Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 1 (January 2002)

Tunnel Vision

Dasani goes underground for a first-of-its-kind animation

By Karen Moltenbrey

Phactory Productions of New York made quite a splash with its recent 20-second "animated" advertisement for the Coca-Cola Company's Dasani water product, which features saturated color images of cascading water splashing inside an invisible glass. Not a typical animation, the innovative spot overflows with creative firsts, including the use of a new medium.

The ad, shown within the darkened tunnels of Atlanta's subway system, marks the first time that in-tunnel advertising has been used in the US. This new medium extends transit advertising from subway platforms into the passageways between subway stations to reach a captive audience of riders. The production is also the first to use Arete Entertainment's Advanced Fluid Simulator software and Submedia's innovative light-box display system. The 1000-foot-long display, which is mounted onto the tunnel walls, features a series of still images that are stationary yet, like a flip book, appear to move-in this instance, at some 240 frames per second as the subway car passes by at about 40 miles per hour.
Phactory Productions created a revolutionary ad campaign that features a series of high-resolution 3D images mounted on a 1000-foot-long lightbox display inside a subway tunnel. Although stationary, the images appear to move at 240 frames per second as th

"Although the technology is advanced, it's based on very primitive animation principles," explains Scott Sindorf, who along with Damijan Saccio, founded Phactory Productions. Submedia's technology is actually an evolution of the zoetrope, a nineteenth-century cylindrical device with slits that when spun made images inside the cylinder appear to move.

Using Submedia's technology requires far more and far larger images than were used in the zoetrope. In fact, the image requirements are more demanding than what is typically needed for a broadcast or film application. To achieve the 20 seconds of Dasani animation required 4800 still images, compared to 600 for an animated broadcast, to accommodate the speed of a subway train. "Passengers are seeing the succession of images at a much higher frame rate than they normally would [in a film or broadcast application]," explains Sindorf. Having worked with Submedia on test projects in the past, the artists determined that the images-approximately 31 inches high and 2.5 inches wide-would have to be output at 400 dpi for a crisp, clean look.

The team used Softimage|3D running on Boxx Technologies' NT workstations to create the high-resolution 3D images, environments, text, and camera moves. Rendering was performed on the Boxx workstations running Mental Images' mental ray in Soft image. Also, the artists used Softimage's fluid generator to create the water used in the previsualization. But for the final animation, the team wanted the most realistic water possible, because the fluid dynamics are the focal point of the spot. So they approached Arete, known for its realistic water-surface effects, and the software developer agreed to let the animators use its Advanced Fluid Simulator, which was (and still is) under development. "At the time, the software was still pure proprietary code, with no interface," says Saccio. "Our project was the first time the software was used commercially in the US, and their programmers worked with us to get the software to do what we needed."

Prior to visiting Arete, the artists conducted tests to determine what types of rendering passes would be required to simulate a surface texture for the water, since technically there are no texture maps associated with water properties, just levels of transparency, reflection, and refraction. Al though the artists knew what types of splashes and waves they wanted, achieving the results required two weeks of exploration, during which they generated more than 85 different simulations using Arete's software. "The motion was based on actual dynamics, so it wasn't a matter of saying, 'I want a ripple this big,'" says Saccio. "In stead, we had to move the fluid spout, alter the air pressure, and change the velocity a little-then see if we got what we were looking for."

When the simulation was completed, the Phactory artists rendered four different compositing passes-transparency, reflection, matte, and environment-to create the water imagery. Phactory then created another environment pass, during which the colors were fine-tuned, then composited the Arete water layers, along with other effects layers, using Adobe Systems' After Effects.
The artists used Arete Entertainment's Advanced Fluid Simulator, which is still under development, to generate realistic fluid dynamics for the subway animation.

Unlike with other projects, the artists couldn't review the final animation on a computer screen. Instead, they visited Submedia's New Jersey facility and tested the animation by driving a golf cart past a mock setup. "We tweaked a few things, like the color saturation, to make sure the images reflected the blues that Dasani uses in its branding," notes Sindorf.

The opportunity to introduce a unique advertising spot presented a welcome challenge for the two Columbia architectural design graduates who formed Phactory Productions. "We had to make something that was eye-catching and intriguing, which wasn't always easy since we were working with new technologies," says Sindorf. But the effort has apparently paid off, as the advertisement is generating a buzz among Atlanta's subway riders. In the future, more subway patrons around the country may be treated to similar tunnel visions.

Key Tool: Advanced Fluid Simulator, Arete Entertainment (