CG Robins Take Flight in Hallmark's "Motherbird"
In Leo Burnett Chicago's new spot for Hallmark, "Motherbird,"
the "empty nest" metaphor is taken literally as we watch a baby
Robin hatch, grow and fly off to find her independence. The birds
were created entirely in CG.
Directed by The Mill NY's Yann Mabille, we enter the very
private life of a mother Robin raising her only chick. The team was
able to recreate specific moments that conveyed human emotion so
that the viewer would easily identify and feel compassion for the
"It was crucial to clearly show the intimacy and tenderness
between the two birds while also displaying the beauty and scale of
the environment in which the birds live," explains Mabille. "I was
trying to position the viewer in a prime seat right in front of a
stage; in this case, the nest. I wanted to avoid the voyeuristic
tone that some documentaries have and create a more cinematic and
elegant feel. I wanted the viewer to feel privileged to witness
some rare moments in a bird's life while always being reminded
about their fragility and beauty."
One of the more challenging aspects of this project was
animating the birds and getting their behavior right. "Birds appear
rather emotionless and even mechanical in their motion," notes
Mabille. "They are sometimes very stiff and have no facial
expressions at all, so most of the behavior reads in body
Because of the birds' lack of portrayed emotion, it was
important for the team to illustrate scenes that would allow for a
quick emotional read like an egg hatching or a mother bird
sheltering her chick in a storm. While always remaining within the
boundaries of what they perceived as realistic, the team introduced
more emotional behaviors, such as the birds looking at each other
at key moments, blinking and hesitating.
Another crucial task was creating the feather system because
every five days the baby bird transforms so dramatically. Co-Lead
3D Artist Vince Baertsoen created a feather system that could be
applied to any type of bird. "We knew we had to create five
different birds--the mother and the chick in four different stages.
Co-Lead 3D Artist Kevin [Ives] and I worked together in tandem on
the look of the birds," explains Baertsoen. "We are very proud of
this feather system. We managed to implement it in a month and fine
tune it during the duration of the project, and the range of
features is now pretty amazing. We can now groom any type of bird
very quickly in exteme detail, quality and resolution. We didn't
expect to be so close to these birds when we started the project
and see so many details."
"Because the birds are fully CG, pre-visualisation was invaluable
to the process. All of the shots were blocked out with rough models
of the birds so we could make quick adjustments to the story," says
Ives. "It was truly a group effort. It became apparent early in the
process that this was a very special project that allowed us to
both flex our technical muscles and achieve a kind of subtle
storytelling that can only be accomplished with the attention of an
Shooting good reference was also crucial. The team shot footage
of birds landing, interacting with the nest and being fed. A very
young chick and birds in slightly older stages of growth were
constantly on set.
The Mill Editor Ryan McKenna and 3D Artist Josh Merck worked hand
in hand to generate the birds' actions, since the live action
footage was only used for reference. Says Mabille, "During
the creative process, there was a lot of arm flapping in the
offices. In meetings we were trying our best to make bird
impressions, and we would find ourselves staring at a room full of
crazy humans flapping arms in all directions."