Putting the bloom into AT&T’s latest commercial
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Andy Nicholas, our Lead 3D artist explains in depth how he
helped AT&T bloom in their latest and very charming spot -
The commercial from BBDO New York featured landmarks and locations
all over the US being covered in orange flowers. The idea is that
the flowers act as a metaphor for the network coverage that
AT&T provides to its cell phone customers. Since creating
convincing vegetation in computer graphics can be a challenge it
was essential to research a variety of techniques and develop tools
in advance to make sure the shots were completed on time.
One tool was a vine-growing simulation created using ICE in Autodesk's XSI. ICE is a fast and flexible
environment which makes it easy to test a wide range of ideas very
quickly. For close ups, a hand animated rig was used in the
immediate foreground while the particle simulation was used for the
rest of the layout.
There were only a few shots in the commercial that required
seeing the vines and flowers grow together, but the growing
simulation was still used for many of the static shots (e.g.
Washington Street, Chicago) as it gave a natural coverage to the
buildings. Particle systems based on volume emission were used for
many of the wider shots and where the flowers and leaves needed to
When precise control was needed over the placement of vines,
they were hand drawn in 3D and snapped onto the underlying surface
of the building. That saved time and it helped to blend in some of
the particle generated elements.
The directors, Josh and Jonathan Baker from TWiN, had a clear
vision of exactly how far the vines and the flowers should grow on
each shot. It made life a lot easier during the layout process as
it minimised experimentation. Some of the shots were nudged or
swapped around in the edit to support the narrative as the work
progressed. Having this flexibility in the edit meant that the
buildings could help with the composition of the plants and make it
feel more natural.
The relative layout of the flowers and leaves was important.
Generally, the flowers were used to accentuate the lit areas of the
plate, while the leaves tended to be kept to the shade. Not only
did it make sense that a plant would grow that way, but it also
helped to get a better sense of depth and shape. It also meant that
the orange colours could be kept bright and it avoided the
potential for muddy browns. All of this can be seen to best effect
in the 'Randy's Donut' shot in the 60 second version.
Despite the success of these techniques, the opening shots of
the commercial go to prove that you can't beat an animator's sense
of timing and composition. Those shots work really well and the
level of control the animators have is way above what a simulation
could ever offer!
Now see all of this in action and take a look at the finished
PS: If you enjoyed this, you can also check out Andy's very own
blog for more of his insights: http://www.andynicholas.com/