Horsing Around
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 3 (March 2004)

Horsing Around

Whereas the donkey and the massive Clydesdales appear in many of the same shots, rarely were they filmed in close proximity to one another. In fact, the be-ginning sequence showing the donkey behind a fence in a field was the only one in which the animals were filmed together.

"Shooting with animals is difficult because they are so unpredictable," says John Myers, executive producer at Ring of Fire, the West Hollywood, California, effects studio responsible for the postproduction work. "But in this instance, the animal handlers were especially concerned for the safety of all the animals because of the size discrepancy between the donkey and the Clydesdales."
For this scene, artists integrated footage of the donkey, added light rays, color-corrected the shot, and composited the correct ear motions for the horses.

Ring of Fire, therefore, had to contend with a number of split-screen composites that placed the animals together, including the scene when the donkey walks into the barn to audition for the horses. To accomplish this, the group tracked the animals using 2d3's boujou camera-tracking software, and composited them using Discreet's inferno running on an SGI Onyx 2 workstation. They also used Discreet's combustion running on an Apple Power Mac G5 for prepping the mattes and finessing the shots.

When the donkey brays in this same sequence, the ears of all the Clydesdales move in unison. "We actually captured that in camera, but they all didn't move at the same time," says Myers. "So we went back and created isolated mattes, then tracked and composited the correct ear motions so the horses were responding to the noise simultaneously."
In the commercial, the donkey not only makes the Budweiser team, but is shown leading it. While compositing the donkey into the shot, the artists had to remove several of its training straps and reins without affecting the ornate signature harnesses.

In addition, the team used combustion to remove guide wires, harnesses, and leather reins that were used on the set to keep the donkey in place. Yet, the editors had to be careful not to rotoscope out the ornate harnesses worn by the donkey in the end of the spot that match those worn by the famous horses.

Finally, to support director Jeff Goodby's (Goodby, Silverstein & Partners) vision of an ideal environment, the group did an overall color correction within inferno, adding golden light rays so the scenes would reflect the donkey's glorious vision.

So, is the donkey's grand achievement a reality or just part of the dream? "That's up to the viewer to decide," Myers notes.

Karen Moltenbrey is a senior technical editor atComputer Graphics World.