The Visual Effects Society anounced the nominations for its 10th annual VES Awards this week. Among the list for 'Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Commercial or Video Game Trailer' was the Coca Cola Siege TV commercial, which featured in IF Magazine #140 (April-May 2011). The article is re-printed below.

An incredible 111 million people in the US recently watched Framestore’s new Coca-Cola commercial Siege as part of the Super Bowl.

Now the rest of the world is set to see the 100 per cent CG-generated commercial in cinemas as part of Coca-Cola’s latest campaign.

Over recent years, Framestore has been experimenting with full-CG sequences on films like The Tale of Despereaux and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, but even this project pushed the commercial division to new limits.

“For the latest Harry Potter movie, we created a three-minute CG scene that brings ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’ to life when the story is told during the movie,” Framestore VFX producer Diarmid Harrison-Murray says.

“The scene is completely different from the rest of the movie because it is illustrated in the style of animated shadow puppets. The idea was to create a sense of fantasy and take the viewer into another realm. We applied all of this experience to the Coca-Cola commercial.”

Although all of the CG environments, characters and creatures in Siege were difficult to create, Harrison-Murray says the most difficult aspect of the three-month job involved creating the painterly look that gives the commercial a unique, colourful, fantasy-feel.

“The most elusive challenge involved achieving the slightly painterly concept-art aesthetic, plus choosing the colour pallets for the different tones in the sky and the characters. We made sure we sent tests of the CG paintings early on to the directors, so they could provide comments, which we used to create multiple iterations and style changes.

“We carried on with this back and forth process until we hit a sweet spot and figured out the look that worked across all of the different environments and characters with the perfect blend of colours.”

Directors FX & Mat provided Framestore with a very clear brief on how the commercial should be brought to life, which is not always the case in the fast-paced world of making commercials.

“As you can see, the creations are painted with very rich, detailed art work, so the directors helped us to nail this by bringing in mood boards of the imagery they liked. This included dramatic, volumetric rays of light, mixed with shadows, dark colours and hyper-real lighting.”

Framestore has recently set up its own in-house motion capture studio – which the team took full advantage of – to create a lot of the background crowd animation. Having this resource within close proximity allowed the team to catch new behaviours for the characters anytime they needed to make improvements.

This made the process much more cost-effective than hiring an outside studio. Instead of using Autodesk’s Massive, the team built their own cheap-and-cheerful crowd system, which they found easier to use. These are just some examples of the innovative work applied to Siege, which was treated like a Hollywood production at every stage, even when it came to incorporating the music.

“The soundtrack was done with a large orchestra scoring it in a film-like fashion,” adds Harrison-Murray.

“If you’ve got a live orchestra and a conductor responding to the actual piece as they watch it, which happened on this commercial, it creates a special synergy between the music that you can’t get any other way.”

Fifty artists in total worked on the project during its lifetime and 600 people work for Framestore in London on an ongoing basis.

Although the company has experienced a difficult couple of years, with some companies paying half the standard price for projects, Harrison-Murray says it has now turned a corner.

Although Framestore started as a traditional TV commercial company, it now specialises in digital creations for films, games, websites, smart phones and a number of other interactive platforms.

It is also beginning to direct its own commercials, which involves using its recently created art department, becoming more self-reliant and less dependent on external suppliers.

“As a result, we are finding a lot more work, and each department shares its ideas with each other. So we are able to make content across a number of different platforms at the same time. Working on a commercial like Siege is very important because it allows us to experiment and discover new ways to make fully CG-animated sequences that we can pass on to the film guys.”

Thanks to companies like Framestore, the UK effects scene is capable of creating effects as good as any studio in Hollywood. And a company of this calibre always looks to Australia for talent.

“We have a huge admiration for Australian effects artists. When we are looking to recruit people, it is one of our first ports of call. We have a few Australian and New Zealanders working here and a lot of guys from here go on to work in Australia as well.”

Having successfully pulled off a number of full-CG productions in recent years, such as Siege, Framestore and its international team is now focused on one of its biggest future goals, which involves creating a CG-animated feature film. This small commercial shows that the company has the capability to pull it off.

This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #140 (April-May 2011). Subscribe here.

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