Crafting the Perfect Character Ambassador for Chantix

Work April 10, 2020

For over a year, The Mill has been working with frequent collaborator, Y&R, releasing a series of spots for their client CHANTIX (varenicline). Originally, the team was tasked with creating the new brand ambassador — a full CGI turkey that embodies the potential to quit cigarette smoking ‘slow turkey’.

Led by Creative Director Jeffrey Dates, The Mill team worked closely with Y&R and CHANTIX to collaborate on the final character design, while introducing endearing character moments into the script for both narrative and creative effects.

 Since the initial development, The Mill has produced over 7 spots fully in-house for the brand. We caught up with some of the VFX team to get a little insight on the development and execution of the character. 

CG Artist Scott Denton who worked on the first set of CHANTIX spots comments “We had a lot of creative freedom [with the turkey]. We were given some initial sketches, but more or less given a good amount of free reign to create the look and feel of the model. The first initial iterations were very cartoony, however we worked back towards the turkey being closer to a mix of both [cartoony and realistic].

Nailing the look and feel was the toughest challenge, we went through around 100 iterations before getting to the final character that you see in the commercial. We initially developed a concept sculpt in Zbrush just of the turkey’s head which went through many versions before adding it to the body. I then sculpted a posed version with sculpted feathers to show what it possibly would look like when posed, so the client could get a better idea and feel of the Turkey’s character.”

The turkey contains 6,427 body feathers, 94 flight feathers and eight scalp feathers. They were simulated using a custom feather setup built by the lead VF artist within SideFX’s Houdini, which made the process more efficient.

FX Artist Dave Barosin explains, “the first step was to detangle the initial feather groom that the artists created in Maya using The Mill’s custom fur and feather tool called Furtilizer. Once the groom was sorted and detangled, we simulated the feathers to interact with props, clothing and the many other feathers on the turkey.” The artists initially developed a concept sculpt in ZBrush of just the turkey’s head, which underwent numerous changes and versions before they added it to the body of the model. The artist then sculpted a posed version with sculpted feathers to show what the model might look like when posed, giving the client a better feel for the character.

For the turkey’s clothing the group used Marvelous Designer, 3D software for virtual clothes and fabrics, along with Maya and ZBrush.

The artist sought to develop a nuanced style of animation that brings personality and character to the turkey.

Barosin adds “the color and bumpiness of the skin, the peach fuzz hair on the head and neck, the size and pattern of the feathers all evoke an esthetic response. We felt the turkey should appear clean, friendly, healthy and have the ability to emote through facial expressions. The turkey exists in a realistic turkey world where it would wear clothing, drive a car and own a home so we needed to design the wings and feathers to interact with many props and set pieces.

As with the approach for the turkey’s design, we wanted the same balance of realistic and cartoon-like behavior for the animation performance. We experimented with a variety of animation styles during the development stage and landed on what ended up being a very understated, natural performance. The acting is in the subtle details like eye blinks, head tilts and well-timed hesitations. The humor is in the situation and the low key performance only helps that come across. The turkey’s signature actions are the cold shiver and heel click that we see in each spot. The animators did a great job maintaining a consistent quality and personality for the turkey across all spots.”

Check out the CHANTIX Turkey working it’s neighborhood fair in our latest release, CHANTIX “Volunteer.”