French animators Pierre+Bertrand got the chance to transform a student project into a full-blown commercial when their robots caught the eye of Mars’ ad agency.

A new TV commercial for Mars Planets portrays a futuristic black-and- white cityscape inhabited by regimented robots performing monotonous tasks to the sound of a klaxon.

This routine is disrupted when three rebel robots seen loafing on a rooftop share a packet of Mars Planets. Energized by the taste of the chocolate, they then throw the bite-sized treats into the klaxons, which begin to blast out music (by DJ Mr Thing), ultimately leading to a city-wide dance party.

Created for AMV BBDO, Bots is the work of French animation duo Pierre+Bertrand, working in the UK through production company Not to Scale.

The TV ad references Pierre+Bertrand’s awarding winning short film True Color, and shares the same world and humorous robot characters.

Made in 2004 as a graduation film, True Color saw former graffiti artists Pierre Ducos and Bertrand Bey mixed their street art style with CG animation.

“We wanted to tell a story about painters, so we imagined an oppressing and boring world, a bit like in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, which is completely white. The characters, inspired by art toys and made of spray-can parts, then bring colour and happiness on the walls of the city,” explains Ducos.

“We got a call from the AMV’s TV department saying that the team loved True Color, and had written a campaign based on the robots and cityscape, but with a different story based on sound rather than colour,” says Dan O’Rourke, executive producer at Not To Scale.

While the Mars Plants commercial shares the same elements as True Color, Pierre+Bertrand evolved the robot characters for the ad. New details were added including chrome teeth and eyebrows, and a female character was created.

The animation’s background elements were altered too with the addition of stairs and new roads for the pedestrians. “We had just two months to do everything, so it was a good thing that the agency liked True Color and didn’t want to change everything,” says Ducos.

The animation duo kick-started the project with a 2D animatic to build the timings of the animations, before sketching and modelling the robots and backgrounds.

“When the previz was approved, we began animating,” says Ducos. “We focused first on the last shot with the crowd because it was a heavy scene to do, with long render times.”

Although Pierre+Bertrand had created True Color with 3DS Max, they decided to switch to a Softimage|XSI pipeline for the commercial. “We used XSI because it’s efficient in sharing data across a team, thanks to its referencing system and because it speeds up the workflow. It’s also very nice for modelling and animation, and the passes system for rendering is very powerful,” explains Bey.

The robot characters were created as polygons with subdivisions and a full IK/FK rig was used by the animators. “We built it by ourselves so we could add our own favourites tools for animation, and as it’s scriptable we could automatically adapt it to different characters with different sizes,” says Ducos.

“We wanted to have freedom to animate characters so we could do everything that we wanted with them.”

Textures were kept simple with white and grey plastic, and shiny, chrome metal. Mental ray was used for rendering the scenes, with Final Gathering used to make the colours bleed more naturally.

As the animation duo wanted a strong, realistic light that dazzles the viewer’s eye, a physical sky and physical sun system were used. A beauty pass, depth pass and different mask passes for the characters and props were made so the colour of each pass could be tweaked individually when compositing the different passes in After Effects.

“The biggest challenge of the project was quickly building the wide backgrounds full of robots, while keeping light scenes for the animators,” explains Ducos.

“We used the XSI referencing system and the instances to load and unload the differents parts of the scenes, to switch between the high resolution models and low-res models.” While the directing duo are particularly happy with the spot’s lighting, they’re proudest of the character animation.

“We spent a lot of time on the characters’ animation, because it’s our favourite part of the work. Bringing life to the characters is always funny – and it’s very important for the viewer’s understanding of the story,” says Bey.

“We were very happy to keep the main ideas from True Color,” says Bertrand Bey. “And it shares the same storyline; a new thing, which in this commercial is hip hop music, brings happiness in a boring world.”


Project: Mars Planets Bots
Agency: AMV BBDO
Production: Not to Scale,
Directors: Pierre+Bertrand
Software: Adobe After Effects, mental ray, Softimage|XSI