60 Seconds with Mill Creative Director Donnie Bauer on crafting CGI peanut butter treats, trying out the product you’re recreating & working remotely

Thought November 3, 2020

Tell us about the process of working on this project? 

This is one of those projects that fit our Design Studio perfectly, it was executed in CGI but from a Designer’s point of view, from the camera moves to the typography and even to the use of the product, there is stylization throughout. Since we had multiple ads to deliver within the same campaign – we began with a style frame process that helped us dial in a look and feel that we could easily adapt to each script. 

We also identified a workflow that would allow us to capitalize on uniformity across project file and scene setups. This way no matter how many artists were to work on this job, there were very clear creative goals along with a project organization to ensure that everything looked as tight as possible across the four spots. Through this process, we worked through style frames, animatics, previs animation, and ultimately final animation and renders. This was all contained within our talented (and flexible) Design Studio out of Chicago.


How important is it to try out the product you’re recreating in CG before you get started?

In this case, crucial! Our client was kind enough to send us a gigantic box packed with peanut butter cups, jars of peanut butter and packs of almond butter. Suffice to say – they did not last long and we were soon asking for more ‘reference’ material. Jokes aside, we do follow the same formalities as your CG pipeline artists, reference is everything. So yes, we always request the products so we can photograph, model, light and shade to the specifications of the product.

What was the most challenging part of this project? 

I talked a little bit about our workflow to ensure consistency across ads, but the most essential was nailing the movement of our virtual camera in each film. We dialed up a certain ‘personality’ for the camera movement in one spot – then needed to find that same ‘voice’ across the other ads. Since the product and other props in the frame aren’t necessarily creating a lot of action, we needed the camera movement to work much harder for us. In the end, we found the feel we were looking for but it took a few rounds and lots of collaboration on our artist’s part.


What software and methods did you use to create this piece? 

We leaned on software that we typically use day to day within our team. Maxon Cinema 4D was our main tool. We designed, animated, textured, and rendered every shot through C4D and handed them to our Flame artists for some light compositing and color grading.

This was one of the last projects your team created before lockdown – can you tell us how the workflow process has changed?

We had just wrapped this project before we all went into lockdown. It was the last project we shipped just before we went completely remote. I think in March I would have given you a different answer but I fully believe that working remotely has forced us to be much better communicators. Our project organization and planning is much improved. I believe we’ve all learned a lot of lessons during this time that we will gladly take with us once we return to the office. One thing is for sure, we are all missing each other’s company greatly. 


What’s inspiring you now?

So many things, currently I’m watching a lot of old movies by directors like Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Alfred Hitchcock. This answer may seem odd when in the context of a design and animation interview but looking back at legendary filmmaking will most certainly make you a better storyteller and whether it’s motion graphics, animation, or live-action, at the end of the day we are all trying to tell a story no matter how big or small. I always love the idea of taking fundamental storytelling and cinematography techniques to drive Design and CGI executions. Trends in our field will come and go, but conceptual thinking and good storytelling are timeless.


To get in touch with our Design Studio about any upcoming projects click here or check out more of Donnie’s work via his Creator Profile.