Visual effects house MPC NY recently partnered with ad agency Havas to reinvent Hopper the Kangaroo for DISH Network as an animated talking mascot in a new ad campaign directed by Renny Maslow of Smuggler. Featuring the voice of actress Rebel Wilson as the cheeky kangaroo, this light-hearted spot offers a humorous take on the satellite company’s new Internet television service. The campaign debuted during the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
MPC was approached by Havas to help design, animate and bring to life this witty kangaroo. “The ambition is to make Hopper a brand icon that everyone will recognize as soon as they see her, and immediately associate her with DISH,” explained MPC NY head of production Derek Macleod-Veilleux. “Keeping in mind that a few months ago Hopper was just a few pencil sketches on paper, we’re thrilled by all the potential and possibilities, and excited to see where she gets to go next.”
Helmed by senior creative lead/VFX supervisor Chris Bernier and 2D lead Gigi Ng, MPC worked closely with the agency team and Maslow on character concept and development, ensuring the photo-real stuffed kangaroo was loveable in appearance yet sarcastic in approach. “From the beginning we had a very clear brief to work with – an animated stuffed kangaroo,” said Bernier. “This gave us a solid foundation to design the character in a way that was grounded in realism. We paid attention to every small detail that you’d find in a stuffed animal, from the refraction of the eyes and the cloth below the fur, all the way down to how the fabric seams are stitched together.”
Drawing upon character animation expertise and proprietary tools originally developed at MPC Film for the likes of Narnia and X-Men, the NY advertising team leveraged MPC’s extensive R&D into both animal behavior and fur grooming attributes for DISH.
MPC was integrally involved from the initial series of concept sketches through to character development to bring Hopper to life.
“The unique challenge and opportunity was to create a character that looks like it exists in the real world while also instilling an approachable, expressive quality that would bring a smile to everyone’s face,” explained Bernier. “This affected how we rigged and animated Hopper. Together with Havas, we decided it was interesting to focus on her eyes – the size and positioning were really important to create realism, as opposed to adding too much dexterity in the mouth and the face which could tip her into a ‘cartoony’ realm.”
The team paid close attention to bring out Hopper’s sassy quirks by adding creative details, from twiddling her hair and ears through to curling her eyelashes as though she has putting makeup on. “We even gave her a beauty mark,” adds Bernier. “She needed a bit of Cindy Crawford.”
The team shot two model kangaroos, which acted as stand-in references on set. Following the shoot, the 2D team led by Ng assembled the passes, tracked the animated character to match her movements, and composited the CG into the scenes.
The grade was crafted by colorist Adrian Seery, helping to fully integrate the CG character into the real world.
“With great references, direction, writing and audio track, the end result is something we’re all really proud of,” said MPC NY managing director Justin Lane. “This project proved to be both creatively inspiring and a true collaboration. The partnership and trust between DISH, Havas, Smuggler and MPC really allowed everyone to focus on creating this character from the ground up and establishing her personality and story.”