German visual-effects studio Unexpected mixed real-life action with thundering CG creatures to produce a cinematic spot for Snickers that involved millions of particles for transformation effects.

Bigger is definitely better for Unexpected, the German visual effects studio that produced the stunning Rugby spot for Snickers, currently on air in Russia.

The studio has a handful of Snicker spot credits to its name. Its most recent – Robosoccer and Race – proved the most successful campaign for Snickers in Russia.

So the studio had to up the ante for its latest work, which sees a fusion of stunning 3D buffalo and rhinoceros characters composited against a deserted airplane graveyard in a face-off game of rugby, culminating in one of the creatures morphing into a live – human – actor.

The 30-second spot demanded a disciplined approach to production, and a sizable arsenal of creative tools. After sourcing the shoot location, thanks to Google Earth and a location scout, the team settled on a patch of desert in Arizona, replete with ageing aircraft.

The live setting threw up several challenges: how to get the CG creatures to smash their way through very solid, and very real, aircraft; and how to transform a charging animal model into a human actor.

Initially, though, scene interaction was a core challenge, admits Steffen Hacker, Unexpected’s head of VFX – especially given the amount of interaction between the environment, the planes, the talent and the CG actors.

“As the planes were too heavy to move on the set, we had to come up with solutions during post production,” says Hacker.

“Our characters had to be able to jump on, push and rush through the plane wrecks. In order to achieve this, the original planes had to be removed from the moving plates and a digital twin tracked in, which could be destroyed or damaged when the digital characters hit them.

"We also had to deal with the dry and dusty ground that – in the end – turned out to be a very nice way to integrate the characters even more into the scene, due to all the dust they create when their feet stomp on the ground.”

Before shooting, the studio deployed photographers to source reference shots from the scene, with the aim of integrating the CG models more fully with the live footage.

The photos were used to play with colour palettes for the creatures as they were modelled – Hacker says that visual effects shots that sport CG creatures tend to work better if you fold background colour into foreground objects and models.