“Most of our R&D time was devoted to developing the sketchy look, so we used a combination of 3D Toon lines and shaders from Maya, along with hand-painted textures,” explains Gong Myung Lee, CG supervisor.
“We took time to realize the organic sketch lines and pattern details by directly painting on 3D models.”
To rig the characters for animation, Charlex used normal character rigs, with Toon lines incorporated. To stay true to the model designs, blendShapes were used for facial animation, and Maya’s standard joints and controls were used to rig the bodies.
“Slightly different deformation was required to keep the characters true to the design, as compared to a more traditional cartoon character,” explains Mann.
Building the car
Apart from some interior shots, the Dodge Journey in the commercial was fully CG. Charlex was provided with a 3D model of the car, which was then customized to suit the production pipeline.
Surfaces with artifacts were cleaned up or remodelled, car parts unseen in the spot were removed, and areas to be seen in close-up were replaced with new geometry, explains Alex Cheparev, Charlex’s lead modeller.
Custom mental ray shaders and a studio lighting setup in Maya gave the car its photo-real look. Charles also used PFTrack for tracking, Fusion for compositing, Flame for extra effects and Smoke for editing.
“In the interests of time, we ended up modelling and lighting some simple 3D elements such as the drinks cans and camera in Flame and importing Maya camera and tracking data for these. The same process of importing Maya data was used for creating the particle system for the splash,” says Jesse Newman, senior Flame artist.
One of the key compositing challenges was that each animation style required its own post treatment: the car had to look photo-real, the background painterly, and the characters sketchy and organic.
“Our biggest challenge was to get the distinct animation styles to meld harmoniously,” says Lee.
“The glue was in the camera moves, composition of CG elements, character animation, and compositing.”
Charlex rendered each piece of animation separately. “This allowed better control of each element in post, which saved us a lot of time,” explains Lee.
“We kept the world and the characters mostly black and white – with only splashes of watercolour – so as not to take away attention from the red car. Darkening the contact shadows of the car in the composite gave it a more hyper-real look, which complemented the illustrative style.
“The reflections of the environment on the car, which not only gave a glimpse of the side of the world behind the camera, but also acted as an important element in storytelling, also helped bind things together.”
Tim Kentley agrees that the mix of styles makes for a compelling and engaging ad for the new car’s launch. “I’m really proud of the unique graphic look of the environment and characters we developed.
“I think we’ve successfully pushed the dealer category and created an emotional spot that tells a cool story while smartly showing the car’s features,” he says.
Inside the car
The only live-action element in the commercial is the car’s interior. The car was shot in HD using a motion-control rig, at a studio in LA. HD was chosen to ensure the quality of the footage matched the sharp lines of the exterior of the CG car. On the live shoot, actors were cast and placed in the car to gauge composition and timings.
“Shooting in LA was a lot of fun as the crews are incredibly professional,” says Kentley. “Another bonus was that everyone there wants to be a movie star, so we had 334 people turn up for the casting call – and this was 334 people under 5’8”, which we set as a limit to make sure the car looked roomy inside!”
The use of live actors helped drive the animation performance, too, says Kentley. Using the motion control camera, clean passes were captured without the actors in shot and in then post they were replaced with the stylized digital doubles.
Setting the scene
Each animated element in the commercial was rendered separately. “The backgrounds, for example, despite being line drawings, were broken out and layered in z-space to give depth and consistent movement determined by that scene’s camera,” says Jesse Newman, senior Flame artist at Charlex.
Charlex’s CG supervisor Gong Myung Lee says, “Illustrations provided by Tim Kentley served as great reference for the CG characters and style of the spot.”
Charlex was provided with a 3D model of the photo-real CG car, but it required some tweaks to meet the Charlex team’s demands.
Tim Kentley, director at XYZ, says: “I am really proud of the unique graphic look of the environment and characters we developed – a great hybrid of sophisticated ‘toon and ambient shaders in Maya, with some good old hand-illustration thrown in.“
Project: Dodge Journey
Client: Dodge/BBDO New York
Production: The Ebeling Group
Directors: XYZ Studios, Melbourne www.xyzstudios.com
Animation: Charlex New York www.charlex.com
Software: Autodesk Flame, Autodesk Maya, Autodesk Smoke, Eyeon Fusion, mental images, mental ray ,The Pixel Farm PFTrack