A Cat Tale
Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 10 (October 2002)

A Cat Tale

A team of digital artists from Glassworks, a London animation and effects house, was extremely finicky about creating the first in a series of 3D television commercials for Kitekat cat food, which is airing now in the UK.

The 30-second spot, created by Glassworks with London-based Passion Pictures, features Cattus Kitekattus, a computer-generated cat who plays cat's cradle on a garden wall as a man walks by with a fish, followed by a butcher carrying meat. Surprisingly, the cat turns its nose up at the tasty morsels. But when its owner arrives with Kitekat, the cat lassoes a package of the food with the string, and begins to chow down.

Glassworks artists created the cat model in Alias|Wavefront's Maya, using a clay model produced by Passion Pictures as a guideline. "We followed the design but also had to take into account how we were going to animate it," says artist Sean Elliott. "I used a polygonal model, rather than a NURBS model, so we wouldn't have joins and seams. This helped when it came time to apply the fur and textures."

Elliott notes that the artists visited a veterinary college for a lesson on cat skeletons, so they would have a better sense of how to animate the model in particularly complex areas such as the shoulders. "Passion also provided us with 2D line drawings as a guideline for the animation," he says, "but it's so much easier to draw in depth and distortion with 2D animation than it is to achieve in 3D, especially when it comes to getting the desired softness and fluidity into the animation."

To texture the model, the team used Maya's built-in Fur tool. "Yet, we wanted to control the direction of the fur along the length of the cat's body," says 3D artist Rory Mark. "So we wrote a plug-in that allowed us to draw curves in the direction we needed the fur to lie. That created a map for controlling the polarization of the fur, thereby laying it in the correct direction." The completed model was then composited into the CG.background using Apple Computer/Nothing Real's Shake and Discreet's flame. —KM

Maya, Alias|Wavefront;

This stylized 3D cat steals the scene, and the food, in a TV commercial airing in the UK.