Using Maya and 3D Rotoscoping for CG Football Action

Director Cisma of BlackList transforms Pittsburgh Steelers’ star safety Troy Polamalu from his mild mannered off the field persona into a dark, fearsome animated character, inflicting punishment on his opponents in the new spot"The Line," a co-branded effort by Nike and Dick's Sporting. Read how Cisma created the hand-drawn charcoal look in CG and how he tackled the difficult task of animating the violence and beauty of football.

STUDIO DAILY: Explain how you devised the overall look of the animation. How was the charcoal look of the piece created and then animated?

We used real clouds footage in the background and the real face of Troy for the close-up shot but everything else is 3D created from scratch. For the composition we had different textures of patterns made with pencil and charcoal attached to the camera in After Effects. A lot of the effect of charcoal was from the shader for Maya we create for the spot.

In terms of the football players themselves, how were they created? Were they all drawn and then keyframed? Did you take actual photographs and/or footage of players and draw or layer vfx on top of real footage?

We took many pictures of Troy Polamalu to make his 3D model with the right proportions, the other characters are no one in particular, so we just changed some proportions and the displacement map.

How difficult was it to animate the movement of the players running, colliding and tackling each other and how were those difficulties overcome?

Realistic animation of people colliding is pretty difficult to animate because it involves body dynamics; we tried to use a software called Endorphin, a great rag doll software; in that program there is even a behavior called "tackling," but we ended up using it just as reference, because it's hard to make any modification after the animation is locked. It's similar to work using motion capture, very nice animation but very hard to make any modification. We finished using 3D rotoscoping of real plays and of footage we shot with two (Panasonic) HVX-200 cameras: one perpendicular to another to have both front and side views.

Technically, what was the process of creating the animation?

We use Maya as base tool for 3D, Zbrush was essential to model the characters, After Effects for compositing with color finesse for color correction and 3D cameras exported from Maya. The live action part was made in Flame, we had to change a white jersey for a black jersey in the "tackling over the camera" shot and erase dolly tracks and tracking points.

What was the most challenging part of this project?

I think the toughest part of shooting was the tackling-over-the-camera shot. We had to shoot many times to get one that worked for us. We hired professional football players to do this scene thinking it could look more authentic but in reality it was an unnecessary step because the pro athletes were afraid to get injured so they didn't jump the way I wanted. I think doubles could do much better work because they have more control to do this kind of scenes.

In the animation the most challenging part was to make realistic football animation in a very tight schedule- we had one month to do the animation part. The easiest part was to work with Polamalu. He's amazing, so humble. It was very sunny and hot in the shooting and he didn't complain about anything, there was place in the shade to eat lunch but he preferred to eat with the other players in the sun like everybody else.

In the initial transition from the live action foot landing to the animated foot, how was that transition handled?

We shot in 150 fps but it was not slow enough, so we use Twixtor to let it even slower, then we used particles, 3D elements and camera map for the texture of the animated shoes. A big part of the spot was solved using composition techniques only.

Agency: Wieden+Kennedy, Portland
Creative Directors: Tyler Whisnand, Mike McCommon
Art Director: Jay Berry
Writer: Caleb Jensen
Executive Producer: Ben Grylewicz
Producer: Andy Murillo
Production Company: Psyop/Blacklist, New York
Director: Cisma
Psyop Creative Director: Eben Mears
Executive Producer; Adina Sales
Producer: Jen Glabus

Live Action Producers: Paul Middlemiss, Dan O'Brien

Editor: Cisma
Compositor: Daniel Dias

Lead 3D Animation: Ricardo Bardal, Alfredo Hisa, Francois Puren, Guilherme Alvernaz
Storyboard: Renato Baschi
Flame Artists: Jamie Scott, Theo Maniatis, Ella Boliver

Rotoscoping: Hyunjeen Lee, Leslie Chung
Music & Sound Design: Sound Lounge, New York
Composer: Roman Zeitlin
Sound Design: Marshall Grupp
Mixer: Tom Jucarone