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Mother Bird



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 birds.

"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 language."

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 in-house director."

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."





  • Agency: Leo Burnett Chicago
  • Producer: Executive Producer: Tom Keramides, Producer: Bryan Litman
  • Creative Director: Phil Jungmann. Matt Miller
  • Creatives: Copywriter: Keenan Pridmore, Art Director: Jason McKean


  • Production Company: The Mill NY
  • Director: Yann Mabille
  • Executive Producer: Director of Content: Ian Bearce
  • Producer: Nic Barnes
  • Music Company: Big Foote
    Production Services : Juice Film, South Africa


  • Editing Company: The Mill NY
  • Editor: Ryan McKenna

Post-Production / VFX

  • Post-Production / VFX Company: The Mill
  • Executive Producer: Jo Arghiris
  • VFX Producer: Boo Wong (VFX), Dee Allen (Color)
  • Shoot Supervisor: Kevin Ives
  • Creative Director: Yann Mabille
  • 2D Lead Artists: Corey Brown
  • 3D Lead Artists: Kevin Ives, Vince Baertsoen
  • 2D Artists: Robert Bruce, Iwan Zwarts, Randall Krueger
  • 3D Artists: Joshua Merck, Andreas Graichen, Henning Koczy, Jeffrey Lee, Ross Scroble, Laurent Makowski, Yong Chan Kim, Dave Barosin, Sandor Toledo, Xuan Seifert, Dan Bollwerk, Paul Liaw, Jeff Dates, Tom Cushwa, Pete Devlin
  • Colourist: Damien Van Der Cruyssen
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