TBWA’s campaign for energy company, Eon, breaks across the UK today and uses a visual depiction of energy to alert consumers to their energy consumption levels. Absolute’s London office designed this key imagery for TBWA and Sonny London director, Emil Moller, using a combination of 3D and 2D visual effects.

The spot opens on a magical beam of light that pours down against a dark minimalist background. Shot with Moller’s signature gentle beauty, the light particles are gathered into a ball by a man’s hand. The protagonist takes this ball of light around his house, manipulating strings of energy from its core to power electrical appliances and a gas stove.

He takes the ball out onto his street and sees his neighbours handling similar bundles of energy. A voice explains: “We help you to see the energy you use, so that you can see how to save it”.

Absolute started working on visualising how the energy would look two months before shoot. Pre-production tests were carried out over a six-week period until everyone involved agreed on a look.

The brief was to create a visual depiction of light that could be dragged into and out of electrical appliances; a representation of the transfer of energy. Initial tests involved cotton wool like images but these gradually became more ethereal as the weeks went on.

3D design tests were carried out in Maya, using various techniques involving dynamics (hair, soft bodies, fluids, etc).The final rig consisted of a ‘body of light’ made from an nCloth surface (Maya’s new cloth simulation engine – the first implementation of their unified dynamics solver called Nucleus).

Colour texture was provided by a 2D fluid to yield nice moving highlights. Absolute’s 3D team created one long cached 2D fluid simulation and applied to the different shots. The inner structure of these bodies of light, which look fibrous in places, was created by applying an animated ramp, randomly disturbed with noise, to create transparency. This produced fine irregular lines, rather like fibres, to run along the surface and create a feeling flowing energy.

In addition to this main body, ‘strands’ of light were also created for manipulation by the actor. Sometimes these would appear to be extracted from the body of light and thrown onto electrical appliances to turn them on; sometimes the opposite. These strands were also made of nCloth ribbons.

All renders were made of glow only, by simply ticking an option called ‘hide source’ in the shader's glow options. The result is that the object’s surface is not visible. All that can be seen is the glow produced by the colour, and transparency textures that run along the surface. This helped towards creating an abstract and ethereal look.

Absolute’s 3D artist, Vania Alban Zapata, said: "One great advantage of using the nCloth technique is that it is so stable and fast, you can add loads of colliding objects here and there to virtually ‘sculpt’ your dynamic simulation in a creative and hands-on way. It was fast, stable and flexible; perfect for animating a body of light that needs to react dynamically but also needs to be controlled by the actor's hands."

Although the fundamental elements and structures were built in 3D, it was up to Flame artist, Phil Oldham, to set the final look. Phil worked extensively on the first shot, developing a range of styles, from completely gaseous to solid and tangible. After many evolutions of designs, the team settled on a style that lay somewhere in the middle.

Once this look had been set, it could be applied to the remaining shots and bedded into the live-action by rack defocusing, blurring and adding lens flairs. Phil also shot some bronze textures which he ran through the effects whilst hand-animating to match the CG.

The interactive lighting that falls on the actor was mostly caught in-camera. Phil worked closely with the DP to ensure the lighting from the effects remained sympathetic to the live action. Phil designed a lighting rig to match the CG but added smaller lights coming off for extra glow and buzz.

Absolute’s Flame artist, Phil Oldham, said: "This was a full-on design job. It was hard to settle on a look because we were all imagining something that’s invisible. It’s totally subjective. Everyone has a different opinion on how it should look and because it’s a very abstract concept, it’s difficult to articulate. When it comes to describing mental images verbally, there’s wide latitude for misinterpretation."