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Last week I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit down with creative leads Orion Tait, Benjamin Langsfeld & Joshua Harvey and asked them a few questions about “Paint Ships”. Here is what they had to say:
This brief is one that gives you a lot of freedom with a very specified look, which can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing for obvious reasons, but a curse in that you may try to be too lofty in your creative goals. Did you find that you had to moderate your story in order feel secure that you could develop your look?
Orion: I think we managed to exceed our original expectations for the spot, in many ways. This first spot was originally just for testing purposes, and so was a little budget and time challenged. We first pitched the spot in early November. We then had about 9 weeks of production time before it went into testing, and then we polished things and futzed with the ending before it went to air this month. Mostly what was sacrificed was development time – we basically had to take the ideas generated from the pitch and string them into a story, which happily worked out as well as it did.
Ben: yeah, it was surprising how much a defined set of rules helped us imagine what we could or could not pull off. We set pretty strict limits and restrictions on the physicality of the cards. In other words, if you couldn’t do it real life, you were not allowed to model or animate in it that way. We had to shoot down some amazing looking models/animations that bent the cards in impossible ways, but in the long run, it really payed off by keeping everything somewhat simple and consistent.
Orion: Yeah that became an important part of setting the tone too. Even though everything is made out of cards, we wanted the vibe, from the music to the character performance and set design to feel filmic, not cartoony.
Ben: The only real challenge we ran into was file size. All of our ideas involved A LOT of geometry. Translation times and file sizes in the rendering phase pretty much crashed our farm daily. With nearly every object moving, and between 2,000 and 25,000 pieces of Geo in each scene, simple ideas got really heavy, really quick.
I briefly mentioned your technique to color the paint swatches (grayscale renders colorized in comp). Would you mind elaborating on your process?
Ben: If you take a look at our breakdown, you’ll see that we started with a basic physical sun GI pass. Then using ridiculous amounts of mattes, we multiplied our color into it. We then added specularity, reflections, subsurface, card names, gradients, and custom lighting on top.
Working with a new client with a relatively short time line, we had to be very careful with our back and forth over color. The interesting thing about color is, we all have a very different idea of what is “colorful”. With this first spot behind us, we now know what “colorful” means to the client and can nail it the first time around.
Orion: Right, it was really just a necessary solution that resulted from this unique situation. It’s funny to see it spun as a good thing! Dev time was short and we couldn’t get production art or color keys approved in pre-production as we would usually. As you said, it gives things a “painted look” that works with the concept, which is all about local color.
Joshua: Once we realized our production couldn’t accommodate the usual process it was a matter of deciding where the color was going to be controlled. It seemed most logical to do all of our color in composite, since re-rendering 3D elements is costly; especially if client comments were primarily going to be concerned with color. To allow for control at this level in composite we really just hacked it. Passes for separating objects by material were rendered and the color was created in composite and then combined with the lighting.
Do you plan on using this process again for the next spots or have you evolved the technique into a new direction?
Orion: No, the next spots are more cinematic in structure, so we’re really looking forward to seeing more color bleeding, and are getting some really great results with 3D DOF and motion blur, which would have been impossible the old way.
Ben: We switched from mental ray to vray halfway through the project due to insane render times. And therefore, we were using vray like we usually use mental ray. Spitting out tons of passes and mattes to build our comps. However, in the new spots we were able to get color keys approved in the early phases so we know where our colors need to be. Now we are using vray to get everything in the beauty including DOF and Motion Blur. Phew, no more render layers.
Joshua: I think there is definitely still an illustrated approach to the style of the next spot, but we’re definitely happy about having a more robust approach.
Orion: Yeah good point. We’re still blocking out the colors and shapes and thinking of it as a painting exercise.
Wow, can’t wait to see. Thanks for your time guys!