Portland, Ore. - Bent Image Lab's CG animation for "The Right Blend," TRIS3CT's spot for Scott Naturals paper products, has attracted attention in recent months. Created at BENT's Portland studio, the :30 commercial consists of one continuous camera shot that takes audiences through an animated world seemingly made of hundreds of layers of paper towel. These distinctive visuals have won recognition from advertising and animation professionals alike, earning it two Silver Telly Awards and acceptance to high-profile festivals such as the Annecy International Animation Festival.
The spot's style is based on a paper cutout animation technique called Stratastencil, explained Nando Costa and David Daniels, who co-directed the spot at BENT.
"This is the first time anyone has completely recreated Stratastencil using 3D computer-generated animation," says Costa. "More than just remaking a great idea, we used CG to go beyond the limits of the practical technique."
First developed in 2007, Stratastencil is a stop-motion technique that animates shapes (stencils) created from sheets of paper. The sheets are then suspended, one over the next in a three-dimensional stack stretching away from the camera.
Like cell animation, each frame captures a new sheet in which an image is changed in small increments. Unlike cell animation, where one cell completely replaces another, each new Stratastencil sheet is placed in front of the stack while the older ones are moved back, away from the camera. The resulting animation shows motion in the stencil shape and the negative space captured by the older sheets as they move off into the distance.
The Evolution of an Idea
"We wanted to tell the green story of Kimberly-Clark's Scott Naturals using the actual product as the main visual medium," says TRIS3CT creative director Aaron Noffsinger.
"I knew that David (Daniels), one of the insane brains over at BENT, would be able to help bring this project to life on our extremely tight timeline," he continues. "BENT's collaborative spirit makes me dial them up every time I have an animation project."
Looking for animation references to help discuss the idea with Daniels, Noffsinger found Stratastencil in Javan Ivey's Pratt Institute graduate project: "My Paper Mind." Daniels recognized the work immediately because Ivey had interned at BENT the summer before and Daniels' Stratacut clay animation was the main inspiration behind "My Paper Mind." Daniels called Ivey to discuss doing a spot in Stratastencil and Ivey was excited to see what the BENT team could do with the idea.
"Stratastencil is based on David's Stratacut concepts," "Ivey says. "It just tickled me to no end to see the process come full circle like that."
Continuing to innovate the Stratastencil idea, BENT and TRIS3CT agreed to complete the project in CG to reduce production time while leaving flexibility for timing and content changes along the way. As they adapted Ivey's practical technique to the virtual world, the BENT team discovered opportunities to go beyond the possibilities of paper-only animation by incorporating the subtle perspective changes and seamless transitions between positive and negative space that distinguish the finished spot.
One of the main challenges of the project was creating the animation's main ingredient, paper, in the virtual realm. "Sheets of paper look 2D," explains Daniels. "But they're still just very thin 3D objects, with differing thickness, resiliency and other characteristics."
In order to make believable CG paper, BENT created 3D models and flattened them into silhouette mattes. These mattes behaved more like actual paper than simple 2D surfaces, offering realistic resistance to pushing, pulling and folding. The studio overcame the CG "clean factor" by finding ways to create irregular paper textures and the exposure and color shifts that give physical Stratastencil its handmade feel.
Creative compositing and editing brought the spot's six unique vignettes together to create the impression of one continuous shot as the camera flies through.
The BENT teams used 3D Studio Max for modeling and animation and V-Ray for rendering. Compositing was done in Adobe After Effects, which was also used to animate some of the elements. The commercial's final product shot is a transition from CG to a live-action shot of paper towel rolls acquired using a motion control device.
"Nando's vision took this idea to another level and his knowledge of After Effects was crucial," Noffsinger says. "These guys invented a new CG process and delivered an award-winning animation in four weeks."
Client: Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Scott Naturals
Spot Title: The Right Blend
Airdate: September 2009
Creative Director(s): Aaron Noffsinger, John Kistner
Copywriter: Dave Wasserman
Producer: Michael Antonucci
Account: Michael Hirsh
Chief Creative Officer: Paul Kuzma
Production Company: Bent Image Lab
Director(s): Nando Costa, David Daniels
Executive Producer: Ray Di Carlo
Senior Producer: Tsui Ling Toomer
Producer: Mark Axton
Coordinator: Chris Barber
Storyboard Artist: Dan Schaefer