Published on Tuesday, 09 July 2013

 

Mirage VFX Charges Up a New Spot for ABC Battery

Mirage VFX in Sydney handled the animation and visual effects on a new TVC for Indonesian brand ABC Battery. The team worked with five other companies in various locations using an interactive video review software, Frankie from Cospective.

Six Companies

Indonesian agency Chou Senko had briefed Square Box to develop an animated 45 second TVC, featuring a hero character comprised of ABC Alkaline batteries connected together only by the animation. The creative brief’s vision indicated that that the batteries should “literally come to life on a production line and travel to an unsuspecting home. Inside, they energetically jump around, skip and dance on a computer keyboard before shooting off in different directions to give life to a range of household appliances”.

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Square Box knew from working together on previous projects that Mirage VFX had the team and ability to help meet this brief, but the fact that six companies on three continents were involved, speaking three different languages, would add some complexity. Mirage FX executive producer Jeff Jaffers suggested using Frankie, an application from Australian developers Cospective, as a platform to manage the collaboration. He said Frankie made it possible for all parties to be involved in the process, regardless of location, which would be useful due to the many approvals required at various levels.  

Shooting in Jakarta

As the lead visual effects house on the eight-week project, Mirage FX managed animation, texturing, lighting and compositing. Components of the 3D animation were then sub-contracted to Vando Studio in Barcelona. Patrick Felgueras, Visual Effects Supervisor and Executive Producer at Mirage VFX, explained that preparing pre-vis, based on storyboards from Square Box, was important to the success of the project.

First, it would help overcome any assumptions the other agencies might have made about the role or outcomes of the visual effects. It also meant that Vando, who would be completing 60 to 70 per cent of the animation work, would need to thoroughly block out the animation before they started. Furthermore, the pre-vis was a handy tool for Patrick and his team to take on set to supervise the shoot in Jakarta with Square Box. They could use it explain to the camera crew more easily what plates they needed and how they should be shot. Meanwhile they could also collect camera, lens and on-set lighting data.

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As reference, the client had shown Patrick some of their previous animated spots done by local Indonesian facilities, explaining that they wanted something similar but with livelier, more engaging performances. This was a primary reason he chose to work with Vando Studio. Their team had worked successfully on other projects with Mirage VFX, and he knew they could deliver the style and quality that the client was after.

Lighting, Motion Graphics & Renders

Lighting was going to be important to the effectiveness of the little characters in the composited shots. The ‘characters’, made up only of shiny metallic batteries, have a fairly complex design, are constantly moving and needed to stand out against the typical clutter of a family home in the backgrounds. The Mirage VFX team handled the lighting themselves, and also prepared the plates, did some re-modelling of assets and created the render passes to hand to Blu Post Asia, responsible for the final composites.

Blu Post also created and composited in the motion graphics, including the attractive computer displays inside the production line in the spot’s opening shots. One of Mirage’s animators took on the hero animation of the batteries leaping off the line to form into the characters, and from this point Vando continued with most of the animation work.

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Mirage VFX also managed the data uploads. In some ways, the teams they were working with and the slower internet speeds across the Southeast Asian region influenced the way the project was managed. The need to cross pipelines and share assets with Vando meant staying with a fairly straightforward Maya/3Delight pipeline, which is RenderMan compatible and allowed them to isolate and manage render passes, introduce motion blur and so on. Bearing in mind the slower internet performance, the team also aimed to simplify the renders they sent over to Blu Post. They avoided creating too many passes, and prepared some initial precomposites themselves.

Shot by Shot

Showing, rather than explaining, eliminated ambiguity and overcame potential language barriers. The visual part of the conversation was important and, using Frankie, they could also add detailed text comments to accompany the drawings on each frame. The design of the application is logical and sequential, and it can be integrated into an existing production and post workflow.

For example, Mirage VFX could use Frankie to discuss the pre-vis with Blu Post Asia as well, working frame-by-frame including spatial reference points, using drawing tools. Once they proceeded to the main body of the animation work, they also used Frankie to work shot by shot with Vando Studio in Spain.

After each review, Frankie automatically saved the session and created a PDF summary of every discussion. This summary was then distributed to the team. "The PDFs became the working notes – direct from the client – that prevented losing detail in translation," Jeff Jaffers said. "In effect, those summaries became a contract of what had been agreed.

Early Discussions

“The largest review session involved six people in different locations - Australia, Indonesia and Spain. Using Frankie meant that the Square Box EP, Joe Seow, could be involved in reviews even while at home with his family – a 'window' through which to join the discussion so that he could supervise without necessarily having to play an active part."

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Jeremy Pollard from Cospective software

In the final weeks, discussions with Vando about the animation became critical, and they decided that for projects managed this way in the future, they will begin detailed animation discussions much earlier in the process. They expect that using Frankie will make this change in their workflow easier.

Despite Internet speeds in the region being quite slow, Frankie performs well and enables collaboration where video streaming and screen sharing solutions might otherwise fail. “It’s essential to find ways to work effectively between multiple locations,” Jaffers said, who feels the package is a visual equivalent of Skype. “We use the two in tandem. Our clients feel comfortable and like working with Frankie because we can discuss the project as if we're sitting right next to each other." Frankie is now being adopted in international markets including the Asia Pacific, Indo China and Latin American regions.

Working in the Asia Pacific

Patrick and Jeff are confident in the competitiveness of their facility in the Indonesian market and the commercial potential of the region. Over 60 per cent of Mirage FX work is for overseas clients with the bulk of this taken up by Indonesian and Thai agencies and clients.

"With its proximity to Australia, similar time zone and a population over 240 million, Indonesia is definitely an important market," said Jeff. "I know of one agency in Jakarta producing over 250 ads per year – that's bigger than the entire New South Wales industry. Budgets are also growing, and it's not uncommon to see seven-figure spends."

They also find that their team’s skills are ahead of those currently available at studios in regional markets where teams can handle basic work, but more complex effects require a more experienced vendor. Interestingly, Australian VFX shops are currently attracting strong talent from the Asia-Pacific region due to the potential for higher pay and more challenging work. www.mirage-vfx.com          www.cospective.com