Diageo gets into the spirit with Cinema 4D

How RPM created a range of 3D spirit bottles indistinguishable from photos

By Duncan Evans

While it’s easy enough to create 3D bottles of liquid, it’s a whole different ball game when you are tasked with creating 3D renders of actual spirit bottles that have to be indistinguishable from actual photographs. That was the brief that brand-specialist RPM was faced with in a commission from Diageo, the world's leading drinks company. For Scott Ramsay, Senior 3D Visualiser, and the 10 artists working on the project at RPM in the Old Treacle Factory in Shepherds Bush, the challenge was considerable. Traditionally, creating images to make each bottle look as beautiful as possible requires an expensive photo-shoot with sophisticated lighting. However, the sheer number of bottles involved meant the cost would have been prohibitive for them all. Step forward RPM and Cinema 4D with a CG-based alternative that offered both a more economic cost and considerably more useful and flexible assets. Once created, the bottles could then be re-used in any other marketing scenario. The big question was whether Scott and the team could actually do it, because in order for the project to be successful, those CG bottles had to go up against an equivalent photo and be just as good.

Scott explained how the process started, "Working in Cinema 4D, I started modelling using technical drawings and blueprints from Diageo’s asset library as reference. Labels and graphics were applied using the print-ready artwork files supplied by Diageo. This is where good print process knowledge comes in, because the gold inks, foils, varnishes and embosses that make the labels look so premium and rich are applied in a similar fashion, even using the choking, trapping and overprints a print designer will be familiar with. Knowing these would be rendered at a very high resolution, attention to detail was paramount and all of the tiny imperfections and dimples, seams and registration marks in each bottle were faithfully recreated using displacement and bump maps."

The displacement and bump maps were used for sub-polygon displacement because it allows RPM to update the graphics relatively easily when the brands and labels are updated, or for flavour variants. Smirnoff, for example, has many different variants all using the same core bottle, but with different kinds of embossing on the glass. It was also relatively easy to plot the position of subtle bumps, scratches and imperfections in the glass in relation to the label artwork once the bottles' UV's were unwrapped. For the future, RPM is looking at using Normal maps and Cinema 4D's Sculpt tools as an alternative. The team has created 36 bottles to date, but there are more in the pipeline, with simple bottles taking two days to model and the more complex ones up to five days.

The lighting stage was next, and this involved matching up the cameras in Cinema 4D and those at an actual physical photo-shoot as Scott explained, "The lighting rig for the bottles was particularly important because the bottles needed to sit next to a range of beautifully photographed drinks and cocktails, blending in seamlessly. A Phase One camera was set up in a studio environment with a fill light, key light and two supporting lights. The photographer worked closely with a Mixologist and our Art Director, Leigh Butler, and Account Director, Alice Libaudiere, to photograph the cocktails that would sit next to our 3D bottles. I was on site too to record exact details including distance from the lens, focal length, lens details, lighting positions, textures and any other details relevant to recreating the environment in 3D later on. HDRI details weren't recorded – something we may consider next time. Subjects were shot on a wooden table (also replicated in 3D) against a backdrop we had designed and printed beforehand from our approved Mac Visuals."

How easy was it to translate those variables into camera and lighting settings in Cinema 4D? According to Scott, it was very easy because almost all the real world values had an equivalent in Cinema 4D. He could have recorded much more than he did, but easily had enough information for the CG setup. More of a challenge was the materials and liquids and getting the light to refract in the bottles correctly. Scott revealed how they approached it, "Truly realistic glass is something I've always thought to be the domain of Vray, but a solid understanding of how liquid and glass behave is perhaps more important. A lot of experimenting was required, primarily within the transparency channel of each shader, to get the correct effect. The fresnel effect was the most obvious adjustment available, but subtle bumps and displacements worked magically with the glass and liquid shaders to create the striking refractions and reflections. By outputting multi-passes, we were able to isolate the reflectance and refraction passes and amplify them for effect."

However, all of this detail proved a real strain at render time and to achieve hi-res results RPM used Cinema 4D's NET Render to link up to six Mac Pro workstations and split the renders into a hundred tiles, recompiling in Photoshop afterwards. Even with this division of labour, typically used for animation, some of the most detailed bottles took two to three days to render. Results were intentionally muted and neutral giving their retouch team enough scope to adjust the colours and tones without having to re-render each time. A multi-pass render also allowed them to split the render into Photoshop layers. Refractions, reflections and shadows were all isolated for easier compositing in Photoshop.

The end results were beautiful, realistic images of the bottles which could be re-imagined at any angle, in any lighting scheme and at any time. Scott concluded that, "It’s an incredibly versatile way of generating imagery. Diageo can now reap the rewards of the added benefits of a 3D asset: they are now a Diageo library asset for agencies to use on any campaign they design. The models are fully textured, front and back, top and bottom, and built to scale with a hi-res version and a lo-res version on separate layers. Lo-res versions have no bump or displacement maps, no fresnels and a low-poly count. The hi-res versions are fully resolved with texture maps of at least 8K and the scalable, smart objects mean they can be increased in size easily. The bottles can be used for any applications, from high resolution print output, to an animated GIF or a fully animated cinematic spot".

Duncan Evans is a freelance journalist, photographer and author.

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