From Rat Race to Dancing Sheep

Discover how Mill+ delivered this jolly three-minute animation for Eviivo's online booking service

By Steve Jarratt

Eviivo offers a suite of apps and services designed for owners of hotels, bed and breakfast accommodations, pubs and resorts to help them manage bookings and promote their business. And to promote its business, Eviivo turned to Mill+, an integrated team of directors and designers within London VFX house The Mill. Tasked with offering complete projects from conception to delivery, the team at Mill+ really did do it all – from character design to script writing and even penning the song that accompanies the animation.

"The core idea was to tell a story of everyday life," explains Nils Kloth, head of motion design. "It's a story of someone caught in a rut, truly unhappy, desperate for a change; dreaming of a better life without the stress and responsibility. This someone eventually embarks on a quest to set up a rural B&B going through all the peaks and valleys until Eviivo comes to help."

The concept began by using Eviivo's ‘start' buttons, the red and yellow dots over the ‘ii's in the logo. These dots became circular characters, which inhabit a colorful minimalist landscape. The lead character, the yellow button, is a city worker tired of the continual grind of the office commute, who dreams of opening his own hotel, then calls on the services of Eviivo to make his dream a successful reality."After writing the song and lyrics we embarked on the journey of creating the 3D animation," says Kloth. "For this to work we had to create three minutes of full CG animation with loads of character animation, ample scenes and plenty of particle simulation, which is a challenge in itself."

About 95% of the sequence was built and set up entirely in Cinema 4D, with rendering handled by V-Ray. "All of the designs, models and cameras came directly out of Cinema 4D," notes Kloth. "It was a very tight turnaround and the process was best kept in one application. We used V-Ray for lighting, texturing and rendering to give it that little extra." The three-minute piece was made by a team of three people using 12-core Mac Pros, and output using 64 render clients.

The flat, minimalist approach meant there wasn't much need for post work with the exception of clean-up, color grading and a few graphical elements. "All renders came out of V-Ray 1.8. In addition we rendered out some passes and mattes for post. There was no need for too much control in post due to the flat graphical appearance of the piece."

Kloth explains that the bulk of the animation takes place inside and outside the barn, which called for two main lighting setups. Depending on the scene, custom lights were added and the core setup tweaked to suit.

One of the first sequences has a reveal of the tube train in which our yellow hero is travelling to work. As the camera swings around to the side, the scene cleverly cuts away to reveal the inside of the carriage. "The bulk of this effect was a big Boolean," says Kloth. "The cube subtracting the rest was anchored to the plane while the tube carriage rotated around. We added the wallpaper texture in post and had to paint out various artefacts created by the Boolean."

As the train grinds to a halt, the rotund passengers all tumble to one end, an effect created with Cinema 4D's physics engine. Kloth explains that they used some scripting to blend between the hand-animated elements and the simulated movement.

Later on there are some impressive scenes in which the lead character is literally drowning in paperwork. For these the team turned to Cinema 4D's trusty MoGraph tools. "The sea was animated in a vaguely sea-like way using deformers, by animating a base object, then cloning the paper to that object. We then added dynamics as the final layer of the effect to get the collisions."

A more traditional river is represented by layers of extruded splines. A deformer is used to animate the splines to create the undulating waves.

The little circular characters – and some dancing sheep – were rigged using Cinema 4D's bones. "It was a very easy setup, which made animating them very straight-forward," says Kloth. "The circle characters were rigged with a custom spline-based rig, animated with Curious Animal's Spline Auto-rigging script and powered by Cinema 4D's Spline deformer." He also adds that the lead animator, Dan Fitzgerald, used a variety of the Curious Animal's other deformer plugins.

Overall, the Mill+ team seems pretty happy with the end result. "It was an unforgettable project at all levels," declares Kloth. "We'd never written a song, lyrics or had to deal with hotel management software before. The client was great, the project intense and we had great fun animating the sheep."

And with regards to Cinema 4D he suggests that the application was "essential," adding, "we couldn't have done it in any other package."

Steve Jarratt is a long-time CG enthusiast and technology journalist based in the UK.

All images courtesy of Mill+.

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