once. Navigating and viewing the resulting flood of motion data can get more than a little hairy!
Lighting was a critical factor to the overall look of the spot. Deep shadows and volumetric lighting FX create a depth and atmosphere in the scenes. In addition to animating key scenes, animation Director Troy Davis handled lighting duties for each individual scene.
As animation progressed, work-in-progress scenes were periodically assembled and run by the director for any critique of motion or timing. Approved scenes would be put in the queue for rendering. Prior to final rendering, scenes were split up into passes to derive seperate files for specific objects or specific data channels. For instance, depth channel and motion vector data was output and later utilized in compositing to create “depth of field” and “motion blur” effects. This approach is often more efficient in terms of render time and yields more flexibility as opposed to including such effects in the render. Final frames were finished in After Effects and sweetened with color correction and additional atmosphere enhancements.
Creative Director, Ernesto Barba and Executive Producer Gerardo “Cougar” Botello came to the studio a few days before final delivery to oversee the final tweaks. We had a blast with these guys! Only a few minor changes and the addition of supers requested by the client, Sigma Alimentos, and we had it in the can.
We look forward for more adventures with the “Solé Kids” as the saga continues!