Promo for the FX Channel's Dexter

Free parking
The ident Car Park threw up some tricky technical challenges, as it involved both a moving camera and a moving car. The team had to create CG that matched both perfectly.

To get this right, Artillery used two processes: the CG’s geometry had to match the scenes from every camera position, and the lighting had to match too. To match-move the CG to the live-action footage, the team had to track the scene in Boujou or PFTrack — but, because better results were needed, Artillery had to go one step further.

So the team used Leica Total Station, a laser-based measurement system used by civil engineers, to obtain accurate measurements of all of the angles that would be seen by the camera.

“Additional measurements were taken manually using a laser pointer or an old-fashioned tape measure,” comments lead animator Seb Read.

“This helped us make the model of the carpark, and allowed us to line up the 3D camera with real world data. This way, we could tell if we were onto a good track or not.”

The team took lots of reference photos to match the lighting, varying the exposures to create a high dynamic range image (HDRI), which gives more lighting information for matching in the studio. They also took reference photos of the camera setups and the positions of the measurement system, and fed these into the software.

After editing the footage into a rough cut, the team tracked each clip, aided by measurement and camera lens info from the slates. For each lens used, the team had filmed a grid that showed the distortion caused by its shape. Using this grid, the team removed lens distortion from the footage that had been shot with wide-angle lenses.

They then modelled, animated and rendered the CG — then distorted to match the original footage and composited so the final piece had the wide-angle look of the original.

“Modelling the Tabs was straightforward, but creating the animation required several techniques, from hand-animation right through to particle systems and use of the Interactive Creative Environment [a nodal construction system] in Softimage,” says Read. “The blend of these changed across the different environments and meant that we were constantly having to find new ways to animate the Tabs into place.”

Speedy solutions
Working like this meant that the team could concentrate on honing the timings and movement, and quickly produce pre-viz versions of each ident to present to the client, minimising later changes.

“The difficulty with this process was that the rough drawings of the animatic were more forgiving than the final renders,” says Jones. “As a 2D animator, I can take advantage of blur frames and 2D traditional techniques to add to the timing – however, these techniques are difficult to replicate in 3D.”

Creating the rebrand and idents took Tilley’s eight-strong team around eight months to complete. “We’re really proud of the outcome,” says Tilley. “For all its highs and lows, long nights and perseverance, it’s turned out to be a benchmark project for Artillery.”

For lead animator Seb Read, the project’s most successful aspect is the way that it integrates 3D with the live action, both in terms of matching the camera and placing the Tabs in to match the environment and lighting.

“There were a few really difficult shots in Car Park, where we had to track Tabs onto a moving car while the camera was moving,” says Read. “Neither of these were storyboarded, but after the shoot the client felt that this would add to the sequence. Despite this we got it to work and I think the results are great.”

The idents and branding are now live on the FX channel (Sky 193, Virgin 158, Tiscali).

Project: Rebrand and idents
Client: FX Channel
Studio: Artillery,
Software: Adobe After Effects, Apple Final Cut Pro, Autodesk Softimage, The Pixel Farm PFTrack and Vicon Boujou