Uli Meyer Animation skillfully combined 2D animated roach characters with live-action sets and actors for a colourful TV commercial for Raid.

While the use of 3D characters in TV commercials is growing apace, skillful 2D artists continue to create animations that wow. Such is the case with a new US commercial for Raid created by Uli Meyer Animation Studios.

Entitled Chez Garbage, the commercial for Chicago agency Foote, Cone & Belding (FCB) features a typical American kitchen and combines live action with 2D animated roaches whose fate is to be zapped by a woman with a can of Raid.

“Although we subsequently branched out into CGI character animation, we started out as a 2D studio so this really is our forte,” says Matt Saxton, producer and editor at Uli Meyer. “We still retain a very talented 2D artist base that can create beautiful animation.”

FCB sent the script, soundtrack and storyboards for the commercial to the studio along with a brief for a live-action/animation combination.

“Uli Meyer is often approached for these projects as he has directed many live-action/animation combined commercials over the last 15 years,” comments Saxton.
Meyer began by creating new detailed storyboards for an animatic.

A virtual set of the kitchen was created in 3D using Maya, which allowed Meyer to move the camera around the set and decide on character positions before the live-action shoot took place.

“Combining live action and animation is a specialized process as the live director needs to shoot a lot of empty plates as well as making sure real actors can interact with animated characters added after the shoot,” explains Saxton. “Agreed storyboards and animatics are essential for planning, meeting deadlines and staying within budget.”

On set

Directed by Meyer, the team shot two 30-second commercials in three days, using two kitchen sets on one large film stage. The biggest challenge was to make the set look like a real kitchen while at the same time ensure the animated characters would fit into this live-action world. “We used cameraman Tom McDougal who has a brilliant track record and he shot the exact look we were after,” says Saxton.

As many of the shots were taken from the roaches’ perspective, a special lens was used to film as low to the ground as possible: “the alternative would have been to raise the floor which would have been more expensive,” says Saxton.

Lighting on the set was crucial to achieving an evening look in the kitchen, as well as the subsequent blending of live-action and animation. Plates were filmed with small, white polystyrene balls to give lighting references in order to match the effects animation on the 2D characters.

After the shoot, Saxton and his team did an offline edit and, once they received client approval, offlined the live action. Tiff files were then taken from Flame and printed as roto stats to animate over.

The studio had a ten-week animation schedule, which says Saxton was essential as the 2D characters were fairly intricate to draw and had several effects applied, such as tones, rims and highlights.

Uli Meyer designed the three 2D characters seen in Chez Garbage – a male and female roach, and a waiter roach.

Roach history

“The character design developed from the story. After receiving the scripts from the agency, I wrote my own treatment, detailing the main characters and inventing a history for each one. The creative team liked what I came up with and from there I had a pretty good idea what to design,” Meyer explains.

“These roach characters have been around for a couple of decades, and my aim was to design my own version of them. Initially, the artwork I presented was geared at convincing the client to create CGI characters, but we stuck to traditional animation in the end.”

The roaches were hand-drawn, then scanned and painted in Animo. Using tracking data from Maya, the bug characters were then composited with the live action in After Effects.

“The best way to combine the 2D animation with the live-action footage was to track the plates with 3D software, in this case Maya,” says Paul Lada, live-action supervisor and CGI artist at Uli Meyer Animation. “Traditionally, artists have had to match every frame by hand, which tends to be laborious. Tracking in 3D gives you a virtual camera that will mimic the one used on set when filming.

It involves laying out tracking markers on the set, which are removed later on in post but they provide data on position, scale and motion. The result is a character that looks like it’s really filmed in the scene,” he says.

Feedback from the client has been positive says Saxton and the team plan to start animation for the second commercial in July.