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October 14th, 2016

Mill+ collaborated with Camp + King to put a modernized spin on the iconic Energizer Bunny in a series of CG spots dubbed ‘Bigger, Better, Bunnier’.

In creating the six-part campaign, the team was tasked with updating the Energizer Bunny’s character design, giving him a greater range of features to showcase his personality and evolution as a 27-year-old brand icon. We spoke with Mill+ Director Robert Sethi, Animation Lead Jacob Bergman and 3D Lead Artist Jason Monroe to learn more about the process.

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THE CONCEPT

Artists at The Mill set out to follow Camp + King’s vision to boost the overall design, matching the advancement of the Energizer brand while maintaining his plausibility as an animatronic puppet. The team sought to strike a balance between a realistic and stylized look, a process that would not only enhance the Energizer Bunny’s physical appearance, but extend his performance range as well.

'Power Suit' Sketch

Robert shares, “It’s always an incredibly fun experience to engage with character design. This was a rare opportunity to work on such an iconic character as the Energizer Bunny: he’s confident, lovable and a bit sassy, and it was important to keep that intact.”

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The action in the spots would be kept somewhat simple, allowing the Bunny room to show off his new look. “It’s an update to the character, basically,” says Robert. “The spots are all about focusing on him and his personality, so we wanted to let him do his thing and set him in relatively simple, graphic CG environments.”

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ANIMATION

How should he move? How could the team take his heritage as an animatronic puppet and kick it up to the next level?

Those were the major questions tackled by the animation team as they worked to find a happy medium. One of the first steps in locking in the Energizer Bunny’s character was to create a walk cycle, which helped facilitate the character’s transition from mechanized to animated.

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Jacob, who spearheaded the animation process, shares,” Getting the right look down for his walk was a big step. We went back and forth between ideas, trying to decide how much we were going to push the animation. Was he going to remain slightly robotic, or a lot more flexible?”

To allow Camp + King and Energizer to envision the new look of him right off the bat, the team conducted motion tests in multiple environments. The ability to see him in both CG and live action settings suddenly made him feel real, paving the way for the rest of the campaign.

Animation Test - CG Environment

In order to get the greatest possible impact from the motion tests, Jacob explains, “Rather than simply animating a playblast, we went the extra mile: we added fur, shot in an outside environment, and composited it all together with animation, and he looked like a real bunny.” The outdoor test was even shot right outside of The Mill’s Los Angeles studio.

Animation Test - Live Action Environment

As a result of the tests, the final look fell somewhere in the middle of the robotic-to-animated spectrum. The somewhat limiting shakes and wobbles associated with the animatronic style were balanced with bouncier, more lively movements, advancing the character while keeping him grounded in the real world.

“Now that we’d found that happy medium,” says Jacob, “things can happen faster. We knew the character and his limits inside and out.”

CG & LIGHTING

The Energizer Bunny’s new and improved set of moves allowed him greater freedom to interact with accessories, such as a mallet or a carrot. His fingers and toes became more distinguishable allowing him to be more expressive, and an upgraded set of meticulously crafted fur – fluffy tail included.

“Camp + King sent us physical swatches of different textures and colours to play around with, one for his body and another for his tail,” Jason recalls. “They defined the general boundaries of what they envisioned while at the same time giving us a great sandbox to play within.”

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When it came to the lighting of the character, the big challenge for Jason and his team was figuring out how to take something completely artificial and use just the right lighting to make it appear real.

Jason explains, “We wanted to put the him in a lit environment that showcases the character animation, but also makes you feel like it was shot on a sound stage. Our ultimate goal was to get audiences asking, ‘Whoa, did they shoot that for real?’ The key was to convey a stylized, yet tangible sense at the same time.”

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THE RESULT

Part of the beauty of the Energizer Bunny’s redesign is its dynamism. Notes Jason, “In re-creating the him, the cool thing is you’ve got an asset you can put into any environment. Whether he’s walking around New York City or the boardwalk in Santa Monica, you can put him anywhere.”

Adds Sethi, “This campaign allowed us to draw on all areas of the business and deliver a complete, end-to-end solution, from conceptualizing the new design to animating, lighting and rendering. It was a great collaborative process with Camp + King and, from a VFX standpoint, here at The Mill. We used quite a range of skills – character design, fur grooming, texturing, compositing, character animation – to help usher the Energizer Bunny into this next phase."

Watch 'Power Suit' and 'Fluffy Tail' below: