The GEICO Gecko campaign with the Martin Agency has been a succesfull one, with GEICO returning to Framestore for more spots to add to the first nine. As the campaign has progressed, the grading on the live action plates has became more and more extreme. The challenge here lay in maintaining the gecko's recognizability and appeal, while blending him into the environment. In the case of Small Town Parade, the grade had a lovely warm vintage feel - almost hipstamatic style.
We limited the amount of grading done in Maya because the gecko's green color naturally begins to desaturate and turn an unsightly brown when lit with heavily colored lights. Nuke was a great solution here which added plenty of soft bloom and warmth to the highlights while maintaining the trademark green of the gecko.
Creating the gecko
When auto insurance company GEICO and The Martin Agency approached Framestore about creating nine new spots featuring the beloved gecko, it was clear from the outset they wanted much more than variations on a trusted theme and mascot.
"I believe the key to the success of a spot often lies in having a relationship with your client that encourages good communication," says Framestore President of Integrated Advertising (Worldwide), Jon Collins. "We had already developed a good working relationship with the guys at The Martin Agency since working on Miller Light earlier this year  and I was very happy that we were given an opportunity to work closely with the team at GEICO as well from the outset."
Framestore Lead CG Animator/Effects Supervisor Dave Hulin commented, "Our role was similar to that of an acting coach. We used our CG experience to train the new gecko to act cheekier and be a lot more 'sales savvy.' Ultimately we honed an East End geezer type performance, and his cockney accent and mannerisms make for tons of fresh comedic possibilities."
The challenging project required far more than a simple change in accent or flexibility or animation, however. Framestore drew on its hard-earned and much-celebrated creature animation experiences to accomplish that most difficult of tasks: making something old new again. In doing so, Framestore created a more complete and enduring animated character capable of inhabiting a wide variety of scenarios:
"The new gecko is able to sit down and climb things in every conceivable situation," says Hulin proudly. "There's no longer any need to create a new gecko every time a different scripted scenario came up. Both GEICO and The Martin Agency wanted to be able to take the gecko in completely new directions. Working on projects like Walking with Dinosaurs and Harry Potter certainly gave us great ideas about how to approach this much smaller, more amusing creature."
"We gave him a full overhaul. We were so into it, we bought our own pet gecko for texture and animation reference purposes. Using a mixture of Alias Maya, Apple Shake and mental ray rendering, we gave him a better skin shader, which gives his skin texture a more realistic quality. The agency wanted him to have very human gestures; he's just a regular bloke, after all."
"We broke away from the very precise anatomical proportions and giving him slightly longer arms and legs that we could articulate to make him more expressive. The lip sync was also quite challenging; he does a lot of talking in 30 seconds, and his cockney accent causes him to combine several words in one go. It's a very subtle style of animation for a spot like this. It's been great fun to do."
Hulin and his team of ten animators worked on the original nine spot package for four months. The large number of spots has made an efficient effects pipeline a crucial part of the project. GEICO returned to Framestore and The Martin Agency in 2012
"Early on, [Framestore Animator] Andy Walker and I created a tailor-made animation pipeline for the gecko," says Hulin. "That pipeline has made the lighting and the rendering very smooth. This is a very emotional performance from the gecko. We want to make sure that he performs and looks as good as he possibly can."