Super Squirrels is a new 30-second spot for Abbey, highlighting their Super ISA savings offer, which started airing in the UK recently. Created by WCRS and directed by Trevor Melvin, the spot features some beautiful CG squirrels, one of which has super powers, courtesy of Framestore CFC.
The campaign also marks a first for Framestore CFC, as they delivered the shots of the super squirrel in a format designed to enable him to fly up and down the Digital Escalator Panels (DEPs) that are in place at 12 major London tube stations.
Amid one of the stylised white environments that have become a signature of Abbey's spots, we see some red squirrels rooting around below a pair of oak trees, picking up acorns where they can. One squirrel notices some choice acorns up on a high branch and, realising that extraordinary measures are required, darts into a handy nearby red Abbey cube. He bursts out, transformed into Super Squirrel, complete with cape and chest emblem.
Speeding through the sky and zipping through the two trees, he makes short work of amassing a splendid collection of acorns. For the final shot he stands atop his piled up hoard and hurls the red box towards the camera, where it morphs into the end device.
Supervisor for the spot was Flame artist Tim Osborne, who has collaborated with Trevor Melvin on a number of previous outings for Abbey. "With so much of the spot being created either in Flame or by our 3D team," he says, "The actual shoot consisted largely of my taking many, many shots of the tree (designed by art director Tom Brown) that (duplicated) is the scene of much of the action of the spot. The cube from which the squirrel bursts out was exploded courtesy of air cannons, which were shot using a photosonics high speed camera. The acorns that don't interact with the squirrel are models, too."
Melvin had thoroughly storyboarded the spot and this was what the Framestore CFC team worked to when creating the shots that would make up the finished piece. This process was further assisted by an animatic of the action, created by animator Nicklas Andersson, which was used as a guide for camera angles and other aspects of the shoot.
"We had to put it all together quite fast," recalls Dan Seddon, Head of 3D, Commercials, "Rendering over 20 shots in around four weeks, which is pretty snappy. Although we've done a lot of squirrels over the last few years, they're all different, each creating their own unique problems. This lot - for the first time - were red squirrels. Red on a white background is a tricky sort of colour range to light.
"The groom had to be spot on. We did a lot of passes, upping the render time somewhat, necessitated by the tricky fur colour. This gave the compositors a lot more to work with when they were constructing the shots - sometimes 25 or more layers were in play. But Renderman has come on a lot in the last couple of years and could give us some very good material.
"Similarly, the new version of Flame can handle floating point images, which made this doable. Of course, our animators did a fantastic job. The end results look very attractive."
William Bartlett constructed a pipeline through which the post work could proceed, and this was undertaken in Flame by Ben Cronin, George Roper and Chris Redding.
After the work was given a final digital polish in the form of a DCP by Senior Colourist, Dave Ludlam, the clients were delighted with the spot. "Quite apart from the generally high level of the work," says Osborne, "I think it's our attention to detail that is really appreciated. The flow of the cape, the ruffling of the fur when the squirrel's in flight - it all counts towards a great final impression."
"The flying squirrel was an obvious candidate for the Digital Escalator Panels," says Mike Woods, producer for Framestore Digital. "CBS Outdoors is the company that runs the screens, and they approached us with the spec. We were, naturally, keen to deliver for this new digital medium.
"The logistics, however, were far from simple. I had to say to our 3D team, 'Okay, imagine you're working with a 5,000 pixel canvas, broken down into five HD screens. Each of these five screens contains a 10 second, looped video file, which has to be timed to provide as much squirrel as possible, whilst maintaining the illusion that he's moving up or down the stair-space in parallel to the viewer.'
"If you also consider that each of the 12 stations fitted with DEPs has escalators at a slightly different angle from the others, and the distance between the screens also varies, that's when it starts to get tricky."
The spot can be watched here.