Friday Flashback #398

KromA looks ‘Golden’ with colorful Scott vid

“XSI is just a lot faster than (Alias|Waverfront’s) Maya…the quality is higher, the user interface is great, and clients like it.”

Sometimes it’s the simplest visual effect shot that’s the most illuminating.

For Jill Scott’s new video “Golden,” the debut single from her new “Beautifully Human” album, the visual effects team at KromA turned the R&B songbird into an animated Lite Brite.

Midway through the video, Scott passes a girl who is sitting on a street corner playing with the toy. A close-up reveals that the girl has formed the light pegs into an uncanny likeness of Scott. The lights animate and appear to sing the song’s lyric.


Bert Yukich, who owns the 3-year-old effects shop KromA with his wife, and the studio’s executive producer, Amy Yukich, says achieving the effect was as simple as getting the video’s director Chris Robinson to drop the light box off after the shoot.

“We gave the Lite Brite to our CG animator, who built a model of it in SoftImage XSI,” Bert Yukich says. “It wasn’t terribly difficult; the trouble was getting it right. It was a sort of tedious process to get all those little lights to match Scott’s movements.”

KromA used a moving image of Scott’s face as reference and applied color to the pegs to form the singer’s face and to animate the drawing appropriately.

The team served up 60-70 shots for the video using a range of 2-D and 3-D effects animated in SoftImage XSI and composited in Avid DS.

Bert Yukich notes that when it comes to computer effects, KromA is a dedicated Avid shop.

“XSI is just a lot faster than (Alias|Waverfront’s) Maya,” he says. “The quality is higher, the user interface is great, and clients like it. When comparing (Avid’s) DS to (Discreet’s) Fire and Inferno, DS has all the same tools as both of those combined. And it has a better paint system, too.”

Later on, the “Golden” video features a series of “snapshots” of Scott’s family and friends with funny animated captions.

“I wrote out the captions and used a feature of the Avid DS to reveal them as if they were being written by hand,” KromA compositor Evan Guidera says. “I gave the captions different looks depending on who was writing them. The script for Jill, for example, is different from the more childish one I used for her kids.”

Guidera also used the Avid DS to perform extensive color correction work to achieve consistency from scene to scene and to make Scott stand out from the background by giving her a golden tone.

KromA spent about a week on the video and relied on a team of three people. Next up from KromA are the Modest Mouse video “The Ocean Breathes Salty” and a Blink-182 video that features the band members in a three-split effect.

* * * * * *

Those looking to see the year’s most innovative music videos and digitally enhanced narrative projects can catch the Los Angeles leg of the Resfest tour, which kicks off tonight with a short films program and an opening-night party featuring the first U.S. performance by Japan’s turntablist outfit Hifana at the Egyptian Theatre.

The festival showcases innovative videos, short films, film screenings, parties and tours of local motion graphics shops Motion Theory, Brand New School, Blind and Stardust.

Resfest L.A. wraps up Sunday with a Jonathan Glazer retrospective and a closing-night party featuring a live performance by the band Midnight Movies.

Friday Flashback #389

Blue Line Guy



1smIn a recent spot for AT&T, ad agency Wunderman and New York’s Quiet Man emphatically proved they know when and how to draw the line. “Blue Line Guy” is a 60-second animated spot designed to promote AT&T Worldnet Service Plus, the telecommunications leader’s all-in-one internet package that encourages all you prospective users of the service to draw from your imaginations about perfect service. By way of example, the spot offers a particularly imaginative character doing just that.

According to spot director David Shirk (Quiet Man’s head of 3D) and his team, the challenges of “Blue Line Guy” were substantial, and only exacerbated by the project’s very tight six-week deadline. As a result, most of those twenty-one days were eighteen hours long. The results, however, were definitely worth the great effort.

“It’s a good thing that we all love this job, or this project would probably have been impossible,” says Shirk with a chuckle. “The creative team was fantastic to work with. The agency producer, Sue Chiafullo, was impeccably organized and really understood what it takes to do animation. We ended up having a great time, and SOFTIMAGE®|XSI™ was a great help.”

Set against a paper-white background which occasionally and conveniently tears to reveal vital information, “Blue Line Guy” opens with an outstretched outline of a stick man using a deep-blue crayon to draw both himself and his dream internet service. When the voiceover speaks of faster log-ons, the Blue Line Guy transforms into a Zorro-type character, using his blue crayon to slash time off connection speeds. When the topic changes to instant messaging and chat services, the character speaks to his crayon and is joined by another character. Finally, slightly more fleshed-out characters appear on a crayoned computer screen to represent video email.

4smClearly unfinished but completely fluid in his motions, the crayoned character of the Blue Line Guy somehow manages to convey both the creativity of simple hand drawing with the precisely-organized planning of a blueprint. The effect is one of the purely imaginary about to made real, brilliantly exemplifying AT&T’s declared effort to turn the every day into the extraordinary.

“From the beginning, the agency knew what they didn’t want to see in the spot,” says Shirk. “They had a good storyboard, but they told us right away that they did not want the spot to look as if it were traditionally animated. Even though they wanted this character to be drawn with and carry around a blue crayon, they did not want the quirky, hand-drawn quality that the scenario might imply. It was very important to them that the Blue Line Guy look three-dimensional and have the coherence of a genuine character. Our technical director, Bradley Gabe, did a great job with shader development to help us determine how this character might look in 3D space.”Asked to describe some of the project’s bigger challenges, Gabe hesitates for a moment before replying. “Geez, where do I begin?” says Gabe. “Maintaining a level of consistency from frame to frame was one of the biggest challenges. In a texture that is meant to look like a crayon drawing, there are all kinds of problems regarding distortion whenever you’re using 3D. That was kind of tough to figure out, but the Render Tree in SOFTIMAGE|XSI helped me to develop some really great shaders. With some help from SOFTIMAGE|XSI, I was able to come up with a solution that would give us the right look, and still not hit our computers too hard.”

With just six weeks to complete the entire job, the Quiet Man animation team admits to some concerns about creating a believable animated crayon drawing in 3D. “We were quite concerned about how the final animation would look,” admits Michael Wharton, senior animator on the project. “Crayon tends to look very granular, like a bunch of dots really. With only six weeks to produce the entire spot including pre-production and rendering, we had to ensure that our production pipeline was completely established technically. For me, the challenge was animation, animation and re-animation. Following Dave’s lead, we all worked hard to get it right.”

3smPart of “getting it right” required some further yeoman service from technical director Gabe. Working through the many iterations of “Blue Line Guy”, it became increasingly clear that it would require an unusual amount of switching between FK animation, where a character’s limbs travel through space seemingly on their own power, and IK animation, where a character’s limbs are momentarily rooted to a portion of the environment it inhabits. Unlike most commercial animations, FK-IK switching was often required within a single animation.

“What I wanted to do was create a rig that would keep things as simple as possible for controlling this biped character,” Gabe explains. “When we realized that the character would have to do things such as pull a crayon and be pulled around the scene, I knew I would have to create a rig that was slightly more complex. Essentially, it was my job to set up a rig that would allow the character to do perform both FK and IK animations and occasionally switch between the two in the middle of an animation. This character rig really had to do everything.”

2smAs the project progressed and evolved, however, Gabe’s rig had to keep up with the many changes being implemented. It was at that point that SOFTIMAGE|XSI was of particular value, according to Gabe: “SOFTIMAGE|XSI has some fantastic tools for moving animations from one object to another. If you maintain a consistent naming convention that can be recognized across iterations of the character, you can transfer the animations you’ve already done to each new version of your character. We had some things to iron out, of course, but now that we’ve worked through this very challenging project, we’ll be able to use this rig on future projects.”

“The SOFTIMAGE|XSI Animation Mixer was also a big help in facilitating the process of this project,” agrees Shirk. “With all the retroactive changes made to the character’s rigging, we were able to use the Animation Mixer to create animations and easily transfer them to the new characters. We could make all kinds of changes, and it would literally take just a minute or two to get the character up again in its new version. That was awesome, because we never had to be afraid of going back to make changes. It was really, really simple to propagate them back through the chronology of the spot.”

Gabe concurs and continues: “A lot of seemingly impossible things were possible in SOFTIMAGE|XSI,” he says emphatically. “Setting up a lot of different render passes and that kind of thing took a minute instead of the hours it would have taken before. That was fantastic, especially towards the end of the project.”

And, in just sixty seconds, “Blue Line Guy” truly says it all.