Passion Pictures' Pete Candeland teams with illustrator Pete Fowler of Super Furry Animals fame for an animated Kia car commercial.

Directed by Passion Pictures’ Pete Candeland, the animated commercial for new Korean car brand Kia features the work of illustrator Pete Fowler, well known for his Monsterism Web site (www.monsterism.net) and accompanying toy collections, as well as his series of album covers and videos for the band Super Furry Animals.

The 30-second ad for the new five-door Kia Picanto, entitled Knickers, shows how passengers can travel in comfort and style in a five-door Kia Picanto for the same price as a typical small three-door car. It opens with a three-door car being driven through the city with three girls squashed into it. One of them struggles to get out of the car from the back seat while keeping her dignity intact. As she is does so, the new Kia Picanto pulls up at the curb and another girl skips out of the back door, showing how much easier it is when the car has five doors.

“The pitch process for this commercial took quite a long time,” recalls Pete Candeland. “I think this was partly because it is a big step for a car brand to use animation rather than live action, and the ad agency needed to persuade them that the campaign would be effective for Kia in terms of sales.”

The agency contacted Passion Pictures in December 2003 with storyboards for the commercial. In the company’s first meeting with the agency, different design approaches were discussed and various illustration styles looked at. Pete Fowler was then suggested as a possible illustrator for the commercial.

Candeland had worked with Fowler previously, providing animation for the Super Furry Animals’ video Hello Sunshine designed and directed by Fowler so Passion decided to team up the two up again for this ad. The animated commercial was given the go ahead by the client in March 2004.

“Pete Fowler’s work really inspired the initial creative concept – the agency and the client were very enthusiastic that this approach and style would convey their main message of the Kia being the ‘thinking person’s small car’,” says Candeland. “We’ve also long been fans of Pete’s toys, so they were taken as a basis for the look and texture of the Kia characters.”

Fowler and Candeland worked on the storyboards together, with Candeland developing the shots and Fowler designing the backgrounds and characters.

“The brief felt very free in terms of characters, allowing me to use the more monster-like people as main players,” says Fowler. A mix of 2D and 3D was used to recreate his style of illustration while at the same time representing the new car as photo-realistic. Background elements were kept as 2D, which meant the team could make last minute changes, and the cars and characters were created in 3D using LightWave and animated in Messiah.

“One of the most challenging aspects of the ad was faithfully turning Pete’s very graphic 2D designs into 3D models,” says Candeland. “It was very important to us that Pete was heavily involved at the CG modelling stage and, luckily, he was just as keen to see his characters moving in 3D as we were.”

“It was also a challenge to imagine how his characters would move and how their expressions would look,” says Passion Pictures’ technical director Mark Wilson. “It was interesting to move them away from behaving like humans and giving them a toy-like quality. The rigs had to be very flexible and detailed so they could cope with extreme poses and cartoon-like movement.”

Modelling the Kia car was straightforward, he says. “We had blueprints and photographs of the car, from which we built up a surface mesh.”

Lighting involved the use of a shadow-mapped spotlight to keep shadows sharp, thus helping to integrate the 3D characters with the 2D elements says Passion Pictures’ senior lighting artist Stuart Hall. Compositing was done in After Effects with the most crucial part being the overall grade says Hall. “It had to have the richness and feel of an old 70s film and still look modern and fresh,” he says.