Framestore recently created a photoreal koala for Specsavers latest TV commercial. Cute, though not necessarily cuddly, the koala was built on a tight schedule of just five weeks, exploiting all of Framestore’s experience of creating furry CG animals from previous projects such as Andrex’s new CG puppy and Narnia’s Aslan lion.
Directed by Outsider’s Henry Littlechild, the ad opens on a woman sitting under a tree reading a newspaper. As she comes across a press ad for Specsavers’ impressive contact lens offer, an astonished koala falls out of the tree and a tussle over the paper ensues.
Simon French supervised the South London park shoot, ensuring he captured correct lighting reference data, lighting balls and grading reference cards so that the CG koala could be convincingly embedded in Flame. He also captured falling tree debris passes and clean plates so that the Nuke team could have complete control over the separated backgrounds.
Reference for interaction between the koala and the newspaper was generated by shooting simple coat hanger style claws. The CG paws were designed to match the stand-in shoot claws so as to minimize paint work in Flame. But 2D artist Russell Dodgson perfected the interaction between the koala and the newspaper with plate retouching.
After supervising the shoot, French set about modelling and texturing the koala. Framestore’s in-house grooming system was used to create and style the fur, with rendering and character look-development being created through commercial tools. French explained, “In order to accommodate the incredibly tight schedule, rendering had to be super efficient. We managed this by exploiting our already established, but continually evolving and improving character production pipeline – the one tried and tested in earlier projects like Narnia and Andrex. This pipeline enabled quick and easy scene setup, plus a smooth and well-defined process of passing renders onto the Nuke team for compositing.”
The koala, whose limited screentime meant that each of its frame had to work extra hard, was animated by Michael Elder who had to develop how the animal should fall and react. He also had to strike the right balance between realistic and cartoon-like koala movements, with the end product taking on a 70% feel of realism. Elder then researched koala behavior and subsequently shot video reference of himself acting like a dazed koala. He was then ready to sketch thumbnails of main poses, which became the basis of keyframing in Maya. “Fortunately the rig was quite reminiscent of the Aslan rig for Narnia,” said Elder, “so it felt quite comfortable and had all the mod cons of a nice quadriped rig”.
The grade was crafted by Dave Ludlam who used Framestore’s new grading pipeline to efficiently set the look with the director and creatives before giving the 3D and Nuke teams the balanced plates with CMS file data to apply to comps.