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Creating a State of Wonderment

By Christine Bunish

A dinosaur created by Framestore rampages through an industrial kitchen in a new broadcast and cinema spot for Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.  Spacejunk brought magical 2D paintings to life for an online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Avacyn Restored strategic card game.  Natitude, the stadium open for the Washington Nationals’ 2012 baseball season, featured high-energy rotoscoping sequences by EP*Vision in the team colors.  The online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Dark Ascension strategic card game was crafted by Spacejunk from 2D art. A dinosaur created by Framestore rampages through an industrial kitchen in a new broadcast and cinema spot for Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.  Spacejunk brought magical 2D paintings to life for an online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Avacyn Restored strategic card game.  Natitude, the stadium open for the Washington Nationals’ 2012 baseball season, featured high-energy rotoscoping sequences by EP*Vision in the team colors.  The online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Dark Ascension strategic card game was crafted by Spacejunk from 2D art. A dinosaur created by Framestore rampages through an industrial kitchen in a new broadcast and cinema spot for Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.  Spacejunk brought magical 2D paintings to life for an online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Avacyn Restored strategic card game.  Natitude, the stadium open for the Washington Nationals’ 2012 baseball season, featured high-energy rotoscoping sequences by EP*Vision in the team colors.  The online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Dark Ascension strategic card game was crafted by Spacejunk from 2D art. A dinosaur created by Framestore rampages through an industrial kitchen in a new broadcast and cinema spot for Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.  Spacejunk brought magical 2D paintings to life for an online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Avacyn Restored strategic card game.  Natitude, the stadium open for the Washington Nationals’ 2012 baseball season, featured high-energy rotoscoping sequences by EP*Vision in the team colors.  The online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Dark Ascension strategic card game was crafted by Spacejunk from 2D art. A dinosaur created by Framestore rampages through an industrial kitchen in a new broadcast and cinema spot for Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.  Spacejunk brought magical 2D paintings to life for an online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Avacyn Restored strategic card game.  Natitude, the stadium open for the Washington Nationals’ 2012 baseball season, featured high-energy rotoscoping sequences by EP*Vision in the team colors.  The online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Dark Ascension strategic card game was crafted by Spacejunk from 2D art.

[Clockwise from Above]
A dinosaur created by Framestore rampages through an industrial kitchen in a new broadcast and cinema spot for Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes.

Spacejunk brought magical 2D paintings to life for an online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Avacyn Restored strategic card game.

Natitude, the stadium open for the Washington Nationals’ 2012 baseball season, featured high-energy rotoscoping sequences by EP*Vision in the team colors.

The online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Dark Ascension strategic card game was crafted by Spacejunk from 2D art.

Animation studios give unique and compelling looks to projects of every imaginable genre. They bring to life the magical worlds of strategic card games for online trailers, dazzle fans with entertainment and branded content in stadiums and arenas, and populate traditional broadcast and cinema commercials with menacing extinct creatures, reaching deep into their reservoirs of creativity and tools to keep us in a state of wonderment.

Spacejunk brought magical 2D paintings to life for an online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Avacyn Restored strategic card game.
Spacejunk brought magical 2D paintings to life for an online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Avacyn Restored strategic card game.

SPACEJUNK MEDIA

Spacejunk Brings World of Magic: The Gathering to Life

Columbus, Ohio-based creative studio Spacejunk (www.spacejunkmedia.com) makes the realm of strategic card game Magic: The Gathering, and the ghoulish world of Innistrad and its evil inhabitants, come alive in epic 90-second animated online game trailers Avacyn Restored and Dark Ascension for client Wizards of the Coast. Magic: The Gathering is the world’s premier trading card game. Players assume the role of a planeswalker, a powerful mage who fights other planeswalkers for glory, knowledge and conquest. The deck of cards represents a planeswalker’s arsenal of spells and creatures to be summoned as allies.

Unlike trailers for video games, these trailers provide the only occasion that players get to see the universe of their card game in motion. “They are the sole video representation of the story line. They’re the only way for fans to see that world come to life,” says Spacejunk Creative Director Mike Beaumont. “The trailers, which play mostly on YouTube, can get 150,000 views and 60-70 pages of comments. When you do a broadcast project, you don’t normally get direct feedback. But with these trailers we can jump on YouTube and see what fans are talking about – it’s pretty cool!”

Spacejunk’s studio lights up downtown Columbus, Ohio.
Spacejunk’s studio lights up downtown Columbus, Ohio.

Spacejunk has created more than half-a-dozen trailers for Wizards in the past several years. “Every card has a painting on it: a character, a world, a power. We use those 2D paintings as the basis for our animations,” explains Beaumont. Collaboration starts early with Wizards sending Spacejunk a storyboard and script for the game’s new block, and Spacejunk laying out JPG images in Apple’s Final Cut Pro to create an animatic with a scratch voiceover and temp music.

“That takes a few weeks,” Beaumont says. “We discuss the animation, and Wizards has specific direction for some scenes: shimmering water, light, character movement. Sometimes it’s obvious where the action should be and sometimes Wizards explains where it should be.”

A bird’s-eye view of Spacejunk’s motion graphics and design teams in space designed to encourage collaboration and creativity.  
A bird’s-eye view of Spacejunk’s motion graphics and
design teams in space designed to encourage
collaboration and creativity.
 

Wizards provides Spacejunk with a large digital file of flat art, which artists bring into Adobe Photoshop and cut into layers, pulling out a foreground character here, separating arms, legs and torsos for movement, filling in backgrounds – all preparation for handing off elements to an animator.

“We work with a lot of pre-set assets, and that’s part of the fun,” says Beaumont. “The paintings get our creative juices flowing – seeing 15 or 20 of them upfront gets everyone excited early on.”

A lot of the animation utilizes a 2.5D production process, which wraps 2D layers around a crude 3D model to give the illusion of depth in three dimensions of camera movement. Some shots are “blown out in almost full 3D,” says Beaumont. “These are motion paintings, so we don’t want to go too far in 3D because the paintings have a unique look. But we want to make the paintings feel more alive.” Adobe After Effects dominates the toolkit with MAXON CINEMA 4D and Autodesk Maya for 3D animations.

Spacejunk keeps updating the animatic, swapping out placeholder scenes with actual animations. “We work in transitions, add lens flare, composite environmental dust for more dimensionality,” says Beaumont. “Each pass gets more and more polished.”

Some assets are created from scratch “using the paintings on the cards as a reference to keep true to the integrity of the original art,” he notes. Occasionally, Spacejunk teams with Wizards’ artists to devise a custom asset. “That’s time-consuming, but we’re trying to integrate that more into future trailers,” Beaumont reports.

Since the paintings are typically done by different artists, “it can be tricky to make them all feel they’re part of one piece,” he points out. Spacejunk marries the styles through transitions and compositing, carrying lighting schemes and VFX from shot to shot to tie the scenes together during the Final Cut edit.

Spacejunk also does the trailers’ sound design using Logic or Soundtrack Pro. “We pull sounds from our extensive stock library and manipulate them, but we also create sounds from scratch too,” says Beaumont. “We hit the studio’s metal support beams with wrenches and brooms to get the right metal clang we needed for an iron gate explosion. There’s a big difference between the trailers and traditional broadcast jobs where you don’t get to do the sound of dragons.”

The online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Dark Ascension strategic card game was crafted by Spacejunk from 2D art.
The online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Dark Ascension strategic card game was crafted by Spacejunk from 2D art.

Spacejunk has begun work on a trio of trailers for Wizards’ new Magic block with the first set called Return to Ravnica. “We’re always refining the process and how we can work with the client to make things better. It gets more polished each time,” Beaumont explains. “Wizards presents their plan to us each year with a big kick-off meeting, but the games are all so different the animations are almost like a reset each time.”

The use of fully 3D animation has “ramped up,” he reports. “And as we’ve become more familiar with the brand we see how to make the trailers either more seamless or more cut-based. We keep the technique fresh with the goal of making each trailer cooler than the last.”

Spacejunk brought magical 2D paintings to life for an online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Avacyn Restored strategic card game.
Spacejunk brought magical 2D paintings to life for an online trailer for Wizards of the Coast’s Avacyn Restored strategic card game.

At Spacejunk, the Dark Ascension team included Creative Director Jeff Boddy; Producer Andrew Schneider; Senior Motion Designers Nick Couts and Chris Schoenman; Motion Designers Rich Seemueller, Marco Cardenas and Dan Wineland; and Production Artist David Allison. The Avacyn Restored team included Creative Directors Boddy and Beaumont; Producer David Ball; Senior Motion Designer Nick Couts; Motion Designers Rich Seemueller, Christian Perez, TJ Sochor, Isaac Woodby and Robin Roepstorff; and Production Artists Nick Huskey, David Allison and Cody Phillips.

Mike Nelson edited both trailers; Mike Beaumont and Kurt Keaner performed the sound design, and Sean Beeson scored.

EP*VISION

EP*Vision Goes Bold on Big Screens

EP*Vision created corporate logo animations for numerous displays at the new Barclays Arena in Brooklyn.  
EP*Vision created corporate logo animations for
numerous displays at the new Barclays Arena in Brooklyn.
 

As recent projects for the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team and Brooklyn’s new Barclays Arena demonstrate, motion graphics and production shop EP*Vision (www.epvision.tv), with offices in New York City and Santa Monica, has the know-how to meet the unique challenges of creating animations for arenas and stadiums. The sports and concert venues typically boast an assortment of giant screens and ribbon-like displays inside; Barclays also has incorporated an unusually shaped screen into its exterior architecture. All demand content to amuse fans and attract passers-by.  

Creative director and partner Maryam Parwana notes that while EP*Vision’s (EP*V) creative approach to arena and stadium jobs is similar to broadcast projects, “we also have to consider the environmental aspects of it, the physical aspects of experiencing something with that kind of dimension to it: how it looks from certain angles, how it feels when you’re watching it. You have to consider size and motion on screens that big. When you take what you’ve done on the computer and stretch it out to the Nationals’ enormous scoreboard screen, the experience of it is totally different. We have to take that into account when we’re animating it.”

EP*V created Natidude, the bold, high-energy :60 stadium open for the Nationals’ 2012 season, which starts with shots of grooming the field and segues into live-action clips of the players intercut with rotoscoped shots of pitching, hitting, sliding and fielding in the red-and-white team colors.

The company had a lot of creative latitude to design the open, following the branding agency’s guidelines for a “modern, super-clean” look in the Nationals’ signature colors, says Parwana. “They wanted more of a 2D feel rather the typical 3D sports aesthetic with lots of bells and whistles. They wanted something flat, modern and clean that was still interesting to look at and was cohesive with the branding on the tickets the fans were holding and the print ads they’ve seen. It had to feel like one big idea.”

Natitude, the stadium open for the Washington Nationals’ 2012 baseball season, featured high-energy rotoscoping sequences by EP*Vision in the team colors.
Natitude, the stadium open for the Washington Nationals’ 2012 baseball season, featured high-energy rotoscoping sequences by EP*Vision in the team colors.

Based on Parwana’s concept, EP*V tapped existing game play clips for the open and shot new live-action footage of the team and preparing the field via its East*Pleasant division; David Weinstein, a partner at EP*V, directed. Animators used Adobe After Effects for extensive rotoscoping, MAXON CINEMA 4D for 3D elements and building wipes, and Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for graphics. The open, choreographed to a dynamic soundtrack, was cut on Apple’s Final Cut Pro and composited in After Effects.

The Nationals’ LED scoreboard screen has 1920x1080 specs so Parwana took full advantage of the detail the screen displays. “It’s so huge and new; a lot of teams don’t have anything as big, clean and clear as the Nationals’ scoreboard screen,” she points out.

Natitude, the stadium open for the Washington Nationals’ 2012 baseball season, featured high-energy rotoscoping sequences by EP*Vision in the team colors.  
Natitude, the stadium open for the Washington Nationals’ 2012
baseball season, featured high-energy rotoscoping sequences
by EP*Vision in the team colors.
 

EP*V also devised other big-screen and ribbon content, which plays during games: starting line up graphics, players’ intro headshots, transitional elements for live feeds and more than 30 crowd prompts. “There were over 700 assets in the package,” says Parwana. Ribbon screens always pose a challenge since they are just 72 or 80 pixels high and have odd lengths. “The dimensions are weird,” she says. “They’re not very tall but they’re big, and you have to make sure fans can read them when they’re sitting directly across from them because they’re not turning around to see [a ribbon] behind them.”

EP*V’s brief for Barclays Arena was entirely different: to make the branding of corporate sponsors (Stoli vodka, Cushman & Wakefield commercial realtors, Starbucks, PNY technologies, Honda and Haier consumer electronics) look and feel interesting. “We only had a month to accomplish quite a lot of work and go through the approvals process with all the corporate brands,” recalls Parwana. “We didn’t want to offend anyone. It wasn’t time to flex our muscles and show off.”

Bold and clean animations of the corporate logos run on the ribbons that wrap the massive center hung cube screen inside the arena; the sidelines ribbons, which are almost a 360º ribbon split in two; and the taller lobby displays fans see upon entering the arena. “The animations are on a random loop so you never know what will follow a particular logo,” Parwana points out. “That’s why all the animations had to have a similar approach, so everything felt clean and cohesive.” (Barclays Arena also displays other sponsor content not created by EP*V.)

The “bizarre-shaped” oculus, which forms part of the exterior of Barclays Arena, features a ribbon-like screen that widens and tapers as it wraps around the 360º architectural eye. “How do you find the center of that screen? There is none,” Parwana says. “There’s no even space, so things tend to feel lopsided.”

With that in mind, she decided that the oculus animations had to be “stripped down” to their simplest elements so logos could circle clearly and with ease around a display whose width grows and shrinks. “The client provided us with a template so we didn’t have to do any technical guessing,” she explains. “Each logo animation became a case of whatever felt right.” The toolkit for Barclays Arena was primarily Adobe After Effects and Illustrator.

EP*Vision’s corporate logo animations play on ribbons encircling the new Barclays Arena in Brooklyn.
EP*Vision’s corporate logo animations play on ribbons encircling the new Barclays Arena in Brooklyn.

Parwana notes that having the experience with the Nationals big-screen content, which EP*V has done for two consecutive years, “helped us feel 100-percent confident” about the Barclays project. “Give us a weird-size or -shape screen or the side of a building – we know how it works.”

EP*V has also done big-screen concert displays for top artists, including Shakira’s “She Wolf” song for an appearance in Baku, Azerbaijan. The company is poised to begin designing the stadium package for the Washington Nationals’ 2013 season.

Framestore’s colorful window display mixes things up for passers-by.
Framestore’s colorful window display mixes things up for passers-by.

FRAMESTORE

Framestore Animates Dinos Looking for Dinner

Framestore’s London office (www.framestore.com) recently completed its second spot for Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes in the revitalized, “The trouble is they taste too good” campaign from Leo Burnett/London. The commercial launches a variant of the celebrated breakfast cereal, Crunchy Nut with Cranberries, Almonds and Yogurty Flakes, with a scenario that features a marauding dinosaur.

Two terrified kitchen workers are pursued by a rampaging dinosaur that tears through an industrial kitchen overturning huge pots, ripping out overhead lights and clawing stainless steel countertops. The men, hiding under a table and trying not to make a sound, appear to have escaped unharmed as the dinosaur retreats. But in his rampage the creature has knocked a Crunchy Nut box within reach, and one of the cooks can’t resist. As he crunches his way through a bowl of the cereal the dinosaur perks up its ears – and summons a few of its mates to join the hunt for dinner.

Framestore is no stranger to dinosaurs having created CG creatures for the Dinotopia and Walking with Dinosaurs series. Earlier, the company created a fully-3D snake that attacks an inquisitive wildlife expert for the same Crunchy Nut campaign.

A Framestore-animated dinosaur summons his mates when he hears the enticing sound of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, which one of the hiding workers simply can’t resist.
A Framestore-animated dinosaur summons his mates when he hears the enticing sound of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, which one of the hiding workers simply can’t resist.

Rocky Morton of MJZ directed the spot, which was shot with a RED camera. Framestore VFX Supervisor Alex Doyle was on hand for the two-day shoot carefully noting lighting references to ensure that the atmosphere of the kitchen set could be recreated in CG.

“In between recording lighting references I had to measure the entire kitchen to use later as a guide for lining up tracked camera to the backplates and also as an accurate guide for the animators so they knew where to position the dinosaur and what restrictions they had to work with fitting this huge creature in a cramped kitchen,” Doyle explains. “There were other details to collect, too: camera information for tracking, reference stills for compositors to use for set extensions or clean up.”

Doyle stayed as close as he could to Morton so he was always aware of what was happening and could help with any questions regarding the CG shots. He similarly made himself available to the production crew.

But that wasn’t all of Doyle’s responsibilities. He also “had the rare opportunity to design the dinosaur in-house,” using an amalgamation of species to create concept art to present to the client before production began. Once concept art of the unique creature was approved, Morton had “a very clear vision of the dinosaur’s actions in each shot before we started shooting,” says Doyle. “But the size and shape of the kitchen certainly dictated the animation.”

Lead modeler Mary Swinnerton transformed the designs into a realistic and intimidating CG asset using Autodesk Maya for rigging and animation, Pixologic’s ZBrush for tiny skin details and The Foundry’s MARI and Adobe Photoshop for dinosaur textures. “Modeling the dinosaur was a dream job because it’s a cool creature, allowing lots of artistic freedom,” she says. “My brief for creating all the tiny details on the skin was ‘just make it look cool.’ There are some really interesting lizards that I used as inspiration for the lumps and bumps on the skin.”

The most difficult task was “blending the different areas together so they flowed well across the skin,” she reports. “For instance, blending the spikes along his spine to the lumps on his back took some creative thinking.” The dinosaur was rendered using Mental Ray.

Doyle notes that Framestore often deploys an array of software tools, jumping back and forth among them throughout a job to perfect the final piece. In-house pipeline tools for Maya enhance the ability to work smoothly and efficiently by reusing assets and easily making changes at any stage of the job.

Next, lead animator Nigel Rafter and animators Chris Welsby and Steve Townrow had to make the 10-foot dinosaur fit into the kitchen. “The movements of the dinosaur had to be quick and aggressive as it smashed its way through the kitchen on the hunt for the kitchen staff,” Doyle explains. “There were various shots with physical effects, and the animators had to work within the limitations of the movement and timing of the props being manipulated on set.”

Framestore based its dinosaur in the Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes broadcast and cinema spot on an amalgamation of species.  
Framestore based its dinosaur in the Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Cornflakes
broadcast and cinema spot on an amalgamation of species.
 

In particular, they had to make sure that the dinosaur’s tail interacted with the set, such as when it whacks the refrigerator, but didn’t swing through any walls or objects. “To avoid any intersection and to make sure interactions were correct, I built an accurate 3D model of the kitchen for the animators to use as a guide in their scene,” says Doyle.

Compositor Anelia Asparuhova worked with Doyle to recreate the set’s atmospheric lighting within Maya and introduce the dinosaur into the backplates. She also used Maya’s integrated muscle system to give weight to the creature. “The challenge was to figure out the correct position of the muscles for an extinct creature and how they would interact with each other and affect the skin and the overall movement of the dinosaur. For reference, I studied crocodiles, lizards and horses.”

Simon Stoney, Anastasios Agiakasikas and Jason Phua composted the CG elements with The Foundry’s Nuke adding dust, debris, sparks, saliva and lighting effects to help convincingly embed the dinosaur into the back plates.

Phua says capturing some of the lighting changes within shots was the biggest challenge as the dinosaur moves through the industrial kitchen in and out of pools of light, some of them flickering. “The superb 3D renders got us the majority of the way there with the lighting, and by using the passes they provided us with we were able to add that extra touch to help the dinosaur sit seamlessly in the plate.”

The dinosaur’s buddies were created using the same 3D asset, but featured some subtle color changes added in Nuke to differentiate them from each other.

Framestore’s award-winning colorist Simon Bourne graded the spot, working closely with Morton to achieve a dark and moody feel that retained subtle color while picking out lights and reflections around the kitchen’s metallic surfaces.

As befitting the dinosaur’s size, the spot also is being shown in cinemas where its actions are even more menacing on the big screen.