US studio Stardust has created a fantastic animated journey through a golden landscape as a spot for premium Finnish coffee brand Paulig Presidentti.

Enhancing the reputation of a premium brand in a foreign country presents a studio with both creative and cultural considerations. US production company Stardust Studios was faced with just such a challenge, when it was tasked with creating a brand spot for Finland’s most prestigious coffee brand, Paulig Presidentti, for broadcast exclusively in Finland.

Finns are among the biggest coffee drinkers in the world, and the Paulig brand is synonymous there with quality and warm, enjoyable moments.

With its new campaign, Finnish agency Sek & Grey wanted to take the revered brand to a new level of interest, without sacrificing any of its qualities.

“Sek & Grey got in touch with us directly after seeing our work,” says Stardust creative director on the project, Alan Bibby. “We pitched against six other companies worldwide and won, based on a written treatment and design frames.”

The initial brief, says Bibby, was that the agency was looking for a “fantastical journey, starting with the Presidentti hallmark golden drop and ending with their iconic coffee cup”.

They also wanted it to “feel Finnish”.

”When we saw the work the agency had already done and their ideas for where they wanted to take the brand, our initial response was excitement,” says Bibby.

“They were staying true to the Presidentti brand but evolving it and reinventing it.” Keeping the storyline on track creatively and culturally was a collaborative process, says Bibby.

“With Sek & Grey, we’d concept and design scenes and transitions, which would then go through client approval.” The animation was conceptualized and planned using first written treatment, then style frames that were fleshed out to a detailed storyboard.

“These frames were then put into a animatic to pitch music ideas and get a sense of the timing,” explains Bibby.

“At this stage we started planning what parts of the project would be 3D, 2D, or cel animation, and started to work out what sort of camera moves and transitions the spot would have.”

Among those producing the spot were CG director Carl Mok and 3D/2D artist and compositor Cary Janks. Mok explains the creative process in more detail:

“With a solid animatic in place for timing, our team began mapping out the journey through our fantasy world with a single 3D camera and simple 3D objects that acted as placeholders for the creatures and the environment.

“Once we were comfortable with composition and movement, we broke up the whole piece into sections, so that individual artists could focus on their designated areas independently.”

Stardust’s 3D artists then went to work, fleshing out the “world” as other 2D and 3D animators and modellers developed the techniques to be used for the visual effects.

Production from animatic to final delivery spanned about three months. "We had a great team working on this spot, and most of us wore a lot of hats throughout the project,” reveals Carl.

“No one had one single job to do. We had 3D artists and animators, compositors and designers all working together. In total, about a dozen artists came together on this one.”

One of the most dynamic portions of the spot involves a swooping phoenix, and Cary Janks discusses how this effect was achieved.

“The bird was created in Maya. The model itself is very simple and lightweight. The feathers on the body and wings were made with a custom Maya paint-effects brush setup, and the long tail was created using a combination of Maya hair and paint effects, with real world physics-based dynamics to control their motion.”

And Mok reveals that the stunning particle effects seen in the lava flow and fireworks sections were created using a combination of Maya, After Effects, hand drawn and RealFlow.

He says: “For example, all these techniques were used to create the single splash event in the first scene. The drop falling was animated in Maya, and particles coming off the drop were added in After Effects.

"As the drop hits the surface, a splash simulated with RealFlow was used for the main shape, and additional hand-drawn elements spinning off the crown of the splash were added.

“Finally, the wave, animated in Maya, swells from the centre of the splash with the cel-animated lion’s head added to complete the shot.”

As for lighting, colouring and rendering, Janks says this was done with Maya’s renderer and Mental Ray, with the exception of the final scene of the coffee cup and saucer, which was done in 3DS Max using V-Ray.

Stardust used Maya because it’s the studio’s preferred tool. “It’s a flexible and powerful tool for rendering VFX and 3D animation,” says Janks, while Mok explains that 3DS Max was also employed “because we wanted to try out its beautiful V-Ray renderer”.

Colour correction, additional lighting and environmental effects were added in After Effects. “Our client defined the colour palette, as those have always been the Presidentti brand colours,” says Janks, who adds that Adobe After Effects was chosen for compositing, 2D animation and effects because “its intuitive interface and wide range of capabilities make it a perfect tool when teamed up with a 3D program like Maya.”

He continues: “We were able to use the same 3D camera from our Maya scenes exported to After Effects to composite 2D objects and effects in a 3D space convincingly.

Next Limit’s RealFlow liquid simulation program allowed us to create some really nice effects for the moments where liquid had to look just right.”

Although Stardust was delighted with its work, Bibby reveals they would have liked more time. ”We had artists working around the clock towards the end of the deadline, with people coming back to work weekends and nights. It was crazy hours. I think they’re all pretty pleased with it, though.”

Look out for further stunning work from Stardust in upcoming work for the New York Stock Exchange, HP, Sears, Nike, FUEL TV, and Cartoon Network.

Mixing hand animation and particle effects

“The stag was a pretty standard rig, with a skeleton and IK setup in Maya. Hand-drawn and procedural particle effects coming off the antlers were then added in After Effects,” says 2D/3D artist and compositor Cary Janks.

“The fireworks,” says CG director Carl Mok, “were created using a combination of several techniques. We used After Effects and Particular, Maya Particle Dynamics, shot footage and hand-animated elements to achieve the final look.”

Maya was the principal 3D tool on the project while 3DS Max was also used for its ‘beautiful’ V-Ray renderer.


Project: Paulig Presidenti spot
Client: Paulig
Agency: Sek & Grey
Studio: Stardust Studios
Software : Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3DS Max, Next Limit RealFlow, Trapcode Particular, Adobe After Effects