Blending the physical and the digital in “Building a Rocket”

While the painstaking stop-motion of “Building a Rocket” is charming in itself, it’s the beautiful compositing of digital characters and elements that imbues the spot with a special magic.

"All the characters (except for the sheep) and props that they interact with are CG."

“All the characters (except for the sheep) and props that they interact with are CG.”

Produced and directed by Am I Collective, the CG aspect of the spot was executed by Lung Animation and directed by Darren Macpherson. Because of the technical nature of the project — and its relatively short timeline of four months form start to finish — Darren was involved from pitch through production, giving him a unique perspective on the project.

We asked him for a little more detail about his role.

Q&A with CG Animation Director Darren Macpherson

It’s hard to tell where the physical props end and the CG begins. 

I’m glad you find it hard to tell what is CG. That’s a great compliment.

All the characters (except for the sheep) and props that they interact with are CG. The environments are miniature live action sets with some illustration elements comped in — matte paintings for extensions and skies.

So what aspects of the job did you handle?

I was the Animation Director for the 3D component of the project and CG supervisor for the overall project. I was involved from the pitch stages and worked on the 3D animatic to help solve different aspects before the shoot, as it was a quick turn over, with 3D running along side the shoot.

We had a small team, so I oversaw all aspects of the 3D, composting and supervising the shoot when it was called for. I worked closely with the animators to direct the character animation based on the director and client’s feedback and what they were wanting to get out of the various scenes and performances.

Did you dig into the animation yourself?

I was hands on with various 3D tasks, but my biggest tasks were rigging. I lit and rendered almost every shot of the spot.



Agency: Lowe and Partners Cape Town
Executive Creative Director: Kirk Gainsford
Copywriter: Alistar Morgan
Producer: Riska Emeran
Art Director : Bruce Harris
Client Serve : Katinka Pretorius

Production Company: Am I Collective
Director: Ruan Vermeulen
Producer: Vanessa McGowan
Illustration: Am I Collective
Matte Painting: Ryan de Carte

Independent Animation Director : Darren Macpherson
Animation Studio: Lung Animation
Artists: Claudio Pavan, Arri Reschke, Darren Macpherson, Marcelle Marais, Alistair Grant, Lani Greenhill, Rob Pita, Lloyd Wilgen
Animators: Rob Pita, Marcelle Marais, Alistair Grant, Claudio Pavan
Compositors: Jannes Hendrikz, Christian Venter

Motion Control: iKraal
Dragonframe Operator: Ken Mehrtens
Crispian Abbott: Camera Unit
Behind the Scenes: Robert Nicholls
Lighting and D.O.P: Johan Horjus
D.O.P Assistant: Kyla Girdwood
Stop Frame Animator: Iain Bold
Miniature Sets / Props: CFX Cape Town
Propsmaster: Rob Carlisle
Art Department: Warren Sassenberg


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About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.


Bigmouth Audio

Great article as always guys, thanks for sharing.


I don’t get the point in praising the art of stop motion and then doing the main animation in some kind of lame fake stop-motion. Nothing against CG, but if you use it be committed about it.

Darren Macpherson

Hi schwarzgrau.

I was the lead on the cg component of the project. I understand the passion and love for doing things in the most honest way, however, if you have ever been exposed to a project with restrictions and deadlines you’ll know that is not always possible to produces something that everyone will agree on.

Motionographer never praised this as ‘the art of stop motion’ the title says this: ‘Blending the physical and the digital’ which suggest that it’s a combanation of techniques.

I’m sorry you found the ‘main animation’ as lame fake stop-motion. We had a 2 month turn over doing the cg along side the shoot and we tried to put everything we had into it to try make it authentic. Maybe you haven’t worked in commercials but it’s a quick turn around. I’m sorry that we weren’t able to commite to something that is on par with your standards and that we were only able to deliver lame. I’d be happy for you to post a link to your work here so that we to can judge work have a conversation about what works and doesn’t work since you seem to have a very open judgment of people’s work, I would imagine it would work both ways.



Hi Darren,

First I have to apologize for the word ‘lame’. Your reply seemed a bit passive aggressive to me, what could be a results of my really bad word choice. But maybe I just over-interpret your reply.
I didn’t want to attack your CG work, by using the word ‘lame’ rather the fact to fake stop motion in CG at all. However, my apologies.
I just don’t like the idea of faking stop motion or any other analog techniques. My opinion is this: if you got a tight deadline and can’t shorten the script you can’t use stop motion. Faking it is just a cheap way of tricking the recipient in thinking he sees something ‘hand made’. But I guess this wasn’t your choice.

I never said that Motionographer praised the ‘art of stop motion’, but the people in the making of sound like this to me, especially Ruan Vermeulen.

By the way I worked at commercials and did a lot of pretty ugly stuff on account of tight deadlines, but I would never show them on the web. I don’t even know if I have to show something of my work to criticize somebody else work on the web and especially this part sounds a bit aggressive, but if it’s important I could post something of my work.

However, again apologies for the word lame, as I said It didn’t was targeted at your work (which is flawless by the way), I just don’t like CG stop motion at all, but that’s just my personal opinion and maybe I should keep this opinion to myself in the future.


Chris Cromwell

I think the better thought process around this use of mixed media is to appreciate that while the term “hand made” has an embedded meaning in our minds to represent “physical use of our hands on a physical asset”, there’s no discounting that the CG work done here was still done by human hands with equally creative talent. I think it’s a great thing that we can mix techniques like this. You certainly can’t deny that there’s a huge homage to stop motion throughout the piece, regardless if it’s not entirely done by practical means. And that to me means just as much.

Timelines can ruin creative output but I’d say in this case it’s rather commendable that the team on this project didn’t simply roll over because they couldn’t compose the entire project in stop motion. They had a vision to use it and they held true to a belief that they could pull off a great deal of it if they utilized CG in other areas. I wouldn’t call that a trick but rather a means to tell a great story no matter what. I can appreciate your love for something that is true to that medium throughout, but we live in a time where new mediums like CG can not only aid older techniques like stop motion but actually elevate them singularly to a whole new level of appreciation, especially to age groups that never grew up with it.


I don’t want to degrade CG work. I work most of the time completely digital, but as they said in the video: Stop Motion has an emotional value. The majority can’t imagine how much work went into a digital piece and it’s nothing they could touch. And digital works won’t gain much value if people try to ‘sell’ them as something analog. The line between homage and copy/fake is really thin, but to me a homage has to reveal that is a homage and it doesn’t seem like this to me here.

I don’t see how they used fake stop motion to tell a great story. Stop motion don’t help telling this ‘story’. To me it seems like they don’t even want stop motion, they want the emotional value of it, the stuff people associate with it.
I can’t imagine how CG could elevate old techniques, by faking them. Give them more attention?

Sorry if I sound somehow harsh, english isn’t my native language (as you may already noticed) and it’s not always easy for me to find the right tone, but I appreciate your input.

Nicholas Jon Beaubien

I for one, am completely inspired by this piece. I think its a beautifully crafted campaign and I’m actually using this blog post as an example in a inspiration meeting with my peers. I never felt like the intent was to fool people into believing the entire spot was stop motion, I was being told a story first and foremost and the techniques used to achieve the story felt just right. I celebrate your blending of art forms in an industry that often won’t even think about taking chances. Bravo to you and your team.


Thanks for sharing this, Justin

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