Rushes recently completed a piece of animation for Spring/Summer commercial for the West Quay shopping centre in Southampton, to be aired regionally.

Andy Hargreaves, lead animator on the project, describes how Rushes approached and executed the brief:

"Following on from WestQuay's Autumn/Winter commercial, Rushes were approached by marketing agency Lawton to produce their Spring/Summer commercial in a similar vein but challenged to take this to the next level. In the commercial we are immersed in a beautiful, naturalistic world made entirely of items available at WestQuay, such as jewellery, clothing and other accessories.

"Unlike in the previous commercial however, Lawton creative director Chris Beckles really wanted to push the reality of the Spring/Summer commercial both with its look and also attention to detail. The idea was to focus on two or three key products in macro detail and have them animating and 'blossoming' to show the transition from Spring to Summer. Focussing on this level of detail and slowing the commercial down to a more relaxed summery pace than its predecessor presented a real technical challenge, but it also allowed the animators to go to town producing a really beautiful commercial.

Chris supplied Rushes with a very clear brief and storyboard that was pretty much adhered to throughout, ensuring the job ran as smoothly as possible. He also supplied the team with a massive catalogue of products that were to feature in the commercial, how they were to be used and where they were to go. With all of this reference available Rushes threw a team of modellers at the job, meaning that within the space of about a week they had modelled and rigged a vast array of items from women's jackets and shoes, to silver watches, diamond necklaces and mobile phones in the most minute detail.

The pace of summer

Once the modelling was under way, lead animator Andy Hargreaves worked up an animatic in order to break down the timings and establish the required slow, summery pace of the ad. This process was also invaluable in establishing the camera angles and composition early on, not only so that the Rushes team knew which areas to focus on in more detail, but also to give Chris and the WestQuay clients a more tangible idea of how the commercial was going to work.

Also as the final high resolution models were completed and approved Andy was able to import them into the animatic, creating a detailed layout as the job progressed. This allowed both Rushes and Chris to make amendments and tweaks to the models and layout relatively easily, quite early on in the process.

The third part of the job running along side all of this involved senior animators Angela Noble and Mark Pascoe developing the Renderman shaders, and beginning to establish the look and feel of the commercial. Creating the right summer’s day feeling while maintaining a certain level of realism was crucial on this job and the brief also insisted that the commercial feel decadent and appealing. It was therefore very important to have a core team responsible for working on this element from the word go, which complete with the use of Renderman for all of the lighting and texturing yielded excellent results.

One of the most technically challenging aspects to this job came in the fine detail of the animation. One of the ideas which Chris wanted to achieve was that the viewer should initially believe that they are looking at something natural and organic, only to then see it blossom into an item of clothing or other product. Modelling, rigging and animating in this way was a challenge in itself but the macro level at which the shots were framed left little room for error.

Blooming flowers

Animators Lee Tibbets and George Barbour did an excellent job utilising a whole array of Maya's animation and deformation tools to achieve the feeling of tree buds and flowers blooming into shoes and dresses. With careful planning and R&D they were able to present blocked out animations to the clients quite quickly and simply, allowing room for changes and feedback without too painful an impact on the schedule. This allowed them time later on to layer in the more complex and technically difficult yet beautiful, detailed animation to the clothing really bringing the scenes to life and giving the client the style, grace and decadence they were after.

The finishing touches on the job and the elements which really bring the whole Spring/Summer concept together were all of the subtle extra passes such as pollen floating in the air, lighting effects, depth of field and animated butterflies landing on flowers. All of these elements gave great visual cues as to the time of year, but without detracting from the original idea of a world made of consumer goods. Each shot was rendered out in a variety of passes and elements, with the final composites done by Andy in Shake which gave the maximum control over the finished look.

Andy was able to work closely along side Chris to give him the feel he was after and by being within shouting distance of the rest of the 3D team meant that any extra elements that were required were created almost immediately. This close level of interaction and feedback throughout brought the job to a smooth and great looking conclusion which everyone was extremely happy with.