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Five great VFX spots from Super Bowl 2013

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013 | Posted by Jim Thacker

Like many Brits, my awareness of what happens at the Super Bowl is somewhat hazy. All I could really tell you about this year’s game is that there was a power cut, Beyoncé sang something, and… er, go Ravens?

But even on the wrong side of the Atlantic, it hasn’t escaped our attention that a lot of ads are screened during the Super Bowl – and that many of them feature showstopping visual effects work.

Below, you can read how five of my own favourite spots from Super Bowl 2013 were created. This isn’t an exhaustive or scientifically accurate list, so if you know of a gem I’ve missed, post the link in the comments.

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Ad: Allstate ‘Apple’
VFX: MPC

What do the greatest disasters in human history have in common? The fact that they were caused by Allstate’s brand character, if you believe the US insurer’s latest ad.

The first in a five-part campaign, ‘Apple’ begins with Allstate’s Mr. Mayhem causing an unfortunate fruit-eating incident in the Garden of Eden and heads to the present day via the fall of Troy and the Great Chicago Fire.

There are plenty of 3D elements (check out the photorealistic snake), but the spot is mainly a tour de force on the part of MPC NY’s compositing team.

The Eden scene alone references images from Yellowstone, the Hudson River valley, Thailand, Ireland and the tropics, throwing in a lighting design inspired by Renaissance paintings for good measure.

2D lead compositor Evan Schoonmaker told AWN that MPC’s work “centered around beautiful storybook composites, with a variety of styles playing together”, but the sheer speed of the montage is just as impressive.

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Ad: Kia ‘Space Babies’
VFX: Method Studios

When your kids ask where babies come from, you should probably explain the facts of life. But if you’re going to lie, you could do worse than claiming that they’re grown on an alien planet and sent to earth in rocket ships.

‘Space Babies’, created by Method Studios and ad agency David&Goliath, features so much 3D eye candy (Spaceships! Planets! Parachuting giraffes! An adorable baby panda!) that it’s easy to overlook the fact that it’s actually an ad for the Kia Sorento.

“From a VFX standpoint, it was all-encompassing,” said VFX supervisor Andy Boyd, “CG animals, vehicles, clothing, environmental elements, matte painting, compositing – it was amazing to see the project well executed across so many different areas of expertise.”

“It was important that the CG world and animals retain an element of whimsy,” added VFX producer Mike Wigart. “We needed to create something realistic while making sure it has a sense of something imagined”.

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Ad: Kia ‘Hotbots’
VFX: Method Studios

Method Studios often takes the lion’s share of VFX-heavy Super Bowl ads, and while it couldn’t match last year’s record-breaking total, it did do the work for another of this year’s highlights.

The studio’s second Kia ad, ‘Hotbots’ also relies on humour (not to mention a slightly bizarre attitude to sex) as a nerdy car fan is first charmed, then beaten up by, cybernetic car show models.

Appropriately enough, the androids are a mixture of live action and CG elements. VFX supervisor Benjamin Walsh notes: “We concluded that the best methodology was to shoot practical models and track CG mechanical components on top. We combined the best features from around 20 different concept designs.”

Only the heads and dresses of the models are retained from the live shoot: the arms, chest and legs are all digital replacements, requiring very precise animation. According to Method, particular attention was paid to crafting the mechanics of the joints and the vein-like wires which glow blue with energy.

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Cinematic: God of War: Ascension ‘From Ashes’
VFX: Imaginary Forces, Catastrophic FX

The teaser for the latest outing in SCE’s God of War series features particles: lots of particles. ‘From Ashes’ shows everything that mythological antihero Kratos touches turning to… er, ashes.

It isn’t the subtlest of symbolism (and really, game developers should find better excuses for steroidal lead characters embarking on gigantic kill sprees than ‘Something bad happened to my kid’), but the VFX look great.

The concept was developed by Imaginary Forces: director Karin Fong and VFX supervisor Jeremy Cox.

Key ash effects were handled by Allan McKay and Desiree Lunsford at Catastrophic FX. 3ds Max plugins thinkingParticles and FumeFX generated the particles, and the results were rendered in V-Ray.

“Our main goal, creatively, was making this moment something elegant and beautiful: there was a real concern that this concept could easily turn into something horrific or disturbing,” says Cox of the ash transformation. “We spent a lot of time R&Ding elements with Allan and his team, and they delivered above and beyond expectation.”

“The biggest challenge was developing a realistic approach to making not only the girl break apart into ash but the entire world around her,” said McKay. “Most times, when we deal with fracturing, [we still use] a very polygon-looking hard-surface approach, but we needed the ash to feel like it breaks down continuously from one solid piece to powder, and to change density as it did so, so that the wind affected it more and more.”

“It [would have been easy] to have week-long simulations because of the number of times parts of her body would break, so we needed to keep revising the process so we could avoid simulations taking over a day.”

“It was one of the coolest yet most challenging projects I’ve worked on,” says McKay. “All of us were so passionate and so in love with the piece.”

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Ad: Adobe ‘Animals’
VFX: Brickyard VFX

The final ad didn’t actually air during the Super Bowl. But since it takes a swipe at those that did, I thought I’d bend the rules. Adobe’s snarky ‘Animals’ spot mocks the cost of TV advertising space during the big game. (“Can you believe they spend millions of dollars on these things? For what, 30 seconds?”)

To recreate the animal stars of Super Bowls past, Brickyard VFX began with footage of a real horse and an actor in a chimpanzee suit, compositing in 3D facial replacements created and animated in Maya.

Using a three-camera setup, head of CG David Blumenfeld captured visual reference of the dialogue and facial movements, and rigged each animal for full control of mouth movements and facial expressions.

VFX supervisor Mandy Sorenson colour-corrected the spot in Autodesk’s Lustre, and composited the 3D facial components into the live action in Flame. The Pixel Farm’?s PFTrack was used for the 3D tracking.

“I’m very proud of what our team accomplished with this spot,” said Blumenfeld. “We only had about a week to complete two full facial rigs, and … it looks like you?’re watching real animals having an actual conversation.”

Know a great Super Bowl 2013 spot we missed? Recommend your own favourites in the comments below.

Updated: The original version of this story failed to credit Imaginary Forces for its work on the God of War: Ascension trailer. Sorry, Imaginary Forces.

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