Johnnie Walker 'Tree'

May 2005

Take A Bough Framestore

Johnnie Walker's last spot with Framestore was Fish, which won more awards and garnered more praise for the company than any other commercial in 2003. Tree reunites that spot's Director, Daniel Kleinman and BBH for another state-of-the-art challenge to the artists and animators at Framestore. The 60-second spot was produced by Large, with VFX Supervision and Inferno work for Framestore by William Bartlett and Murray Butler.

Continuing to play with the tagline 'Keep Walking', Tree takes a simple phrase - 'Whatever your dream', and a simple idea - a tree 'walks' from the heart of its forest home to relocate itself in the heart of a city - and makes of it something wondrous and beautiful.

Starting with an aerial shot of the woodland wilderness, we cut to the roots of large oak as they first start to pull themselves free of the forest floor. The tree is seen in a variety of close-up, medium and long shots as it makes its stately way through the surrounding woods, 'wades' across a great river, inches through fields and across roads, until it reaches a city. With gentle might and implacable purpose it progresses over a bridge and into the city centre, pavements crunching beneath it and cars tilting as its mighty roots nudge them aside. It finally reaches its destination - a sunlit office plaza.

The three-week shoot took place in and around Vancouver in April and May 2004, supervised by William Bartlett and Murray Butler, and it then took around three months of intensive work by the animation and compositing teams to create the finished spot. Of the shoot, Bartlett recalls, "We used a number of practical tricks to get the raw material we needed - an oil drum in the river created the necessary wake, for example, and air-bags buried in the ground helped create the burrowing roots effect."

Andy Boyd and Jake Mengers led the six-strong animation team who brought the tree to life. The team used a British Oak as the model for their digital tree, scanning and modelling the appropriate leaves. A number of smart proprietary tools were developed for the project; for example, R&D Programmer Jack Greasley designed a plug-in (FS Diversity) that helped make rendering the enormous oak. Boyd is also delighted that the project turned out to be a proving ground for several team members. "At the start of the project, Dave (Mellor) was on render support, Dean (Robinson) was on tracking and Alex (Doyle) had only just joined us," he recalls, "By the end, they'd each lit rendered and animated scenes, which was fantastic."

William Bartlett and Murray Butler composited the spot - it was their task to set the tree convincingly in the wide variety of locations depicted en route between the forest and the city. For Bartlett, one of the most challenging shots was the final one, as the tree settles in its new home in the city plaza. "That was quite fiddly, because the sun created a massive lens flare. Obviously, a virtual tree cuts out some of that light, but the flare goes right across the shot, on the buildings, everywhere. So first I had to completely remove the flare light from everything. We shot another pass when the sun had gone down, so there was no flare but the light was in approximately the same place, then we had to re-patch over all the places where the sun was. Then we added the tree, and then we added new flare that flickered like it was coming through the leaves - that was created with a flickering mag light with some leaves in front of it in the studio. It's such a tranquil shot - you'd never guess how much business went into it."

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