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Making Commercials: Creating A House Of Cards

Ntropic and The Concept Farm create a visual metaphor for the Bank of NY Mellon.

By Michael Fickes

  In NY Mellonís spot, the house is a metaphor for a personís investments, which always involve some risk.  Photos: Ntropic
  In NY Mellon’s spot, the house is a metaphor for a person’s investments, which always involve some risk.
Photos: Ntropic

The butterfly did it.

In a new Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon) commercial, a butterfly lands on top of a house and knocks off a wood shake tile, revealing a collapsing house of cards beneath the façade. Voiceover: “The one thing 99 percent of investors can expect to find in their portfolio is unexpected risk.” A metaphor. Not many commercials use metaphors. Metaphors don’t read fast enough, but this one works, thanks to ideas like the butterfly.

The Concept Farm (www.conceptfarm.com), BNY Mellon’s New York City-based agency, worked out the metaphor. The house represents an investment portfolio. The house of cards beneath the surface of the house symbolizes the unexpected risks. The takeaway: BNY Mellon can overcome unexpected risks.

The agency took the idea to Ntropic (www.ntropic.com), a postproduction and visual effects company with offices in New York City, San Francisco and Santa Monica. Ntropic asked about the mechanism that would destroy the house of cards. No one liked the easy answers: wind, fire or other real-world disaster. “We avoided violence and destruction,” said Andrew Sinagra, creative director with Ntropic. “We thought that would divert attention from the point. It’s not about destroying a house. It’s about investment problems created by unexpected risks.”

How about a butterfly? Oh yes: The butterfly effect – a seemingly insignificant event sets off a chain reaction that produces tremendous, sometimes catastrophic results. “We worked out a 3D pre-visualization,” Sinagra said. “We also practiced turning the house into cards. The key was figuring out how many layers of cards would be necessary to create believable depth.”

The Helicopter and the Butterfly
Next came a live shoot with a RED EPIC digital film camera. “The commercial begins with a big camera move pushing in on the house,” Sinagra said. “To get that footage, we mounted the camera on the nose of a miniature helicopter.”

Other exterior shots used a 70-foot crane. That initial camera move also followed the path of the 3D butterfly, which Ntropic artists created in Autodesk’s Maya. Ntropic also built the cards in Maya and used the application’s particle system to put them in motion. “We attached particles to the cards,” explained Sinagra. “We keyed in data describing the cards, such as mass and how gravity would influence their path. We simulated a gust of wind, and the computer solved for what happens.”

As the house of cards collapses from the roof down, the story moves inside where a man – the investor – is working at a desk. The cards appear as shadows on the wall as they fall past the window behind him. To create the shadows, the production team shot the man using a light reveal. A light at the window simulated the sun. A grip covered the light with a black cloth; during the shot, the grip pulled the cloth away gradually revealing the light. Entropic then selected a segment of that shot and replaced the shadows created in the live shot with shadows of cards. “We used the same light reveal technique to add reflections of the falling cards to a photograph on the desk,” Sinagra said.

The commercial then cuts back to the card-storm outside with cards flying through the air. “This is completely CG,” Sinagra said. “We used a 2D still photo of the sky and distant mountains as the backdrop. We animated the cards in Maya and added the sun and a lens flare in post.”
The commercial closes with a long shot of the house showing 3D blueprint plans (investment advice) for rebuilding the parts of the house/portfolio that collapsed. Created in Maya, the 3D blueprint paper with drawings takes the shape of the parts of the house that have collapsed.

Trinity 3D’s VRay handled the rendering. Foundry’s Nuke and Autodesk’s Flame did the compositing. The butterfly was last seen heading for a field of sunflowers.