Blooming lovely visuals for Samsung

1st Avenue Machine director Arvind Palep mixed CG and practical photography to create a paradise full of plants and creatures that sparkle and glow for Samsung LED Series 7 televisions.

To promote the launch of Samsung’s new LED Series 7 television, animation studio 1st Avenue Machine has created a vibrant spot that blends lush scenes of nature with softly glowing LED lights.

It’s the brainchild of director Arvind Palep and his team. The 30-second spot, which is now airing worldwide, introduces the new Ultra Slim LED 7, which according to Samsung is the thinnest HDTV on the market, and delivers deeper blacks and more vibrant colours than other televisions.

The commercial opens on a verdant forest scene and follows a brightly-coloured hummingbird, whose outline is tipped with glowing LED points, as it flits among flowers that bloom into vivid colours and open to revel tiny electronic lights.

Agency Cheil Worldwide commissioned 1st Avenue Machine to work on the spot, having admired the studio’s previous work, particularly the quirky music video it created for indie band Alias’ single Sixes Last in 2007.

Indeed, Cheil’s brief for the Samsung commercial directly referenced this music video in terms of its creative concept and look and feel, and Arvind Palep worked closely with the agency creatives to further develop the concept for Samsung.

“Even though this spot is about electronics and television, it has a natural feel,” says Palep. “The team at Cheil came to us specifically to work on this, and it was a great collaboration.

"Rather than make a typically high-tech and heavy-3D spot, we borrowed elements from some of the most vibrant and spectacular images we could find in the natural world. The ‘new species’ that we created seamlessly integrates LED technology with imagined organisms.”

The spot’s mix of practical photography and 3D animation meant the 1st Avenue Machine team had to ensure that all of the CG elements accurately matched the images of plant life.

They achieved this in spades, with the only distinguishing factor between the CG and practically shot elements in the final spot is that the latter don’t move.

“We had a tree created, carved and painted to order, and planned out the layout of the rainforest scene in advance,” says Claire Mitchell, creative coordinator at 1st Avenue Machine.

“We tested the process before the shoot, and then before the set was taken down we shot five parallel offset pairs of photos of the tree from various angles, following a calibration process for the camera.”

Working with 3D scanning specialists XYZ RGB in Canada, the photos were then used to generate a detailed 3D model of the tree, complete with high-resolution texture maps.

“This proved an invaluable aid for setting up and tracking the shots,” says Mitchell. Establishing the design of the spot’s main character was another challenge.

“We spent some time figuring out what the actual creature was going to be,” explains Mitchell. “In the end we came to agreement on a hybrid: a hummingbird body with insect-like wings. We also added a long flowing tail that aided in creating more visceral movement. But there was a lot of testing involved in getting the wings, tail, and fur all to work and tie together.

“Getting through the character development is always a difficult challenge – especially when dealing with a heavily layered approval process and a compressed schedule,” she adds.

The spot’s CG elements were created with the studio’s standard 3D pipeline of 3DS Max with RPManager. PFTrack was used for camera tracking and V-Ray for rendering.

“The rigging of the bird was fairly simple,” explains Mitchell. “We added a cloth simulation for the tail, but the effect only worked on 50 per cent of the shots. The rest were animated by hand.”

The glowing LED effect on the hummingbird and the flowers was created using a combination of 3D and compositing, says Mitchell.

“We created them in 3D as individual objects with a self-illuminating material, or light source, placed below another object which was slightly concave and had a highly refractive material. These were then used in post, with depth of field and glow effects to achieve the final look,” she says.

A natural glow

“In order to achieve the smooth, glowing sweeps of the hummingbird’s wings, we used overbright textures in the wings, and rendered out to floating point EXR files,” she explains.

“The wings were rendered with V-Ray’s in-camera motion blur calculating 12 times per frame, causing the bright areas to ‘streak’ as they moved.”

Render times using this technique were longer but, as Mitchell points out, the effect paid off. To get the tail to follow the bird’s movement, it was partially hand-animated but on some shots it was animated using cloth dynamics proxies and skin wraps to generate the secondary movement.

The team also tweaked the colour during compositing to boost the saturation of the hummingbird, plants and flowers, making them glow against the forest and tree.

As the spot closes, the hummingbird fluttering up to the television, just as it did with the plants – and as throughout the spot, it’s optimized for high-definition viewing.

“This is the ultimate HD spot,” says Palep. “We were after something floral and tropical and beautiful in every respect, all of which demanded a high degree of detail and realism. The agency was clear that the spot should have a luxurious feeling to it.”

He continues: “At the same time, we wanted to promote the LED aspects of the product. Blending that LED look with these living things was the most challenging part of the project, but we achieved it by bringing together a mysterious, yet familiar glow with some extremely detailed plant life. Somehow, the lighting enabled the natural aesthetic to shine through even more brightly.”

The spot blends lush photography of jungle plants with CG elements created in a standard 3D pipeline, and handanimated elements.


Project: Spot for Samsung LED Series 7 Televisions
Client: Samsung
Agency: Cheil Worldwide
Studio: 1st Ave Machine
Software: Autodesk 3DS Max, RPManager, The Pixel Farm PFTrack, Chaos Software V-Ray

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