Production/Post-Production: What's next in effects

Special effects offer agencies a variety of creative options. Four industry figures pick the technology they predict will have the most impact in 2004.

COMPUTER ANIMATION

- Francine Linsey the head of creative services at AMV BBDO, chews over the merits of computer animation

For some time now, we've worked in a post-production world of visual effects/computer animation, where anything is possible and where key considerations often refer to time and budget availability.

At the same time, our best work is often produced when we involve our visual effects partners at the earliest stage possible. This helps us to ensure the choreography of a production incorporates all the essential elements to ensure the best results in post-production.

In my experience, this has meant time in post is not "corrective" but "creative". It is also important to spend time looking for the best blend of post-production talent for a particular job. The chemistry that results from creative teams, directors and editors teaming up extends to the choice of facility house and their colourists, effects artists and animators.

Accordingly, when we looked for effects partners for our recent Tetra Pak commercial (shot by Frederic Planchon at Academy), we looked at several facility house creative tenders before awarding the post-production work.

In the end, we chose MPC. Its proposal incorporated the use of proprietary software it had written for building and animating the "whomping willow" sequences in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. We felt this software, together with the right mix of post-production talent, would lay down the platform for the most successful computer animation of the trees in our commercial.

THE M-RIG

- William Bartlett a senior Inferno artist and VFX supervisor at Framestore CFC, drools over the potential of the M-Rig

There are usually two strands of development in digital effects technology: what is technically possible and what is possible given a normal budget.

Feature films, with their larger budgets and extensive research and development time, tend to take the lead in this field. You can't imagine the necessary time and money being made available to develop a character such as Gollum for six shots in a soft drinks commercial.

One such development I'm looking forward to getting my hands on is one of Framestore CFC's latest toys, the M-Rig. This was developed during the making of Dinotopia and was used throughout that project to assist in the simulation of human riders perched on dinosaurs, both on the ground and in the air.

The M-Rig is basically a computer-controlled Bucking Bronco. It allows us to animate computer-generated creatures and then film live-action riders who will be thrown around in perfect synchronisation with the animation.

This was the main reason it was developed but the M-Rig can also be used in many other ways, such as filming an actor hanging on to the top of a speeding car without having to put his life at risk.

Case in point: the Audi "bull" spot that we did for Bartle Bogle Hegarty last year. The final shots featured a man riding a digital bull. The M-Rig might have given Nicolai Fuglsig, the director, the option of a wider range of camera moves on the shoot on his actor. In that instance, time was against us.

It's a fascinating bit of kit and I'm very much looking forward to putting it to use in my commercials.

3D

- Jordi Bares a senior 3D animator at The Mill, walks us through the world of 3D

People now have a greater understanding of the potential of computer graphics, so we're seeing a greater will to push the technology to achieve ever-more ambitious creative ideas. 2D and 3D are crossing into each other's territories more and more, with both areas having the ability to affect each other's final output. The demands from 3D influence Flame, and vice versa.

While 3D technology continues to improve on a number of fronts, computer-generated simulation is one of the areas that continues to push the boundaries of believability. This encompasses things such as fluid dynamics for generating effects such as water and smoke and artificial intelligence software for generating 3D crowd scenes. Software such as Massive and Natural Motion's Endorphin are good examples of the way artificial intelligence is being applied.

We used Massive on Frank Budgen's PlayStation "mountain" to create thousands of 3D people, each with their own "brain", so they wouldn't crash into each other. Previously, convincing crowd scenes could only be created using expensive live-action extras.

Natural Motion's software enables animators to synthesise realistic motion, human or animal, for situations where it's not possible to shoot live action, or to create credible motion through hand-animation. The traditional way of creating an effect of a person being hit by a car would be to use a dummy. This can look unconvincing; but now it can be done more realistically through CG simulation based on artificial intelligence.

FINAL CUT PRO

- Sandy Watson-Scott the head of broadcast at Ogilvy & Mather, picks the editing software Final Cut Pro

The introduction of digital technology has had us constantly amazed. Animation kits and the like are extraordinary tools that have refined special effects and changed the editing process.

Well, you may not have noticed, but it has changed again, in a far less obvious way, with the introduction of software programs that enable anyone with a desire to edit their own material to do exactly that.

The most popular system appears to be Final Cut Pro. People rave about it because it's so easy to use and gives you the chance to be flexible about where you edit. All you need is a low-cost, high-powered personal computer with Final Cut Pro and you can take the edit suite with you on the road.

The Coen Brothers apparently cut a feature using Macs and Final Cut Pro in their office. And Avid Xpress, an editing kit that is pretty similar to Final Cut Pro, was used to cut Crimestoppers' "crossing the line" cinema ad with a Apple G4 laptop.

But, remember the quote from that great Sage Aromyer: "A world full of software does not make a great editor. That requires talent."

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