I had been working a few weekends on several Doritos spots. I’ve shot Steadicam, I’ve done some 3D tracking doing some monitor-replacements, as well as some effects for a number of spots. But it was the sound guy Alex Shapcott on one of the shoots who wanted to direct a hybrid live-action animated spot with little Dorito chips. The shoot would happen in three days, and the deadline was one week.
I was hooked.
Once we met to go over storyboards, the shoot was booked and we were on our way. In all, there were 13 FX shots for the 30 second spot. We would be shooting 24p in 720p HD using the Panasonic 200. DOP Steve Whitehead had plenty of experience shooting for FX, so everything came to me perfect.
I stopped by onset to take some mental measurements of the space, and get an idea of where the lights were.
What I was concerned with was whether or not the latest version of my 3D software was going to be able to handle the extreme Depth of Field. It turns out my concerns were unwarranted.
Lightwave has always been known for having an exceptionally good renderer, but in the past, motion blur and DOF have always been a signature problem. You could tell a Lightwave rendered shot by it’s nasty layered effect when in reality you would expect things to be much smoother. Well, the new Lightwave did not disappoint! Although plugins like XDOF still exist for proper bokeh effects, the included DOF settings worked really well with a minor bit of tweaking.
So off to the grocery store to pick up some Doritos “$” brand, as well as a plain flavour for our male character.
I started modeling in Modo but gravitated to Lightwave because the geometry wasn’t that complicated, and I can still work faster in Lightwave for basic jobs. I still want to learn to use Modo faster than Lightwave! But with a deadline of less than a week for everything, this was not going to be the job.
The footage was shot locked off, and I used Combustion to add a hand-held effect to everything. Working in non-interlaced HD is always such a joy.
Rendering became a big problem, as I upgraded Lightwave and ButterflyNetRender at the same time. Thanks to the patient assistance of Paul Lord, we were able to isolate the problem to the plugins Proximity or Range Finder. I pulled them both and the rendering moved very quickly after that.
I was also hoping to make use of the new EXR format to handle by shadow and DOF passes, but in the end I used regular TGA files and utilized the feature in Lightwave under properties>advanced that assigned the shadow map to the front projection mapped ground. This allowed for quick and easy compositing of the CGI over the live action. Pros might look down on this low tech solution, but it worked and was quick and easy. Caution: make sure you use a unique shadow catching plane for each scene! And as mentioned earlier, the new DOF looks great. Just turn up the Adaptive Samping. The setting we ended up using was:
Anti-Aliasing = 1
Adaptive Samping = 0.03
Over Sampling = 0.5
Render times ranged from under a minute to twenty minutes, but were swiftly handled by BNR.
In Combustion I composited the CGI foregrounds over the live action backgrounds, used the awesome Discreet colour corrector to power window parts of the shot, remove elements, or add a customizable soft vignette.
One of the reasons I think Lightwave isn’t used more, and one of the reasons I’m not working in animation professionally as much as I’d like, is the role of generalist has long died off. Lightwave is good for doing all sorts of things, but it’s not necessarily great. And in many cases it’s not very customizable. It can be run very smoothly by just one guy, which doesn’t lend itself well to a studio environment. But that’s also it’s strength. I don’t think I could have pulled off this level of quality as quickly as I did, with another app.
I would also like to point out any animator’s best friend when it comes to assembling the final timeline is Sony Vegas Pro. It seamlessly refreshes new animation if even only one frame was updated, it doesn’t mind dealing with a series of TGA files vs. a single Quicktime file (FCP still can’t do that), the colour correction is really clean, the secondary colour correction (which I used to time the CGI chips to the real chips in all shots where both were present) was Symphony calibre and much easier to use. As someone who uses Final Cut Pro and Avid professionally, nothing can beat Vegas if you’re doing production animation work with lots of change and lots of little tweaks. The timeline was kept to 720p and final renderings came off that.
My thanks go out to Alex Shapcott the Director, Paul at Liquid Solutions for the weekend tech support, the DOP Steven Whitehead, Brian Collins, Richard Pierre, Kyle Milligan, and the cast and crew that made this remarkable project come together. I’d also like to apologize to my wife and three kids for not being available to play outside on this glorious weekend!
Now go and vote!
Writer and Director: Alexander Shapcott
Director of Photography: Stephen Whitehead
Visual Effects Supervisor, Compositing and Animation: Rick Dolishny
Sound Designer: Brian Collins
Grip and Electric: Dan Luizinho
Production Assistance: Suzanne Stalker
Actor: Dan Fox
Actress: Jenny Michaels