Guinness’s latest TV ad is Music Machine – a frenetic effects-laden extravaganza courtesy of VFX specialists at The Mill, which features hundreds of CG acrobats representing the bubbling action inside a pint of Guinness.

Guinness’ latest TV commercial Music Machine is an effects-laden Busby Berkeley-style extravaganza that sees hundreds of cream-clothed stunt men fired into a glass of the dark stuff where they bounce off giant Japanese drums, pluck harp strings and kick cymbals to represent the action bubbling away inside a pint.

With a tagline ‘It’s Alive Inside’, the Guinness Music Machine spot was developed at Irish International BBDO by creative director Mal Stevenson, copywriter Mark Nutley, art director Pat Hamill and agency producer Noel Byrne.

Red Bee Media’s Steve Cope directed the spot and Tim Hardy of Cut+Run edited the film. Post production and visual-effects work was done at The Mill, London by production team Charlotte Loughnane and Lee Pavey; colourist Seamus O’Kane; lead Flame artist Richard Roberts; Flame assistants Leon Wood and Paul Downes; lead Shake Darren Christie, Shake artists Grainne Freeman, Becky Porter and Pete Hodsman; Smoke artist John Thornton; VFX supervisor/lead 3D artist Juan Brockhaus; lead technical director Tom Bussel, 3D artists Aidan Gibbons, Alex Hammond, Suraj Odedra, Ross Urien and James Rogers, and Final Cut Pro editor Daniel Budin.

The Mill team were involved from the start of the project, working with the agency to create the design and movement of the Smoke machine and well as creating previz for the full CG shots.

“The most challenging part of the project was to create realistic moving characters hitting big drums and the complexity of the music machine,” says The Mill’s visual effects supervisor and lead 3D artist Juan Brockhaus.

“On the technical side we faced a tight deadline against a huge amount of shots and big 3D scenes. Setting up a pipeline in which we separated the animation from the rendering completely using baked meshes, gave us the ability to work on the animation and on the shading of the characters and the music machine simultaneously,” he explains.

A multi-camera, week-long shoot for the Guinness Music Machine ad took place at a greenscreen studio at Shepperton, and involved one real drum, three stuntmen and some ropes.

While filming took place, the spot’s CG backgrounds were designed and modelled at The Mill by Aidan Gibbons and Ross Urien.

Footage of the real stuntmen was used for the spot’s foreground shots while all the characters in the background and wide shots were CG.

One master CG character was created, which was then cloned and duplicated to create the hundred or so characters necessary for the big shots.

Based on reference photography of the stuntmen taken on the shoot, Brockhaus and his team modelled and textured the CG characters in Softimage|XSI, before taking them into Natural Motion Endorphin to create the numerous variations needed of the animated characters hitting the CG drums.

“Endorphin’s ability to mix between pose animation and simulating physical behaviours of characters was the best way to achieve the animation of the characters flying through the air, hitting drums, and sliding down ropes,” explains Brockhaus.

Liquid look-&-feel

To enhance the feel of a liquid environment, the CG characters leave bubble trails and burst into bubbles when they hit the drum. The bubble trails were created in Maya using particles with the CG characters acting as emitters.

“Several force-fields were used to drive the particles and give it a liquid motion,” says Brockhaus. “And then several layers including a colour-pass and a highlight pass were used to achieve the final look of the bubble trails.”

For the explosion effect, a CG character was rotoscoped to the real stuntman, with the footage projected onto the CG character to ensure colours matched.

Again the CG character was used as emitter for the explosion, with the real actor painted out of the frame and several layers of particles combined together to achieve the final look.

The Music Machine

“Creating the Music Machine environments was both creatively and technically challenging,” says The Mill visual-effects supervisor Juan Brockhaus.

“We were supplied with concept art for the environments and we also had a lot of reference pictures of musical instruments under certain lighting.”

Working from this, The Mill team began creating sections of the outer wall of the music machine, which represents the pint glass itself. The outer wall was broken up into four separate layers or sections, says Brockhaus.

“We did this not only for organizational reasons, but also to keep the number of objects on screen down,” he explains. “It also meant that if the client had an issue with a certain area, we could just open that specific section and tweak it.

“These sections were being changed and built upon all the time so we only ever had one ‘master’ section, which automatically updated in every shot/scene once altered,” he says.

Another challenge was in rigging the glass. Every trumpet and button is animated pressing in and out, and growing and shrinking. On top of this, a wave-like animation was then applied to the whole environment, giving it a liquid feel.

Equally challenging was lighting and rendering the environment for all 54 shots. The Mill team had to add depth to the music machine to give size, while at the same time balance the lighting and grading so that despite the complexity, the machine was still readable.

“We created a lighting rig that could be transferred from shot to shot with mostly good results. Once imported, we simply tweaked where the lights were until we achieved the desired look.

“Rendering times were quite high on the wide shots, but in most cases the rendering times were good. We rendered approximately eight passes per shot. Sometimes we provided Flame and Shake with extra lighting passes,” says Brockhaus.

The Mill created a frenzy of activity in full CG to represent the bubbling action inside a pint of Guinness.

A greenscreen shoot took place at Shepperton Studios. Three stuntman were filmed flying through the air, jumping and bouncing against a giant size drum, and kicking a marker for the cymbal.

A master character

Based on the real stuntmen from the shoot, The Mill team created a master CG character, which was then cloned and duplicated to create the hundred or so characters for the wide shots.


Project: Music Machine TV spot
Client: Guinness
Agency: IBBDO
Post facility: The Mill,, 020 7287 4041
Software: Softimage|XSI, Autodesk Maya, Natural Motion, Endorphin, Apple Final Cut, Apple Shake, Autodesk Flame, Autodesk Smoke