User Focus - 5/04
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 5 (May 2004)

User Focus - 5/04

"Purpose" begins with a shot of a surreal sky, comprised of individual blocks. Next, the first raindrop, in the form of a red block, falls. More pieces begin falling in rapid succession until a deluge ensues. Eventually, the blocks form various portions of the vehicle. When the last block falls into place, the SUV rotates for a front view, and the line "Every piece has its purpose," is read.

"Our goal was to have the spot look natural and present the imaginative and creative concept in a believable way," says Mark Glaser, visual effects supervisor and Sway founder. To make the impossible seem possible, the team had to connect the idea to reality as much as it could. Making this especially challenging was the speed at which the action occurs, as the artists had just 30 seconds to pile millions of blocks into a life-size representation of the SUV.

Working with director Roman Coppola, the group first shot the scene using actual camera equipment and a real Element, and then tracked the shots in 2d3's boujou. This allowed Coppola to capture the nuances and movements of a real camera and transfer that into the CG realm, in NewTek's LightWave.

Artists "reverse engineered" this CG vehicle to achieve an unusual animation sequence.

After re-creating the camera moves in 3D, the artists modeled, textured, and animated the blocks, also using LightWave. To make the blocks look realistic, the group added subtle details such as swirls, which form on actual Mega Bloks when the plastic flows into the mold. In addition, the team rendered the imagery using subsurface light scattering, which gave the models their translucent plastic-like texture, and lit and rendered them using radiosity so the light falls on the corners and in the cavities.

In addition, the artists created customized plug-ins that enabled them to convert the 3D SUV model into one consisting of individual blocks. For the animation, the artists started with a fully assembled block vehicle, then used another customized tool to animate the blocks flying upward—in fact, disassembling the model. For the final scene, the group reversed the animation, thereby showing the vehicle as it was being constructed.

"This project is all about the creative," says Glaser. In fact, unlike most car commercials, this one never actually shows the advertised product. —KM