January 3, 2014


Cinesite makes some noise with its hilarious short film as it looks to a future with animated content.

"Beans" is a short, cheeky, 50-second film with an unexpected ending.

Written and directed by Animator Alvise Avati, it was completed by the London-based team at Cinesite, who were behind the visual effects on World War Z, Skyfall, Iron Man 3 and many other major productions. The studio recently completed work on 300: Rise of an Empire, Jack Ryan, Into The Storm and The Monuments Men. The short features high-quality modeling, texturing and technical effects, but most importantly, it demonstrates the expected high standard of the Cinesite animation team.

According to Managing Director Antony Hunt, over the past few months, the group has been looking at ways of developing and showcasing the skills they have in-house. "Animated content is a potential business area that we have been interested in for some time," he adds.

Says Animation Director Eamonn Butler, "Developing our own content gave us creative control and proved to be an invaluable way to show what the Cinesite team is capable of. I see shorts and in-house projects like this as essential to our creative development, and it's something we are committed to. We've had a lot of fun making 'Beans,' and I hope people have as much fun watching and sharing it."

Click here to see "Beans" and the " Making of Beans video".

Beans by Cinesite

Here, Director Alvise Avati and Producer Eamonn Butler discuss the project "Beans."

What was the initial premise for Beans, and how did you come up with the idea?

Avati: I've always been interested in commercials, and this was a way of building my portfolio and developing ideas. What I love about the commercial format is the discipline required to tell a story in just 25 to 30 seconds. Good commercials are like short films; they are a great way to communicate ideas quickly and persuasively. 

I was working with Cinesite at the time I was developing the initial idea. 

Butler:  What appealed to me immediately about 'Beans' was the opportunity for Cinesite to be creative and generate our own content.  Alvise had created an animatic by this stage, while he was working with us on Edge of Tomorrow. I knew straight away that it would be perfect for what we were looking to do. 'Beans' is self-contained, short and funny. It could also be completed in a relatively short time frame, so it ticked every box for us. With the skills we have here, I knew we could add great production value and have a lot of fun making it.

We began work in May 2013 and finished it at the end of October.

What concept was there for the look? Was there a specific style you were hoping to achieve?

Butler: Alvise had gathered loads of photographic reference for the look of the astronauts, like NASA photographic footage of the moon landing. He also had some cool jumping off points in terms of the creature design. We jumped straight into designing the creature in a very collaborative way. Alvise was sculpting, I was adjusting, and the whole team had some involvement in generating the look.

Beans by Cinesite

How was the alien monster designed? What influences did you use?

Butler:  We always knew we wanted him to be big, bipedal, with short, stocky arms and a little head (not too intelligent looking!), but it took us a while to settle on his color. We attempted versions in brown and gray, which blended in too much with the environment. VFX Supervisor Richard Clarke pushed the chroma toward bright red, with a crustacean reference. This was more exciting, but did not sit in the plate well. We added a lot of dirt and dust on the creature's skin, which really helped integrate it into the environment. We settled on a less-saturated red color, so the creature looked suitably alien and other-worldly.

The monster's face is surrounded by mandibles, which are closed when we first see him. When he roars, everything opens up and his mouth looks shocking and big. The gag here was to make his roar as dramatic as we possibly could. When we first see the creature, his mouth looks small because it's hidden by the mandibles; but when he roars, his mandibles open up and flap around, revealing a massive gaping maw filled with moving claws. We also added a biological luminescence to the inside of the mandibles to draw attention to his mouth when it opened.

Avati: We see the creature quite briefly, and we were aware that the detail in him could get lost. I had initially wanted his eyes to glow, particularly when he comes out of the shadows at the start.  In the end, we added bioluminescence effects to his head to make him stand out. 

The monster moves quickly. He crushes the first spaceman, rips the second and crushes the third, but we were concerned not to make the violence too graphic. We softened the effect by covering the astronaut victims with dust and debris. This also added to the creature's overall sense of power, as a huge cloud of dirt explodes every time he slams his fists down on the astronauts.

How much space research did you need to do?

Avati: We looked at NASA footage as a reference for astronauts moving with low gravity. We also referenced the speed of movement and the weight of real dust on the moon. We referenced Lunar Rover footage, which was very useful. We were interested in how motion is affected by gravity. In 'Beans,' the astronauts move very slowly, which is very close to reality and what we would expect to see on the lunar surface.

Unlike the spacemen, the monster's movement is not inhibited by gravity issues. This was a creative decision to have the astronauts impeded by the lower gravity but not the monster. We needed him to look huge, weighty and powerful as he utterly destroys the astronauts.

Butler: At the start of the short, the environment needed to be a realistic representation of the moon's surface. We establish the context of the film as almost documentary-like. Then we flip the audience's expectations over to create contrast and, ultimately, surprise them with humor at the end; it's this change that helps make it funny. We wanted it to push our photorealistic effects hard to show off the skills we have.

Richard Clarke researched camera types used to film on the moon; they were generally 70mm with a fixed focal length. Audiences are used to seeing moon footage with a big depth of field, so we tried to replicate that.

Also, because it is so bright on the moon, cameras don't pick up stars, so we kept space dark in order to be photographically accurate. Adding dust and halation to the lens meant that we could have some visual interest in the part of the frame where the stars were expected to be.

Butler: Andreas Vrhovsek worked on the FX to create realistic dust being kicked up from the moon's surface. Initially, our highly realistic dust simulations created using [Side Effects'] Houdini looked like CG particle animation, so we introduced a layered approach. Some were simple, with particles reacting with each other; some were fluid-based. Some were cloudy, and others clumped together. We created several dust passes and tweaked the gravity on each dust kick to make it look better.

In reality, big rocks and dust actually fall at the same pace on the moon, but when we re-created this it just didn't look right, so we had to make adjustments.

The dust effects helped demonstrate how powerful and dynamic the monster was. They also helped cover up the gory bits.

Talk me through the team who worked on "Beans." Who contributed what?

Avati: Eamonn worked on the muscles of the creature. We developed a pipeline utilizing two rigs for animation, where I would keyframe-animate on one rig, while Eamonn simultaneously worked on the muscle rig. We worked in tandem, adjusting and making changes as necessary. We ended up with many muscle controls on the creature, which we added as we went along, based on the requirements of the animation. It was very quick and easy to update both rigs, and the process allowed for quick updates as we went along, giving the animator a lot of freedom.

Butler: Alvise contributed most of the animation. We brought on some more animators at the end, and they cleaned up the astronauts. Because 'Beans' is essentially one long scene, this was the smartest way to do it; it would have been hard to split up the monster animation.

Essentially, we only animated the muscles you could see, so areas like the creature's foreground attacking arm had far more control, allowing for finer animation detail to be added. Ultimately, we had about 38 controls. We used a combination of shape targets and clusters to generate muscle tightening and bulging.

VFX Supervisor Richard Clarke pulled it all together from animation onward in terms of rendering and effects. He oversaw the work to completion.

Graham Curtis worked on the detail of the monster, his skin, texture and so forth. Royston Willcocks created much of the lunar surface and astronaut build. Nicolette Newman created textures, Richard Boyd the animation rigs, Andreas Vrhovsek contributed the FX, Zave did the heavy compositing and Joel Bodin and Nikos Gatos the lighting. That is by no means a definitive list; 'Beans' was definitely a team effort.

Can you tell us about the role of sound on "Beans"?

Butler: We wanted the sound and music to be dramatic and cinematic. It needed to sound like an epic film trailer. We made a scratch track ourselves from sound effects we purchased online and worked to it for a few months before calling in the big guns....

Molinare kindly offered to help us with the digital intermediate, grading and sound. They mixed a 5.1 theatrical version as well as an optimized web version.

What did Cinesite set out to achieve with "Beans?"

Butler: From Cinesite's perspective, we're used to working with film directors, helping them to create their vision. With 'Beans,' we wanted the creative vision to be ours.

The usual process for us involves bidding for a show, winning it, completing it, delivering it and then waiting for theatrical release before we can use it in our show reel. I wanted to update Cinesite's reel with some awesome creature animation within a year, and 'Beans' gave us an opportunity to do this and to take some control over releasing our work.

Another key aim for 'Beans' was a pretty simple one: to make people laugh. This movie is essentially a gag, and the payoff is unexpected. We had a lot of fun building the contrast between the serious beginning and funny ending.

How do you think it has turned out?

Avati: I love it. I think that the ending is unpredictable and unexpected for the audience. It surprises, which is what I always try to do in stories.

Butler: Visually, it's spectacular. I think it's compelling, cool and the scale is epic. It hooks the audience from the very beginning with its realism. It's believable, and at the same time, it's slightly ridiculous. We've created an awesome creature, but essentially it's all about the laugh. The humor in 'Beans' is universal. No language is required; everyone gets it.