Let Fun Rule

How Already Been Chewed Combined Live Action and Animation for a Magical Mammoth Mountain Spot.

By Meleah Maynard

Portland-based brand strategy firm, Nemo, doesn’t ordinarily use 3D or animation in their work. But after seeing some recent projects by design and motion graphics studio, Already Been Chewed (ABC), they decided to try something different when making a new spot for their longtime client Mammoth Mountain. The result is a fun, action-packed departure from the usual TV spot that mixes live action and animation to illustrate Mammoth Mountain’s motto: Let Fun Rule.

Relying primarily on Cinema 4D and Octane, ABC spent about four months working on and off to create the 30-second spot, which founder and creative director Barton Damer describes as “a big accomplishment” from a team perspective. “We ended up having about 9 or 10 people working on this, including bringing in three different freelances at various points,” he says. “It’s unusual for us to need such a large team but, this time, it was great to have a lot of people to help with some of the workload.”

Here Damer explains the making of the spot, which is somewhat of a departure from ABC’s recent more photorealistic style, but it’s not new territory for the studio’s seasoned team.

Have you worked with Nemo before?
Barton Damer:
This was our first project with them, but we’ve been in contact for a couple of years because whenever I’ve gone to Portland for Nike projects, I’ve done capability presentations at Nemo and talked with them about opportunities to work together. I know some people complain about having to do those kinds of presentations, but I like talking to people about what we can off as a studio and we tailor our presentation for the needs of the agency or client we’re talking with. It’s all about how you frame things and, in Nemo’s case, they thought of us because they’d seen what ABC could do.

Describe the direction you got at the start of this project?
They did a great job of storyboarding out the entire spot for us with sketches and things like that. Our job was to turn those sketches into reality, so we created a look that combined live action and animation and got their approval. We made revisions along the way, but the process went really smoothly. They were great to work with and we’ve already worked with them on another spot.

What do other artists ask about most after seeing the spot? 
One of the things that makes this spot unique is the seamless integration of low-poly graphics with video footage. People see things like the paper look of the mountains as they animate up behind a skier and they want to know how ABC shot that. We actually didn’t shoot any of the video clips. They were all pulled from a library of clips shot by Mammoth Mountains videographer. We got that seamless look by 3D tracking all of the video clips and then rotoscoping out all of the backgrounds that we wanted to replace.

We were unsure of how it was going to look once it all came together, but once we started dropping the 3D elements behind the rotoscoped footage inside Cinema 4D, we could see it was going to work really well. (Watch the behind-the-scenes video here!)

People also ask about the timeline a lot, wondering how long it took to do this. It’s a tough one because we had a long, extended timeline so the client could have plenty of time for feedback. In the end I’d say we had about four months, but we didn’t work on it for four months straight. During that time we also created a huge library of individual assets that could be rendered out and used for print. I think we ended up rendering about 50 different high-res assets, including characters, trees, cars, clouds, suns and snowflakes.

Talk a little bit about how you worked with the Mammoth Mountain clips.
Nemo ran the clips by us to confirm that we could use them. We did all kinds of background replacements. For example, about 19 seconds into the spot there is a little town scene where you see lots of little shops and apartments. There was signage all over those buildings, so we used Cinema 4D to model replacements that we could integrate easily so we didn’t violate any anyone’s copyright.

How did you create the animated characters?
Our lead animator, Bryan Talkish, who is also a great designer, created the look of the characters. Like the rest of the spot, we wanted them to have a low-poly kind of paper feel to them. Based on the first concept, we thought we would be flying a camera down the mountain and be following the characters as they skied.

But the more we worked, we realized that would need to be a far-away shots, so we didn’t end up seeing a lot of the characters, which was too bad. “All of the parts started from either a cube and/or a simple humanoid mesh, extruding, pulling and pushing out sections to form the characters from shirts and jackets to pants and accessories,” Talkish explains. Dirt shaders were used around the phong angles to further the look of the low-poly creases, shading sharp edges a different texture than the flat areas.

This looks a lot different from what you’ve been doing. Is it?
To me, doing a piece that involves low-poly work isn’t new for us because we have done it in the past. But this was definitely the most prominent project we’ve used low-poly animation for. Another good example would be a spot we did for Huawei about seven years ago. Our recent work is much more photorealistic. It was refreshing for us as a team to do something more playful, and I notice that we get a lot more comments when we work in this style because I think people can relate to it more than some of the crazy photo realistic stuff we do.

Studio: Already Been Chewed
Creative Director: Barton Damer
Producer: Aaron Smock
3d Design: Bryan Talkish, Thomas King, Aaron Smock, Mike Martin
Animation: Bryan Talkish, Aaron Smock, Mike Martin, Matt Milstead, Dave Koss
Compositing: Aaron Smock, Bryan Talkish
Sound Design: JM Cifonie

Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.