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

craft



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

vogue.



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-

generated characters.



‘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,

Passion Pictures).



‘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

bottle.



‘Although the client was initially reluctant, we could not achieve the

desired effect any other way,’ Campa explains.



------------------------------------------------------------------------

Profile

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Aurelio Campa, 3D animation and special-effects specialist at the Soho

post-production house, Rushes, is a technician rather than artist by

training. 



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

campaign.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

..HL.-

CAM # 23:08:96

CAMPAIGN CRAFT: Profile; Spike Lee relishes the chance to do commercials

..BL.-

By EMMA HALL

..XP.-<

Page_22

Photograph (omitted)



Philips would only let one man direct its latest work. Emma Hall

interviews him



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

financial district.



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 Blachre 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

Langridge Associates.



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

cinema.’



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

country.’



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

do that.’



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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