An Artfully Crafted Commercial
VFX Supervisor Sebastiano D’Aprile
August 20, 2013

An Artfully Crafted Commercial

By the book: The making of “Brewmaster’s Inspiration” plays out in CGI.

Being part of the in-house team at Moo Studios, I had the privilege to work on the Blue Moon Artfully Crafted campaign, collaborating with the ad agency The Integer Group.

“Brewmaster's Inpiration” (Above) wasn't the first TV commercial for Blue Moon that I worked on. At the beginning of 2012, I was involved in the shooting and postproduction of “Brewmaster's Touch.” Both spots play on the metaphor of the brewmaster as an artist. “Brewmaster's Touch” shows how the brewmaster, with his magic “Midas touch,” turns everything that he makes direct physical contact with into paintings. The production involved a stop-motion shoot of the whole spot, and then we layered real painted, thick brushstrokes on top of the footage to have everything the brewmaster touched shifting into a painted world (Below).

When The Integer Group came to us with a rough storyboard of what the new spot, “Brewmaster's Inspiration,” was going to be about, the director Shaun Sewter and I immediately thought it would be a cool project. Right away we also asked ourselves: how the hell are we gonna make this?

The storyboard showed the brewmaster in the brewery opening a book. In each page, beer bottles, glasses, ingredients, and environment elements grew up from the sketches, coming out of the book. They were not photoreal, they lived in the same painted world we saw in the previous spot. Like a pop-up book, they came out of the pages, but unlike pop-up books, they weren't made of paper, they were three-dimensional painted objects.

I suggested we take a CG approach to the production of the spot. We knew that layering brushstrokes on top of live-action footage, as we did in the previous spot, would not have worked this time, since the painted elements had to form already in their final style (we never see real-looking oranges or wheat). Plus we were intrigued by the idea of featuring the three-dimensionality of the paintings with a nice. slow camera move lasting for the whole, long, main shot of the commercial.

We made a motion test to show the agency what our approach would have been like and to get familiar with the process. The agency liked it. The test used a mix of different media: stop motion and CG animation.

One of the most important factors in the feeling of the spot lies in the stop-motion animation. It helps to give to actors and pages tactile movements perfectly matching the “artfully crafted” image of Blue Moon. We decided that everything except the elements coming to life from the pencil sketches (and the beer kettles in the first and last shot) would be shot in stop motion.

The first step was to create an animatic. This is always an important and creative process. It defines timing, camera moving, and framing.

The animatic was entirely done in Autodesk Maya and Adobe After Effects. We didn't use any footage, only basic models and rigs in Maya. I always prefer this approach for this previsualization step as it gives us the freedom to easily re-time each shot according to the agency and client's feedback.

Finishing the animatic and getting approvals on it took us two weeks.

Once the animatic was approved, we shot the first and last shots (the kettles and the background outside the window were added in post) and the whole sequence in the second shot, with the hand opening the book and turning the pages four times. Everything was shot in stop motion, using Softonic Dragonframe.

We used a motion-control rig to move the camera by small increments every frame. That allowed us to shoot multiple passes that we composited together to achieve a clean plate before starting to add CG elements on top.

We also shot a tracking pass that I used in Andersson Technologies SynthEyes to create a camera to be imported in Maya and After Effects. In this pass, nothing but the camera was moving.

The following step was tracking each page, since all the elements had to convincingly sit on the pages and react to their action. I manually tracked each page in Maya, using the clean plate of the book as a backplate for the camera, which came from SynthEyes.

Thanks to the tracking points on the table and on the book itself, I knew where the book was sitting in space, so I created four curves for each page, perfectly matching their borders. I then created a cluster for each vertex of the curves and animated all the clusters through the shotCam (that's what I like to call the render camera), matching all the page turns. I then used the planar tool to generate the surfaces perfectly matching the real pages moving. Et voilà!

Since the shot with the book was too long to be treated as a single Maya scene, we decided to split it into five segments, one per page. Each page had a different beer selection: Belgian White and the Seasonal, Expressionist, Vintage Ale and Graffiti collections. Each beer collection had a different painting style.

The team of CG artists (Jonathan Bliss, Daniel Edery, Ruta Lauzikaite, Lily Heng, Josh Suyemoto, Shaun Sewter and myself) was ready to build the magic coming out of the brewmaster’s book.

We modeled and textured all the elements for each page. To break the edges of the otherwise too-clean and CG-looking models, we added planes with brushstroke textures hanging in space close to the models. We imported all the elements into Maya projects and we constrained them to the animated pages.

Each object was revealed by animated opacity that we painted in Adobe Photoshop using the UVs as guides. Photoshop has a better brush selection than After Effects, and using the built-in timeline, it was fairly easy to create the image sequences we needed. We painted them so that the elements would reveal from bottom to top, as they were growing up, directly from the pages.

To match the stop-motion feel of the whole spot, we tried to reveal entire brushstrokes in each frame, as if the artist was painting in a three-dimensional space, using the air above the book as a canvas.

For the key elements, like the beer bottles and glasses, we used animated maps plugged into the diffuse color of the shaders. Doing so, we could achieve what real painters do: painting different passes on the same portion of the canvas to get the final artwork (that is, we see the bottles revealing and then we see the labels painting on).

For some elements, like the ground in the first page, we shot real paintings forming while the painter (Joan Doyle) was making them (using UV printouts as a guide). We shot them in stop motion, on greenscreen. Once keyed, we used the footage as perfectly matching color and opacity maps for our CG models. This process helped to give more realism to the render.

We rendered almost everything in Mental Images Mental Ray, using nearly flat shaders (high value in the ambient color) since we baked highlights and shadows in the color maps of the elements. The shaders weren’t completely flat because we did want our three-dimensional paintings to react to a virtual lighting setup matching the one used while shooting the hands and the table with the book and all the props.

We also used Chaos Group’s V-Ray to create photoreal renders of bottles and glasses so we could composite them with the Mental Ray painting-like renders, to achieve a more interesting look on the product we were advertising and help the eyes focus on them.

As a final touch to the main shot, we added a subtle fog pass that reacts to the turning pages and the five different worlds growing up from them.

Overall it was a very challenging and fun project. The team of compositors (Shaun Sewter, Bjorn Walters and Alessandro Schiassi) did a great job adding all the different render elements coming from Maya to the several passes shot in stop motion. Foam and bubbles were composited on top of bottles and glasses, to keep the beer alive. The goal of having stop motion footage and CG renders living together to create a seamless, organic and tactile look for the “Artfully Crafted” beer was achieved.