BBC TWO: Branding with character

How Cinema 4D, Cineware and Adobe After Effects enabled Vincent London to create its humorous BBC Two idents quickly and efficiently

 

By Steve Jarratt

 

Continuing its long relationship with BBC Marketing, Vincent London was called upon to design some new idents promoting BBC Two and its new season of programming. The spots featured the annual nature series Autumnwatch and Springwatch, plus a generic channel ident featuring the celebrity cook Nigella Lawson and the figure '2' channel mascot.

The first spot features the Autumnwatch hosts bird spotting on the coast, unaware of the huge flock of birds behind them forming a giant '2'. The sequence was made using Insydium's X-Particles plugin and employed xpEmitters in conjunction with xpGenerators to replace each particle with an object – in this case a low-poly bird with wings that flap in an animated loop. "We used various xpAttractors and xpCover modifiers to form the '2' followed by various xpTurbulence modifiers to disperse the birds," explains creative director John Hill.

For the final wide-angle scene, the team had to create the background from scratch since the original, ungraded footage showed the presenters mid-range in the center of the frame. "We needed to reposition the presenters far right of the frame and create a much wider shot, establishing them on the edge of the cliff so our CG birds could fly into frame on the left," says Hill. To accomplish this they created some '2.5D' elements – the presenters, grass planes, cliff face, sea, fields and bushes – and layered them together in After Effects.

For the final wide-angle scene, the team had to create the background from scratch since the original, ungraded footage showed the presenters mid-range in the center of the frame. "We needed to reposition the presenters far right of the frame and create a much wider shot, establishing them on the edge of the cliff so our CG birds could fly into frame on the left," says Hill. To accomplish this they created some '2.5D' elements – the presenters, grass planes, cliff face, sea, fields and bushes – and layered them together in After Effects.

The flocking birds were lit using an HDRI of the sky and an infinite light tracked to the sun's position. Shadow, Lighting, GI and Motion Vector passes were then rendered out (the Motion Vector pass enables the addition of motion blur in post using RealSmart Motion Blur Pro). The flocking birds were then composited into the wide-angle background plate, and the whole sequence was graded.

The second ident for Springwatch is a more complex sequence, showing a '2'-shaped butterfly emerging from its cocoon, flapping around and then landing on a branch. The butterfly was fully rigged, enabling the legs, body, and antennae to be animated, while the wings were just planes, textured and clipped using an alpha channel. "It was way quicker to use textures on simple planes with deformers than fully modeled wings with their own hair," says Hill. "It took a fair amount of time to Photoshop a good wing texture, but we're pretty sure it was a more efficient approach for what we needed."

The body of the butterfly had Cinema 4D Hair applied, which was brushed and sculpted into place. This was used to hide the joint between the thorax and the wings, where the hair was simply painted on as a texture map.

As the butterfly exits its cocoon, Deformers were used to unfold and unravel the wings. "Ideally we would have made a more complex rig for the wings so they would fold better, but we didn't have the time, unfortunately," admits Hill.

The branch was modeled and textured using photographs so some subtle movement could be added, and the backdrop is another still image. An HDRI was created from the location photography, and an area light was used to add shadows to the butterfly and branch. The animation was then rendered, producing Shadow, GI, Specular, Hair, Ambient Occlusion, Diffuse and Motion Vector passes.

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In After Effects, the branch, background and CG butterfly were combined. "We used a lens blur with a Depth pass for the depth of field," adds Hill. "The Shadow passes were important to help ground the butterfly on the branch." To complete the shot, a camera move was added to give it a more natural, hand-held feel.

A second Springwatch spot presents us with a caterpillar crawling along a branch, before reaching up to sniff a flower, forming the shape of the '2' with its body. The creature's movements required a full rig with bones and IK, with enough flexibility to animate and twist its body into the required shape. "It was tricky getting him to crawl correctly and maintain the '2' shape throughout," says Hill. "Especially when he rears up to smell the flower. We had quite a number of morph targets."

For this shot, only the caterpillar is a 3D mesh; everything else is a 2.5D element based on photos shot on location and layered in After Effects. The flower was broken down into three or four separate pieces, enabling the team to add some subtle movement. The branch image is a static plane, although Hill explains that they modeled a version of the branch from the photo, which was then used in Cinema 4D to catch the caterpillar shadows. "We added extra 2D shadows as and when needed to help ground the body and when the caterpillar interacts with the flower," he adds. Again an HDRI was used in conjunction with an area light, and outputs included Shadow, Hair, GI, Specular, AO, Diffuse and Motion Vector passes.

"The caterpillar was a fairly tricky composite, especially for the shadows," comments Hill. "The head movement in front of and behind the flower was very tricky to get a seamless transition from front to rear, and then head inside the flower. We made the petals semi-transparent to help with the composite."

The final spot is a generic ident for the channel, featuring Nigella Lawson mixing some chocolate intended for a cake. However, when her back is turned the '2'-shaped spatula guzzles it up, becoming bloated in the process.
As expected, the liquid simulation was achieved with Next Limit's RealFlow, although Hill admits that the scene took a while to perfect. "The chocolate consistency had to be right to make it behave realistically," he says, "but needed to move in a non-real way to get the chocolate to drain away quickly enough for the idea to come across and fit within the allotted air time requirements. We used Kill Daemons and various other Attractor, Spline and Vortex Daemons to create the main chocolate movement and drain."

With the simulation sorted, they generated meshes with vertex maps within RealFlow, saved as standard BIN files. These were then imported into Cinema 4D using the latest RF plugins to keep things as stable as possible rather then meshing at rendertime using the RealFlow Render Kit.

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In the final shot, the bowl, spatula and chocolate are all CG. "We modeled the '2' spatula in Cinema 4D and animated it using Pose Morphs and Deformers with some displacement maps on the UVs," says Hill, adding that the design went through various phases and models with lips, tongues and other funny gestures before settling on a more discreet and graceful model. "We used a mixture of RealFlow sequences and moving textures to create the chocolate dripping down the bowl sides, which proved to be quite tricky."

Lighting the scene was achieved using an HDRI taken from the location photography, with area lights to match the on-set lighting. The various passes were then added to After Effects. "We used camera mapping for the background plate so we could have some subtle camera movement. The plate was rendered with the CG bowl and shadows added in post with some extra reflection and Motion Vector passes."

Throughout the process of creating these idents for the BBC, Vincent London benefitted from the close connection between Cinema 4D and Adobe's After Effects, using MAXON's Cineware plugin.

Exporting and importing camera data from After Effects into Cinema 4D works very well, allowing us to play around more with animating the cameras

"Camera mapping textures combined with the actual Cinema 4D camera data provides great flexibility to work over the CG with the render passes." says Hill. He explains how the workflow is immediate and fast, helping them iterate quickly and providing quick turnaround times for both client requests and project delivery. "The After Effects/Cinema 4D integration is especially great for quick changes and amendments when nearing the delivery deadlines," he says. "The overall composite structure and multiple render pass assets provide masses of flexibility. With all these passes and camera data you can really be creative in post and sometimes accidently find better ways of creating the aesthetics we're after. This is so important when it comes to creating a pipeline that offers enough flexibility for quick turnaround and client amends.


Steve Jarratt is a long-time CG enthusiast and technology journalist based in the UK.
All images courtesy of Vincent London.


Vincent London Website:

www.vincentlondon.com