Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Monday, October 10, 2005

Guinness noitulovE (that's Evolution backwards)

This beer commercial is great! Download it and view it (using Quicktime). This ad for Guinness beer will get creationists writing letters to the company!

Guinness noitulovE

"I know that William Bartlett and Framestore CFC will rise to any challenge I throw at them. With noitulovE they have - once again - surpassed themselves."
Daniel Kleinman, Director, noitulovE

The current debate about evolution that is raging in some quarters may finally be laid to rest by noitulovE, the new Guinness spot. Put simply, the Guinness theory is that man's ascent from the slime has been leading him inevitably towards the enjoyment of a pint of their estimable product. Created by AMV BBDO, directed by Daniel Kleinman and realised by Framestore CFC, noitulovE makes its debut on UK terrestrial TV on 3rd October 2005, and will be screened on TV and in cinemas over coming months.

Framestore CFC has, of course, a bit of 'previous' when it comes to Guinness, having created VFX that helped make 1999's 'Surfer' spot one of the best loved commercials in UK television history. So when AMV BBDO returned to the company for a condensed history of Evolution (that's noitulovE backwards), there was quite a legacy to live up to.

Fast Backward
noitulovE starts at the end, as it were, with three men in a bar raising their pints and enjoying their first sip of Guinness. As an orchestral introduction finishes and the song 'Rhythm of Life' (from 'Sweet Charity') kicks in, the men move in backwards-motion out of the bar and into the street. We follow them a few paces, noticing that their clothing has already become Edwardian, and that the buildings around them appear to be deconstructing themselves. Cutting to a wide shot of a city (London, in fact) shot from above, we see the city itself rapidly disassembling, diminishing to a Saxon settlement in a couple of seconds. Cutting back to our heroes, we find them still walking backwards, clad in Bronze Age garb through a devolving rural landscape. They are swiftly surrounded by a fast-paced glacier, and there is a slight pause as an Ice Age flashes by.

As they emerge from the big freeze, our heroes, now moving with a distinctly simian gait, find their clothes whisked off them, leaving animal skin loincloths. A quick glimpse of a Grand Canyon like scene forming itself, and we are back with the guys who have taken to the trees in the form of three chimps. Continuing down the evolutionary chain, the three chimps become, in quick succession, flying squirrels, furry mammals, aquatic mammals, fishes, prehistoric flightless bird creatures, tiny dinosaurs, and – finally – mudskippers. Grouped around a puddle in a primeval mud hole, the three companions take a sip from the puddle – starting back at the taste of it. We conclude with a close-up of one of the mudskippers, registering his feelings about the taste of the available brew with a "Pweugh!" of disgust.

"The funny thing about the mudskippers is that they're mostly real," says VFX Supervisor William Bartlett, "We gave them CG back-fins and added the animated mouth and tongue, but the creatures themselves were shot in a tank in a studio. We thought they'd be good for reference, but they exceeded our expectations – they even obliged us by drinking from the puddle. Given how many of 'noitulovE creatures were created in CG, it's ironic that the one most distant from man was one we were able to shoot for real."

Bartlett was responsible for leading Framestore CFC's team through noitulovE's demanding 3 ½ month schedule, from planning, through the shoots in Iceland and in a London studio, to assemblage and creation of a multitude of elements in the Inferno. He even managed to bake some bread on the way…

What's Cooking?
"This spot was exceptional – and challenging - in many ways," admits Bartlett, "Not least because so little of it existed when we were planning it. It is very much a product of the post production process." Real elements that were filmable included the bar sequence at the beginning when we meet our heroes, green screen footage of the men with various costumes and layers of ape-man make-up on, some spectacular scenery from Iceland and the aforementioned mudskippers.

The rest of noitulovE is an extraordinary digital collage, made up from stock footage, custom built CG creatures, CG plant life and rocks, digital stills and VFX from the Inferno's library of tricks. All of these were complemented by some personal touches introduced by Bartlett himself. The aerial view of London, for instance, was discovered by Bartlett during a chance visit Vertigo, the bar on top of the old Nat West Building in the City of London.

A great VFX Supervisor is equal parts artist, technician and accountant, and it was the number cruncher in Bartlett that led him to create some of the elements for noitulovE in his own oven. "From the start I'd been very aware that the CG list was already colossal - 15 new creatures, for a start. For several of the shots we needed 'geological' distortion of background rock formations," he recalls, "And I was struck by the way heat affects dough. I made some up at home, experimenting with various materials to get the right sort of looks and textures, and shooting it with time lapse every 10 seconds. For some of the looks I found that a dough/Grape Nuts/Special K combo worked best!"

Bartlett discovered that the look of the spot required constant movement everywhere in the frame. "To get that time-lapse feel, you need a sense that everything is changing all the time," he says, "So all the elements had to be tweaked continuously. Even the grassland the men walk backwards across looked dead if we left it untouched." This fanatical attention to detail led Bartlett to make some changes that will scarcely register with most viewers. "The streetlights outside the bar actually become gas lamps," he notes, "It's a tiny thing, but change has to be going on and it should have internal consistency."

Manipulating the Menagerie
Without Framestore CFC's years of experience in creature work - the thousands of man-hours of R&D into fur shaders, rigging etc. to draw on - the sheer volume of animals that the 3D team had to assemble would have been overwhelming.

Andy Boyd headed the 3D team tasked with creating not only creatures, but also trees, grasslands, rivers, waterfalls, a meteorite and millions of year's worth of geological transition. "There was such a huge amount of work to do," he says, "We started by divided the 3D team into two groups – one to handle creatures, the other for all the rest."

For the VFX elements – plant life and geology – a key to the success of producing so many 3D effects in such a little time was to have a system that allowed to create many variants of the effects procedurally. For this reason Boyd chose to use Houdini 3D software, which is ideal for this sort of approach. "We created a base system in Houdini," he says, "And once the system was finished we were able to easily adjust it to created many versions. For example, once the life cycle of the oak was created, the same set-up in Houdini was used to create many different versions of any given tree – maple, oak, fern, monkey puzzle, among others." The same principle was applied to bushes, rocks and water – an initial build which could be easily and swiftly transformed.

The creatures that Boyd's team came up with were also in a constant state of flux – flying squirrels becoming regular squirrels, fins withering away, necks growing. "It was a lot of fun, actually," he confesses, "As we had a bit of freedom to experiment with the design of the prehistoric creatures." Again, the 3D team drew upon their massive library of skills and tools. "We've done creatures so many times now," he says, "That we just get faster and more refined with each project – which is just as well when something like noitulovE comes along!"

Even with so much of the spot created inside various computers, there was still a need for a small amount of TK work. The 35mm was transferred at HD by Colourist Matthew Turner, who also worked with Kleinman on the mastergrading of the material.

So how does it feel to have squeezed an aeon into an ad break? "Fantastic," laughs Bartlett, "All I need now is a new Le Creuset pan to replace the one I shattered while boiling sugar for some eroding rocks…"

Guinness noitulovE
Client Guinness
Agency Producer Yvonne Chalkley
Creatives Ian Heartfield, Matt Doman
Production Company Kleinman Productions
Director Daniel Kleinman
Production Company Producer Johnnie Frankel
Editor Steve Gandolfi

For Framestore CFC
VFX Supervisor / Lead Inferno Artist William Bartlett
Inferno Artist Alex Thomas
Additional Inferno Artists Murray Butler, Jonathan Hairman
Jnr Inferno Artist Chris Redding
Roto Artists Nicha Kumkeaw, Daria Ashley
CGI Supervisor Andy Boyd
Snr CGI Artist Dan Seddon
CGI Artists Jamie Isles, David Mellor, James Healy, Laura Dias, Chris Syborn, Alex Doyle, Michele Fabbro, Joe Thornley
Lead Animator Quentin Miles
Animators Nicklas Andersson, Craig Penn, Don Mahmood
Jnr CGI Artist Rob Richardson
CGI Tracking Joe Leavson
Telecine Colourist Matthew Turner
Producer Scott Griffin
Production Assistant Sarah Goodwin

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