Framestore has directed, produced and designed VFX for the latest TV spot for Canon's new IXUS 220HS camera. The Oscar-winning VFX company was approached by Dentsu London in early 2011 to create an ad that promoted the camera in a fashion that combined partying and pixels.
The ad sees a group of youngsters at a rooftop party transform into a dazzling swarm of pixel cubes and then reform into new and improved images which are revealed on the viewfinder of a brand new Canon IXUS 220. Dentsu London's initial creative brief was to show a group of young people in a party that depixelates into a world of cubes, and then reforms back together in a single shot. By approaching Framestore with an open brief at such an early stage, Dentsu London gave Framestore's Director and Commercials VFX Supervisor, Johnny Han, a chance to get very creatively involved.
"The challenge was to create an effect that was not just technically advanced," explains Han, "but one that embodies the commercial as a whole. It would serve as the main visual interest and lead the entire narrative. It had to have a level of charm, sophistication and wit that you might attribute to a lead character. It was an enormous creative responsibility as this TV ad would lead print campaign imagery too."
This idea evolved considerably by expanding to a series of shots of different scenarios, multiple characters and moving cameras. We kept augmenting the script until the last possible moment.
Once Framestore had been confirmed for the entire production, Han and his team set about organising the shoot which was lensed by DP Dan Bronx, produced by Martin Box and serviced by GroundGlasss Janette De Villiers in South Africa.
"We shot in beautiful Cape Town", informs Han. "Initial casting was done remotely from London. Final casting was done in person, hours after landing. We had a kissing shot to audition. I didn't want to have a room full of 70 actors all snogging each other, so the audition brief was to give every moment leading up to that magic kiss, but without actually touch lips. It was quite an irresistible challenge for the actors... many couldn't resist temptation."
Han continues: "The one day shoot was intense, but very smooth. GroundGlass did an amazing job providing us with an art department that nailed the brief. It's always a thrill to walk into a stage and see them bringing the finishing touches of your sketches to life." The shoot took place on one of Cape Town's largest available sets to allow DP, Dan Bronx, to set up 20k lights from a great distance in order to create a realistic distant sundown look.
Back in Framestore's London HQ, 3D work was being led by Martin Aufinger who decided upon a Houdini route as the best way for maximising creativity and experimentation with the pixel design. The team investigated a range of particle and fluid simulation concepts, organically building upon each evolution of design.
Han noted: "Pixelation and cubeifying has been done a lot in films and music videos. I wanted to make sure that while cubes may evoke the notion of -digital- they should still behave fluidly and organically, since they are existing in our live action world." For this reason, Han chose to include a dancing girl as an opportunity to introduce something inherently natural and graceful, giving the cubes an energy that flows seamlessly from her motion.
To avoid creating the impression of a low-resolution world with large and readable cubes, Han turned to nature for advice: "You can look at a cloud in the sky or a cotton puff, and see that large details are in themselves made up of smaller similar details. This iterative concept is common in CG, like fractals or octrees. So we decided our cubes could be made up of other smaller cubes, but only where it was needed.
Examples of this can be seen where the outer layer of the characters are made up of very fine cubes, but only to reveal larger chunkier cubes beneath, and even bigger 'low-res' cubes beneath those. Our Houdini team - Martin Aufinger, Ben Frost and Alex Panaskevich - "really knocked it out of the park."
As imagery perfectionists, the Canon clients had extremely high expectations for Framestore's 2D work which was confidently delivered in Nuke, a natural fit for CG with near limitless multichannel information.
Different actors' performances were rearranged, removed and added across scenes to give the client some editorial latitude. Having an in-house director was instrumental in achieving this latitude as Han, with his VFX background, knew exactly what creative choices could be technically made without blowing the budget.
Han's directing role extended to selecting and commissioning the spot's music track which was composed from scratch by Noah Gre of "Noah the Man", a reputable LA DJ. "There were some issues in both finding existing music that was a good fit, as well as securing the rights", explains Han. "Having lived in LA for seven years, I drew upon the talent of an old friend who I knew could nail it." The very first version was approved, and then later remixed by 750mph.
Johnny Han is a recent addition to Framestore's London base. He has nearly 12 years of VFX experience, having VFX supervised on major studio hits like 2012, Legend of the Guardians and the iconic Heroes TV series. He has been nominated for awards three times by the Visual Effects Society.