June 14, 2009

Superbowl 2008 Budweiser commercial

Here is an copy of an article that ran in Computer Graphics World magazine, April 2009.
My contribution to the spot was approx. 10 scenes, including the "tent" scene that is shown in the article. The hardest part about that scene was that in after the scene was shot, it was decided to flip the position of the Ringmaster and the Clown. I had to do a lot of roto and restoration to the elements to make the shot work. Factoid: the hero clysdale's name is "Jake". These commercials are a lot of fun to work on, and it's really great to collaborate in a highly creative environment.

Circus | Budweiser
Director: Joe Pytka
Agency: DDB Chicago
Production company: Pytka, Venice, CA
CG company: Filmworkers Club, Chicago

A Clydesdale nuzzles his ladylove Lucy, a horse in a circus, but when the circus leaves town, it seems that the romance is over. But our Clydesdale hero jumps fences and gallops across America to reunite with Lucy, who bucks off a bareback rider and astonishes the clowns as she and her mate burst through the circus tent together.
Filmworkers Club first heard about the concept for the spot back in November from the DDB Chicago creative team who were responsible for last year’s successful Clydesdale “Team” commercial (see “Fan Favorites,” April 2008).
The exquisite views of America, as our horse hero gallops to find Lucy, are based on super-high-resolution (8k and 10k) stock footage from iStock. Filmworkers Club then manipulated those stock images to create the most spectacular shots possible. “Our idea was to create a heightened sense of beauty and reality,” explains visual effects director Rob Churchill. “We wanted America to look beautiful, so the countryside scenes are more saturated, heightening the reality.”

Using bi-cubic warping within Smoke, Filmworkers Club made it appear as though this horse was jumping over a canyon rather than a fence.

Colorist Michael Mazur took the process halfway with a first color pass for compositing, and then he completed the color after the composite. “That way, the whites aren’t blown out and the edges are crisp,” says Churchill.
The commercial was essentially created in compositing, using a combination of live-action elements, stock footage, and lots of paint, relighting, and digital elements. Film­workers Club assigned a team of five compositors—Heidi Anderson, Chris Ryan, Rick Thompson, Jen Paine, and Churchill—who worked not just on “Circus,” but on a total of nine Super Bowl spots in-house.
According to Churchill, the most challenging scene was when the Clydesdale jumps over the canyon. “He was shot jumping over a fence,” he explains, “but we had to fly the horse across the entire canyon.” Using bi-cubic warping, a feature in Autodesk’s Smoke, Churchill was able to make the horse look as if it was jumping outward rather than over.

“It’s a detailed stretch, but you can only stretch parts of the picture,” Churchill says. “There were tons of rotoscoping to get rid of the fence that was blocking part of the horse’s leg, which I made up with bits of cloning, tracking, and paint.” He also relit the horse to make it match the background, using mattes and 3D lights inside Smoke.

In the first, early morning scene,
Thomp­son relit the barn to make it look like morning, and to sell that further, added little digital insects flying around the horses. Ryan, meanwhile, painted the outside of the barn.
Filmworkers Club also added the circus tents. The artists started with stock footage as the base structure, and then used Smoke to paint in the tent. Later, they relit the tent and Ferris wheel elements in the opening scenes. The group also crafted flags that would rustle in the wind, and built a matte painting of the barn door for when the Clydesdale decides to leave the barn. The group relit the barn exterior as the horse runs out and the establishing shot of the barn, as well, using CG sun and sunbeams and adding CG insects fluttering around for good measure.
“Jen [Paine] repainted all the foreground trees but left room [for viewers] to see the Ferris wheel, which she put in the background,” says Churchill. “All of that work makes it say ‘circus.’”

The live-action spot “Circus” required quite a bit of digital work, and not all of it involved making the horses do super feats. In the scene above, the inside of the circus tent was shot live (left); compositors later added the clown and performers to the plate.

The crew also replaced many of the backgrounds. The inside of the circus tent was shot greenscreen, and Thompson composited the clowns and other circus performers, with a new inside-the-tent background composed of stock footage that was digitally enhanced and manipulated. In the scene where the silhouetted Clydesdale is running toward the circus in the distance, Filmworkers Club used a shot of the horse inside the barn running toward the exit, stripped him out of that scene, and put him in this scene. Then, they added a nighttime CG/matte painting/live-action exterior.
The compositors even replaced the skies. “The idea was to have the spot start in the morning, go through the day, and end at night,” Thompson says. “You couldn’t plan to shoot at all the right times of day, which is why we had to replace the skies throughout.” The sole use of Autodesk’s Maya was to put digital bridles on the horses in the beginning sequence when they’re nuzzling over the fence.
“This is the most exciting time in the yearly cycle,” contends Churchill. “The agencies are giving it their all, and so are we.”

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