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January 2018

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Page 27 of 43 26 POST JANUARY 2018 VFX FOR SPOTS While the story line of the commercial is based on an oft-repeated myth, the challenges faced by the MPC artists and animators to bring this scenar- io to life were all too real. And, like the stork in the spot, the group delivered. — By Karen Moltenbrey, chief editor of CGW TOWER OF SUCCESS MPC recently worked closely with ad agency RPA and directors Smith & Foulkes from production company Nexus to create a unique, :60 spot for Honda, Tower of Success, that promotes the auto maker's 10 th -generation Accord. Called on to create an entire city of CG trophies, along with the trophy characters springing to life, the spot opens with a plaque that reads, "Better Is a Never-Ending Quest," and continues to pan across a series of common, bronze trophies, including a figure of a bowler sitting on top of a trophy. He breaks free from his still pose. After announcing, "There's a danger to success," the camera continues to focus on other figures, moving from a soccer player to a fisherman, and an angel to boxers, who all break free from their stiffened poses and preach about the dangers of being at the top. According to MPC VFX supervisor Ryan McDougal, who is based in the studio's LA location and who headed up the studio's CG efforts on the spot, the directors "were really focused on the flow of the dialogue and the performance. The camera just kept moving up and as it was steadily rising, the message is conveyed that you can always get better. Ultimately, we land on this beautiful shot of the Honda Accord, which is really the apex of the whole spot." Directors Smith & Foulkes called on MPC be- cause, as McDougal puts it, "They trust the fact that we can make things look photoreal and tactile and build a whole world. That's really what they were after. They've done more stylized pieces in the past and they knew we could bring that kind of life to this project." McDougal says the directors are really attuned to good performance in animation and quality cam- era work. Since Tower of Success featured fully CG characters, everything in the spot was prevised. The directors started out with storyboards and some 3D previs, before MPC took it all over, spend- ing about four months to complete the project. "We collaborated with them over a very intense pe- riod — for about two to three weeks — to sharpen the camera moves and actually figure out the per- formances and then block everything," he explains. According to McDougal, one of the things the directors wanted to convey was that the characters were made of metal, so MPC needed to communi- cate that each character was "struggling to break free of their own selves." He explains that they would move in a "kind of staccato fashion, which is close to stop motion. Again, the message is that they are trying to be better than they are. Normally, they are these stagnant things that sit in these beautiful poses, and they are actually trying to do more. So, we animated all characters in a very naturalistic way to get the timing and the performance down so it would look just like a nor- mal, photoreal character moving around. Then we went in and started tak- ing frames out — maybe it was only on the arm or the whole body — to create more of a stepped look, as if it's struggling to move." To complete the characters, MPC relied primarily on Maya for rendering and produc- tion, Houdini for the city population and Nuke for compositing. They ren- dered in Arnold, textured using Substance Painter then created their own tool — a city population tool — that they made "from the ground up out of Nuke." As with most project, the team faced a few chal- lenges in completing the spot. The characters were each hand modeled. "The tough part about that is that they want these to feel like metal, and feel like real sensibilities of how you would hand craft these things. They wanted them all to be a little bit differ- ent, so it felt like different artisans were touching on these because most trophies are designed in a very individualistic way. None of them match, but the general idea of each trophy matches." He adds that, "The big thing is, it's not so much that each of the individual pieces are particularly difficult to make, because they are known materials and things that we've all seen and know what they should look like, but it was the sheer scale that was probably the toughest part and figuring smart ways to populate this huge trophy city behind it and make it actually through about 60 odd individually animated char- acters. Not only building them but animating them and figuring out what that animation was supposed to look like. Those were the real challenges." According to McDougal, the studio is typically creating creatures and other elements that are integrated into live action plates. "Once in a while, though, we get fully CG things and get to do very heavy character work. When that happens, we can do it very well, like I think our team did here, it opens up other possibilities for different work. In this spot, our directors, the agency and even the cli- ent weren't making huge demands on us. They were saying, 'You have the framework, we'll just keep ed- iting as we go along, but you guys are doing a really nice job, just keep pushing it further.' Everybody had a lot of trust. That's why I think it was a success." —By Linda Romanello THE TRAILBLAZERS Friends are made for memorable adventures. And in a recent commercial for Heineken, The Trailblazers, a group of friends that take an adventure of a life- time during an ultimate boy's night out. In the epic spot, from agency Publicis Italy and director Matthijs van Heijningen at MJZ, four guys start out their evening in New York, but soon find themselves transported to some of the world's most extreme locations — from the summit of Mount Everest to outer space, complete with explosions, flying debris and more. Similarly, MPC's group of VFX artists were chal- lenged as they embarked on an epic journey of their own, creating the locations and myriad effects to make the story possible. "This is a huge piece of work. We're talking about six films in one, crafted by over 70 artists in 90 days," says Carsten Keller, VFX supervisor and MPC's head of 3D. "The VFX scale speaks for itself, and that sort of creative achievement isn't possible To complete the Tower of Success spot for Honda, MPC relied on a mix of tools, including Maya, Nuke, Substance Painter and a tool they created in Nuke.

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