Float Your Boat with a CG Quote

Discover how design studio Streetmonkey created a brand awareness animation slot for CompareNI.com

By Duncan Evans

One of the attractions of using CG is that it is very effective at creating striking and memorable characters and scenes. That was the idea when CompareNI approached Streetmonkey to create a 30-second advertising slot for TV and online. The objective was to create a distinctive look and feel through the use of 3D animated characters that would provide a strong brand association and increase traffic to the website, and expand their customer base.

The biggest challenge faced by Ian Lawrence, the animator/motion graphic designer for Streetmonkey, was the deadline of just five weeks for a complete 720p project. Ian explained, "The main technical challenges involved the creation of the characters, seascape environment, animation, and rendering within the project timeline."

The story then features a salty old sea dog of a captain called Rod and his trusty seagull accomplice. When a customer checks online for a quote, the captain casts his net over a range of prices from companies all around the UK, including Northern Ireland, where the advert was to be broadcast. The overall technical consideration was to work out simple and efficient techniques for solving various problems, from creating the dynamic cloth fishing nets to an overall lighting and rendering solution that could keep the rendering of each frame to less than 15 minutes. This was important due to last minute changes that inevitably occur.

First up was the water simulation, which needed to be choppy with lots of animation. Ian Lawrence detailed how and why it was done, "There were tight advertising deadlines, so the water was created with a large, flat plane to which three separate wind modifiers were applied. This resulted in a nice cartoony-looking sea movement. On the sea material there were also animated displacement noise and diffusion maps, which added a little bit more subtle detail to the movement. A proximal shader was also used in combination with animated noise shaders to achieve a white water foam effect around objects in the sea."

The main character, the captain, is all hat, teeth and beard. Fortunately, Cinema 4D's own excellent Hair module provided a nice integrated and efficient way to create the look. The styling for the captain and the overall look and feel of the animation was developed through character sketches and feedback from the advertising agency for which Streetmonkey produced the ad. Ian added, "We wanted to ground the animation somewhere between modern 3D animation and a feeling of nostalgia, with robust characters and environments that almost look hand-crafted."

One of the more complex effects in the animation is the use of the fishing net to capture quotes, but, with Cinema 4D, it worked out to be an easy task, as Ian revealed, "The cloth used in the fishing nets was a fairly simple setup, the net being a single cloth sheet with a hi-res fishing net in the alpha channel. Around the edges of the net, we belted on some floats that had a dynamics simulation applied to them, causing the net to fall and wrap around the collider objects on the land."

On other elements of the animation, the character tool for rigging helped a great deal and enabled Streetmonkey to concentrate on more creative aspects of the animation rather than get caught up in technical mumbo jumbo.

A basic GI setup was used to create the lighting, using Physical Sky and careful placement of additional non-GI lights to pick out certain areas and provide highlights. This kept the all-important render time down, and with six Mac Pros (2.66GHz, six-core Intel Xeon) they were able to render three to four scenes overnight, providing the clients with daily updates.

Once various render passes for each scene had been created, they were composited in After Effects. Ian explained how the finishing touches were applied, "We edited it down to the timings, graded the whole animation and applied a few post effects, including the steam on the coffee mug and the sea spray when the boat comes to a stop, both created with the Red Giant Particular plugin. The seamless export process of 3D cameras and lights from Cinema 4D to After Effects meant this was easily done. At Streetmonkey we have used Cinema 4D in our creative pipeline for over 10 years because of its ease of use, stability, and speed in turning around a project within the timeframe."

Duncan Evans is a freelance journalist, photographer and author.

For more work by Streetmonkey, please visit: http://streetmonkey.tv/our-work/

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