May 18, 2007

RIOT Teams with Campbell-Edward, Lucy Films on Michelin Man Spot

Los Angeles - RIOT has teamed with Detroit agency Campbell-Ewald and Lucy Films to create an inspired campaign for Michelin that offers a peek inside an imaginary “workshop” where “the road of tomorrow is being created today.”
RIOT, which practices an integrated approach to digital production, produced the complex spot, aside from the live action elements, entirely in-house, providing design, production supervision, animation, visual effects, and postproduction services.

The spot highlights Michelin’s work to improve tires and make the world a better place. It opens with an aerial view of the Michelin workshop and then journeys inside where Michelin Man is testing tires and installing recycled rubber material in a children’s playground to communicate the company’s commitment to finding alternative uses for end-of-life tires. At the end of the spot, the Michelin Man invites a woman to drive her car out of the workshop and into the idyllic countryside beyond.

RIOT’s Cris Blyth served as creative director on the project and said its intent is to differentiate the Michelin brand from other tire makers through the company’s commitment to safety and environmental leadership. “The spot is lighthearted in tone but it also delivers a serious message about the precision work being undertaken by Michelin engineers,” he says.

RIOT became involved in the project during its conceptual stage and assisted Campbell-Ewald’s creative team in designing the Michelin workshop as well as many other environmental elements for the spot. “We designed a building that we thought Michelin would be proud to actually build,” Blyth says.

RIOT’s designs for the Michelin workshop and its operations are being incorporated into the company’s general branding. A new microsite, has been launched, based on the workshop design. (The spot and a behind-the-scenes “making of” video are among the features of the microsite.)

The live action portions of the project were produced by Lucy Films with RIOT providing on-set supervision. They included a helicopter shoot at Tejon Ranch near Los Angeles to capture the background environment for the exterior view of the workshop. The workshop itself was a CG element as were the two strips of highway and lines of cars that appear in the foreground of the shot. The production team also spent a day on a stage shooting actors, cars, a playground set, and other elements, most of which were composited into the workshop’s interior.

Significantly, the live-action shoots occurred after the designs of the digital elements were complete. “Typically, live-action elements are shot at the beginning of the project,” observes RIOT executive producer Mathew McManus. “In this instance, the shoot was largely predicated on the design of the Michelin Man city and the pre-vis. We worked through those issues before we shot. Focusing on the creative aspects first gave us the greatest flexibility. We weren’t locked into what production had shot.”

Meanwhile, the studio’s animation department was busy creating and animating the Michelin Man characters. Although CG versions of the character have appeared in other Michelin spots, this was by far the most extensive use of CG, as more than a dozen of the characters are used, several of whom interact directly with live-action characters.

The Michelin Man’s unique profile—he is meant to resemble a stack of tires—dictated the approach to the animation. “We segmented the character into a series of geometric shapes,” notes RIOT CG supervisor Andy Wilkoff. “That allowed us to automate parts of the animation and make what could have been a cumbersome process proceed quickly and smoothly.”

RIOT employs a variety of software tools to accomplish different technical functions and creative tasks with maximum ease and flexibility. On this project, it employed Autodesk’s Maya and 3ds Max, and NewTek’s Lightwave for various animation functions, V-ray for lighting and rendering, and Digital Fusion for compositing. To ensure the seamless transfer of files, RIOT programmers wrote proprietary links between the various software programs.

RIOT’s pipeline also includes DI for color correction. DI colorist Siggy Ferstl set an initial look for the live-action elements, and that became the basis for the animators in setting the look of the digital elements.

After the spot was composited, Ferstl used the studio’s da Vinci Resolve system for final color grading of the composited material. At RIOT, the Resolve is mounted to a central server that is shared with the VFX department. That allowed Ferstl to access updated changes to digital files as they were made by the animation team. Using da Vinci’s ColorTrace, Ferstl was able to synchronize complex color grades, which included tracking information and nested dynamics, onto the new shot versions that the VFX department was continuously feeding him.

“Workflow is such an important part of what we do,” Ferstl says. “Resolve’s speed and flexibility allowed me to deliver the commercial on time, while its color toolset gave me the freedom to create.”