An Invisible FX Evolution for HP's E-Donor Campaign
Brand New School Takes Discarded Tech From Shadows Into the Sunlight
What made the job tricky was the fact that the spot needed to be fairly VFX-heavy without feeling VFX-heavy. (The aim of the piece is not to celebrate technology, but to give consumers positive associations with the feeling of recycling.) Further, the spot was filmed using a narrow depth of field that can be hard to match in animation work. In the end, the creative team found ways to get those images on screen without drawing attention to them. F&V visited Brand New School’s New York offices to take a detailed look at the spot with director Notaro. Click below to watch the spot with an audio commentary on the visual elements, and read on for a Q&A about getting it done.
What was your schedule like for shooting and post?
It was a one-day shoot. We didn’t have a pre-light or anything. We jammed. It was a DP that I have worked with a few times, so we knew what we were looking for. We had two cameras. During the outdoor shoot, we were also shooting reference plates in the garage ‘ just little pieces here and there. They would come out and show me so we could change stuff around. And then we went back into the garage and shot into the evening.
The post-production schedule was five weeks. We had this conversation with the client about more animation, and with our schedule it seemed unmanageable. But they really loved everything that was animated, and they wanted more and more. It took me a while, but once I rethought some of the ideas and made them better, we got on a roll and decided the animation was going to help the story along. It’s not going to take anything away from the footage if we’re subtle about it. I didn’t want to have a bike bell running and jumping up onto the bike. We we did want to have that subtle little movement of the bike bell just completing.
We ended up trying a bunch of things over the weekend. A few of them stuck, we put them in, and people started getting happier and happier. It as a really nice process. You couldn’t ask for a cooler client.
What were some of the biggest challenges?
All of the depth-of-field stuff was really difficult for CG. The more out-of-focus something is, the harder it is to track when the camera has movement, and the harder it is to match the blur up. Now that I’ve done it this way, I’ll probably never do it the other way, where you create [depth-of-field effects] in post. I was always told you couldn’t do it this way. But they figured it out. You have to do it by hand, but it looks so much better.
How do you get your people on board to do things the hard way?
It’s about having a good idea. If the script is good and the idea is good, it keeps people interested and they want to make it better. As teams get bigger, you want the same sort of commitment that you have in a team of two or three people – and when you have a team of seven or eight people it has to be a really good idea to keep everyone into it. The craziest thing is, after you watch it, you realize you put in a ton of time ‘ but all in the interest of disguising your role. You watch it and you can tell it’s well done, but it doesn’t scream animation.
Who was the DP?
Marcelo Durst. He’s a Brazilian DP working in L.A. I think he’s gotten pretty hot lately. Everything I’ve done with him I’ve really enjoyed. Clients have pretty high expectations. Poor Marcelo. Every time he works with us we drag him through the mud. [Laughs.] The project before this was hell. But every time it turns out good.
It seems like this project was a lot of work for one day.
It was a ton of work for one day, but because you’re in this tight environment in that garage ‘ when we shoot stuff, he and I sit down with the AD and talk about the best order. I’m very involved in determining the order in which we shoot stuff. I’ll say, “We don’t need to switch the lighting there, we’ll just punch in really close.” We had two cameras, which helped a lot. We didn’t have to take the camera off the dolly if we wanted to put it on the floor because there was that second camera. That’s how we get it done.
How many camera set-ups did you have inside?
All the tight stuff was really one set-up. The shallow depth of field helped, too, because you didn’t really pay attention to where you were. You could get away with a lot as long as you matched the direction of the light. If you wanted to move the cluster of broken computer parts over four feet because the backdrop was a little nicer, nobody knew. It was complicated because we were playing with the atmosphere and dust. There was a smoke machine creating that. We had light kicking in from the outside of the house, and then we had to break that down and bring it into the inside, then set it back up. It was probably like nine setups, some of them really subtle. The tent was outside the window kicking light in through the window, but we had to go shoot the outside stuff and break down the tent. We knew that. We were clever. We partially broke it down and put a bunch of tree branches over it, then went back and reconstructed it after we got the exterior shots to do our tighter interior stuff.
Did you do much to the look in post?
Yeah, I think so. It was all shot a bit warmer, so we took the warmth out early on. But some shots we did very little. It was more pulling saturation out and dimming it a little bit. When we looked at the dailies we were blown away. I actually liked the dailies a little more than I liked the telecine. Because we were doing so much in CG, they didn’t want to put too much of a look on it, and I understand that. It was proabbly the smarter way to go. Looking back at the dailies, the warmth in the dailies ended up being the look of the second half of the spot. We’ve had bad experiences with labs doing telecines, just because we try to go for too much of a look or not enough of one. We’ve been sending our dailies out to Company 3, working with a night artist who could do the telecine and give it a nice clean look knowing that we’ll have a conversation with them so that when the client sees the rough cut it starts to hint towards the mood, so that when we do the actual telecine they’re not surprised, going, “What the hell is this?” The old way was you get your dailies from the lab, cut with it for four weeks, and then do your color-correction. I don’t know what [the difference] is these days. People aren’t prepared for such giant leaps. Getting everybody looking at something that’s closer to the final look early on is probably the smarter way to go. So we sent this to Company 3 for the first dailies.
Who did the final telecine?
Stefan [Sonnenfeld]. He left a good amount of range in there. I do Photoshop frames once the CG is at a point where I can put it into ‘ I’ll take the 3D and composite in the Photoshop frame with a still from the actual footage and give it a look or put a glint on part of the shot. I’ll do a little bit of a telecine myself, and that goes to the Flame artist, who matches it. That’s kind of how we all work here, each director. We all come from an animation or design background. We’re pretty clear with setting looks and color.
Were the effects rendered at HD resolution all the way through?
Actually, Vadim [Turchin, CG supervisor] had a really clever approach. Because we were working in HD, and because we shot film, he did all the FX at a slightly lower resolution so there would be a slight softness when you scaled it up, and that softness would point to the look of film. It was like 25 percent less resolution than HD.
That’s interesting, because sometimes you can tell something’s a CG object because it looks really sharp and just stands out a little bit.
Yeah, or when there’s noise in something created digitally, it’s hard [to disguise that] without blurring it. And blurring and softening are different things. You can’t just take footage and blur it. I didn’t know that, and I thought he was just trying to get away with something – that he was trying to save some rendering time and cut some corners! I was looking at an animator’s screen and asked why he was working at a lower resolution. And he said, “Vadim told me to.” He’s pretty brilliant.
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
ECD/Partner: Steve Simpson
Group Creative Director: Hunter Hindeman
Group Creative Director: Rick Condos
Group Creative Director: John Coyne
Art Director: Tim Semple
Copywriter: Jon Wolanske
Account Director: Nancy Reyes
Account Director: Elena Korzhenevich
Assistant Account Director: Ellen Byron
Head of Broadcast Production/Associate Partner: Cindy Fluitt
Producer: Jon Drawbaugh
Business Affairs Manager: Karen Keoleian
Production Company: Brand New School, Santa Monica/New York
Director/CD: Jonathan Notaro
Executive Producer: Danny Rosenbloom
Cinematographer: Marcelo Durst
VFX Supervisor: Eric Pascarelli
Storyboard Artist: William Rosado, Brian Wilcox
Line Producer: David Wolfson
Production Supervisor: Jane Van Dyke
CG Supervisor: Vadim Turchin
3D Lead: Mike Marsek
3D Lighting: Iggy Ayestaran, Aditi Kapoor
3D Animation: Mike Garcia, Matt Guzzardo
3D Modeling: Adam Rosenzweig
3D Tracking: Han Ho, John Kalaigian
Flame Artist: Mark French
Compositor: Marion Ennis, Scott Winston
Editor: Erik Barnes
Senior Producer: Devin Brook
Telecine: Company 3, Los Angeles
Artist: Stefan Sonnenfeld
Sound Design: Color NY
Composer/Designer: Josh Abbey
Original Music: Wye Oak, “Regret”