CAMPAIGN CRAFT: technique; Tracking trickery allows seamless lip- synching
By MEG CARTER, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 23 August 1996 12:00AM
Meg Carter discovers that lip-synching is no longer such a hit-and-miss craft
Meg Carter discovers that lip-synching is no longer such a hit-and-miss
Babe and his farmyard friends certainly have a lot to answer for. Bob
Hoskins’ companions - a talking duck and pig - in the latest BT ad,
talking trees and now even golf balls confirm that the art of lip-
synching non-human and inanimate objects appears once more to be back in
Which is good news for Aurelio Campa, 3D animation and special-effects
specialist at the Soho post-production house, Rushes. For he has
perfected a new system of lip-synching which enables humans’ oral
mannerisms to be effectively replicated for live-action and computer-
‘The process is based around the concept of 2D and 3D tracking,’ Campa
explains. Inserting computer-generated images into live-action shots
filmed without using a motion-control camera is always tricky.
Inevitably, the live-action shot has at least some degree of camera
wobble. Matching this to the computer-generated elements, especially if
they must remain static in the finished sequence, can be a problem.
Until now, such sequences were either shot using motion control - which
enables a plotted, stable camera movement which can be emulated by
computer to match the computer-generated effects - or the elements were
animated traditionally and matched by eye.
Campa has developed a new tracking process which allows camera moves to
be matched more easily, giving a smoother end result. By positioning
markers in the live-action shoot to one side of the main subject of
action, the relative position of these fixed points can be plotted as
the camera pans. Computer-generated images can then be inserted with the
knowledge that their final positioning will be correctly aligned with
the live action.
Campa first used this technique for a Nissan Micra ad for the Italian
market. In it, a live-action car is seen driving across a computer-
generated background (created at Rushes) alongside an animated
fairground with an animated character (produced by the production house,
‘In this case, motion control would have been restrictive,’ Campa
explains. Motion-control camera movements are often only linear - left
to right, or panning inwards. ‘The advantage of this is a far greater
degree of flexibility, assuming the live-action footage has been shot
with this specific post-production process in mind.’
Campa has since adapted this 3D tracking approach to lip-synching. By
positioning markers on a human mouth and then filming the mouth talking
- or making other specified movements - the sequence of events can be
digitised and then applied to computer-generated material.
The first execution using the process was for a 3D animated character
for Segaworld, which opens soon at London’s Trocadero. Rushes was
commissioned by Media Projects to reproduce the character - which will
appear ‘live’ as a giant animatronic - for a giant TV screen.
Campa filmed his own mouth chewing and grimacing, with markers
strategically positioned around his lips. The movements were then
tracked and interpreted by computer to be reproduced and incorporated
into the 3D character.
‘The approach is undoubtedly preferable for doing longer sequences,’ he
says. Another advantage over traditional animation is that it can
incorporate more complicated movements and a greater range of vowels and
enunciation. The process can even be used for live action, animating a
duck’s bill, for example.
The traditional approach was used for a recent campaign for Titleist DT
golf balls, and for another ad for Pledge in which a talking tree was
metamorphosed into a table - both post-produced at Rushes. But Campa
doubts that the new process will replace the old. ‘It’s a question of
the right tools for that job,’ he explains.
Technology has certainly moved on since the 1991 COI Census commercial
which featured a talking baby. This ad, also post-produced at Rushes,
required live action of a girl speaking to be shot, rotascoped, and then
each frame traced off to be combined with live-action footage of the
baby. The whole process took 1,200 hours in a Harry suite.
Even so, the latest system is, basically, a hybrid of old and new
technology, says Campa, who is already turning his attention to fresh
challenges, namely, ‘applying 3D camera-tracking technology to more
situations to experiment with more camera angles. Previously, everyone
believed you needed motion control to use computer graphics - that’s
just not the case any more.’
The ultimate challenge? Adding computer-generated elements to live
action while the live-action camera is moving. Usually, 3D elements are
added to live-action footage where the camera is static. But the most
unforgiving combination is where the computer-generated parts are static
while the camera wanders around.
If anyone can do it, the chances are Campa can. Problem solving is his
motivation. ‘I’ve always approached things from a technical angle,’ says
Campa, who has a degree in computer science and a masters in computer
graphics. ‘I’m not a fine artist by tradition.’
As part of Rushes’ four-strong 3D animation department, his work spans
software writing, animation and production: a unique blend. The bulk of
his work - around 90 per cent - is ads.
Recent credits have included work on the Saab commercial in which a car
flies like a rocket and turns into an F1-11 fighter jet; Nutralia;
Macleans - with the dentist in a flying TV set - and Hugh Hudson’s film
for US Marines recruitment, in which warriors progress through a
dungeons-and-dragons environment encountering a variety of hazards.
‘Interest in computer-generated effects is undoubtedly greater than it
once was, although many people remain cautious,’ Campa adds. ‘It’s got a
lot to do with familiarity and experience. Although undoubtedly, when a
new movie comes out showcasing a particular effect [such as Jurassic
Park, Toy Story and even Babe], interest is sparked.’
But computer-generated effects need not be restricted to hi-tech and
complex visual ideas - a message Campa is keen to spread. For one recent
ad, he produced computer-generated bottles of Nutralia for a shot which
panned into a bubble visible within the shower gel inside a Nutralia
‘Although the client was initially reluctant, we could not achieve the
desired effect any other way,’ Campa explains.
Aurelio Campa, 3D animation and special-effects specialist at the Soho
post-production house, Rushes, is a technician rather than artist by
After studying computer science at university he took a masters degree
in computer graphics at Middlesex Polytechnic in 1990 before joining his
college’s computer graphics department as a technical advisor - a
position he held for two years.
Attracted by the challenge offered by London’s advertising scene, Campa
joined Rushes’ animation department and has since worked in all areas of
3D animation - straddling the creative and the technical through
involvement in software programming, special effects and producing.
As an animator, he has gained insight into agencies’ creative
requirements; as a producer, experience of budgeting and scheduling. But
his interest in research and development continues - Rushes credits him
with developing much of its new 3D software.
Campa’s numerous commercials credits while at Rushes include Radion,
Pantene, Macleans (animation) and Nutralia and Saab (post-production).
He has also developed software to produce effects seen in recent
campaigns for Pledge - featuring the talking tree - and Nissan Micra.
He is currently at work on the latest commercial in the Renault Twingo
CAM # 23:08:96
CAMPAIGN CRAFT: Profile; Spike Lee relishes the chance to do commercials
By EMMA HALL
Philips would only let one man direct its latest work. Emma Hall
Spike Lee exudes a quiet but commanding presence as he tramps, pigeon-
toed, around the set of the latest Philips global commercial, which he
is shooting on location on Wall Street in the heart of New York’s
He is five feet six inches tall, and moves with the adolescent shuffle
of Mookie, the lead character in his most successful film to date, Do
the Right Thing. Although thoughtfully immersed in everything going on
around him, he reacts sparingly, and only occasionally whispers
instructions to a colleague with a microphone, who then blasts them out
across the set.
The French agency, Euro RSCG Gregoire Blachre Huard and Roussel,
created a script for Philips Consumer Electronics that, it was decided,
only Lee could carry off. It features a cast of 500 actors dancing their
way to work, which could easily have veered into Fame or Flashdance
territory were it not for Lee’s skill at orchestrating street scenes,
most notably illustrated in Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X.
Luckily, Lee was not as difficult to get hold of as the agency had
feared. ‘People assume that I’m always tied up, but I can only do one
feature film a year, and I want to do as many ads and music videos as
possible,’ Lee says. So far, he has worked on a number of Nike and
Levi’s campaigns in the US, as well as a Red Stripe ad, which he
directed last year for BST-BDDP through his UK representative, Helen
Asked whether commercials are a necessary evil in his quest to raise
funds for films, Lee replies dismissively: ‘I’ve never made a movie with
the money from an ad.’
But he is keen to convey his enthusiasm and availability for shooting
ads, and to emphasise his respect for the finished product. ‘Ads are
like poems,’ he muses, implying a parallel analogy between feature films
and novels. ‘I don’t look at commercials in a lesser light, because
anything you do on film can help you master the craft - it’s all
Like any director from film or TV, Lee relishes the opportunity offered
by advertising jobs to try out new ideas with the camera.
Despite a limited ad career, he is already wise to the conflicts between
creatives and clients. The downside to making commercials, he says, is
‘bad clients who give you an ulcer by looking constantly over your
shoulder to make sure a potato-chip looks perfect’.
Lee is looking at the bigger picture. ‘My job is to add spontaneity to
the whole spot,’ he says. But this doesn’t come without a lot of
planning - on this two-day shoot, everything runs like clockwork.
Lee uses the same crew for all his work, whether it be features, ads or
promos, so their rapport is already well-established. Agency staff
confirm that his approach has been business-like from their first
encounter, when Lee went to Paris for five days of pre-production
meetings. He underlines this: ‘I have always thought of myself as a
businessman - you have to be one in order to get a film made in this
His production company, Forty Acres and a Mule - black slaves in America
were promised 40 acres of land and a mule on gaining their freedom - is
run with impressive efficiency. He publishes tie-in books for most of
his film releases, and runs a retail outlet called Spike’s Joint which
sells ‘authentic’ film memorabilia.
The company is based in Brooklyn, New York, where Lee - now 39 with a
one-year-old daughter, Satchel - grew up. His was one of the first black
families to move to the middle-class neighbourhood of Cobble Hill. Lee
(real name Shelton Jackson Lee) went on from college to study film at
New York University.
Despite both critical and box-office success, financing feature films is
a constant challenge for him - his seven-picture deal with Universal
came to an end with the release of Girl 6 in April.
Advertising, however, offers a healthy income, and, in the case of the
Philips production, complete artistic control. Patrick Samama, the
copywriter on the Philips ad, says: ‘We agreed on the spirit of the ad,
then gave Spike total freedom to get on with it, which means more chance
of making a great ad. We wanted a Spike Lee film.’
For his part, Lee is enjoying the shoot. ‘It is relaxed and there is
less pressure than there is on a film shoot. This doesn’t mean I take it
less seriously, it’s just that when people come together for a two-day
shoot, the atmosphere is not as intense,’ he explains.
Although he is good humoured, Lee is not out to make friends and is not
afraid of being unpopular. When a middle-aged woman appears at his
elbow, offering up a pen and paper, smiling tentatively as she requests
an autograph, Lee doesn’t even look as he replies coolly: ‘No. I can’t
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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