The spot drops the viewer into a lush meadow filled with hundreds of unique and sinister flowers. The bucolic setting suddenly becomes a man-versus-nature shootout, and the spot leverages stylized CG visuals to deliver both the look and feel of an intense first-person shooter game.
HOM’s proprietary animation pipeline is unique in that it leverages the real-time capabilities of game engine rendering for broadcast-quality imagery. HOM artists were able to efficiently conduct extensive previsualization for the Levoreact spot, constructing the spot’s environments and other features, including flower animation, lighting, and particle effects, and CG character animation based on performance data from a preliminary mocap shoot. Using the game engine, the HOM team worked side by side with director Sonzero to manipulate a virtual camera in the previs environment in real time, which allowed Sonzero to examine various camera angles and effects to quickly tweak and revise the spot as needed.
“The really cool thing about our pipeline is that we were able to work in a fully textured environment from the beginning, with dynamic sunlight and swaying trees and everything,” explained Peter Krygowski, producer/editor, HOM. “Having so much of the spot fleshed out so early was pretty mind-blowing for the client, and it was great for us because when we transitioned into the production phase it was just a matter of upgrading and finessing those environments to make them high quality, hi-res renders. We were way ahead of the curve.”
After previs was completed, the HOM team conducted a full motion-capture shoot, modeling elements in Pixologic’s ZBrush and working in Autodesk’s MotionBuilder to animate the final CG character. HOM artists spent over two months creating the final CG environments – designing and animating the flowers to “fire” like guns, determining final object placement within the environment, experimenting with depth, and more. Since Unreal leverages GPU power, frames could be rendered on only six workstations with an average render time of three to four minutes, which proved invaluable during production as changes could be made and re-rendered in hi-res within the same day.
“The power and speed of working this way gives us unparalleled flexibility on any type of project and allow us to deliver things that others cannot,” said Krygowski. “Leveraging game engine technology in our pipeline allows us to work with a relatively small team and without a render farm or any expensive hardware, which helps us stay under budget and avoid an infrastructure overhaul. And its reliable speed allows our team to focus on creative output instead of wasting time on endless renders."
For instance, in the Levoreact spot, just the last shot of the character walking away had a 12 billion-polygon count alone. "Normally we would have needed a matte painter to help with the background and it would have taken days to render, but with this pipeline, we could handle it ourselves – and in just 18 minutes per frame of render time – which saved us both money and time," said Krygowski. "Unreal was really a great choice to incorporate into our commercial pipeline – it handles everything we threw at it, and its performance has completely exceeded our expectations.”