Animal Logic and Coke’s Polar Bears Kick Off at Super Bowl 2012

Published on Thursday, 22 March 2012

Animal Logic in Sydney created a 60-sec and two 30-sec TV commercials for Coca Cola’s AL-Coke_Superbowl_ARGHH_30-v1
2012 Super Bowl campaign, presenting two polar bear pals sitting at home on a sofa, having
a Coke and watching the big game – just like millions of football fans around the world.

Animal Logic in Sydney created a 60-sec and two 30-sec TV commercials for Coca Cola’s 2012 Super Bowl campaign, presenting two polar bear pals sitting at home on a sofa, having a Coke and watching the big game – just like millions of football fans around the world.

The project began in July 2011 with the successful treatment by Animal Logic’s director David Scott, outlining the design of Coca Cola’s signature Polar Bears and environments, and including some initial storyboards. Right from the start, David, the Animal Logic team and independent advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy focused on ensuring Coca Cola received the spots just as they wanted – closely aligned with the look of the original Coke Polar Bear shorts done in the past.
They also recognised the need to create characters that a Super Bowl audience could relate to as they sat at home watching football. While those original spots were about families enjoying time together, to make these spots relevant to the Superbowl audience Wieden+Kennedy and the Animal Logic team focused the stories on the two bear friends sitting together with a Coke in front of the game on TV

Animal Logic's involvement started with the design phase, preparing conceptual art showing the look and design of the bears plus a further set artwork for the environments. Both the agency and the client wanted to see the intimate, friendly scenes of the bears set against a contrasting expansive, epic arctic landscape.
Following the design phase, the Animal Logic team prepared storyboards in close collaboration with Wieden + Kennedy.   These were edited and developed into an animatic where they decided the shots and timing.  For the principle spot of the three in the project, ‘The Catch’, they even went through a round of previs, as it features an engaging gridiron-style sequence of a team of bears slip-sliding gracefully over the ice to catch a runaway bottle of Coke. “On this sequence it was essential that the cameras and characters were working together,” David explained.

“We wanted to shoot the whole spot as a sports photographer would shoot a real football game. So we studied not only the players’ moves and action but also some typical camera work like using long lenses and wide, high shots. Sometimes we used a cable cam shot or views from the sidelines, trying to imitate that style. Previs also helped get the animators involved early on to block out the action before we took the scene into editorial to refine the cut, re-time it for slow motion and introduce other effects.” In contrast the other two spots, ‘Superstition’ and ‘Arghh’, could be animated effectively as they were storyboarded.
Wieden + Kennedy and the client imagined that the spots would stay within a clean, white world but David was concerned that this might make it hard for the audience to follow the bears’ performances. But something that all parties wanted to avoid was the look of Arctic documentary footage, lacking drama.

One of the challenges the team faced was coming up with a unique look for the environments, given the clean white world audiences are used to from the look of Arctic documentary footage.  David, the agency and Coke were all committed to taking the world away from being completely photo-real to a place more magical and epic in scope. So the team searched for reference images of more colourful arctic landscapes and found attractive types of ice in shades of blue and green. They created most of the environments in these colours that worked well with the moonlight to result in blue lights in the sky with the landscape ice in greener tones.
Animation was entirely key framed in Softimage, based on reference videos of real bears plus the team’s own efforts to act out performances. They did find that brawling polar bears, up on two legs, naturally resemble football players with their relatively small legs and larger upper bodies.

Facial animation was an important feature. The agency and client were looking for a subtle approach without the caricatured, open-mouthed looks of other characters, for example, preferring natural bear looks with just enough expression to tell the stories, which unfold completely without dialogue.

As soon as Animal Logic’s models had enough definition, the riggers got started and had enough time in the schedule to get the bears fairly well-developed before animation began, although the animators helped them test the controls, weighting and range of motion along the way. The team’s in-house fur system was used for all fur grooming, dynamics and shading. Obviously, real polar bears’ fur was referenced but a level of art direction was needed to give it a nicer, softer touchable quality. “The real fur turned out to be a little too matted and clumped. After some experimenting we realized it wasn’t appealing enough and cleaned it up to make it fluffier and more ‘huggable’ as Coke was expecting,” said CG Supervisor Feargal Stewart.
The time of day was established early on in the concept art because it would affect the lighting set-ups across the spots. The Super Bowl itself always takes place at night, which made a particular difference to ‘The Catch’ because they could take the opportunity to emulate the exciting backlit shots of players that viewers would recognise from the games. Instead of a naturalistic approach they set up those shots as if the moon were a spotlight for the action, casting clean, hard shadows in a large stadium.

While Softimage was used for animation and rigging, lighting was handled in Maya then translated through Animal Logic's MayaMan and rendered with Renderman.To model and texture the environments the artists might use Maya, ZBrush, Mari, Mudbox or Photoshop, whatever made the shots work. Some of the project’s highly detailed textures began with photography, in particular such textures as the bears’ knitted scarves and the surface of the Coke bottles.
From the photography they could build the detail into their shaders to produce the correct properties, displacement and bump. The environments involved a carefully layered approach for the snow, ice and different elements, needing a more complex layered shader. The texture artists then painted in different mattes, bringing together the different areas of the scene for consistency and to allow for more detail where required such as around the bears’ homey living room.

For compositing, all done in Nuke, Animal Logic has written their own plug-ins for certain camera effects such as depth of field, and the artists can render out different passes to maintain control over depth in the images and various atmospheric effects.

The team left an ample period of three or four weeks before completion for the colour grade, knowing that Coca Cola would have specific product requirements for the colour of the bottles and the Coke itself. “This was quite critical,” said David. “As virtually every element had its own matte, we could manipulate the final image fairly extensively during the grade, which we did at our LA office along with the finishing in Flame, and the final sound mix and music.”

David went over to California himself to oversee this part of the project, maintaining close communication with the Sydney team. Whenever he needed to request changes from the grading suite, the pipeline in Sydney was automated enough to take care of the work rapidly and send it back the next day. This level of automation also meant they could handle revisions till very late in the schedule, keep control over the processes and avoid rushing at the last minute.