Framestore 'Banks' on a CG Character
August 5, 2019

Framestore 'Banks' on a CG Character

Following the success of the Piggy commercial earlier this year, Santander has teamed up once again with ad agency Arnold Worldwide, director Danny Kleinman for Rattling Stick and Framestore to create " The Marathon ." The new commercial features a whole new CG piggy bank character designed and animated by Framestore.

The heartwarming 60- and 30-second spots were created by Arnold and follows a female runner and her trusted companion as the two train for a marathon to support a cause that’s important to them. Throughout their training process, she is saving up money in order to make donations to a children’s hospital.

Chris Redding, VFX/2D supervisor at Framestore, says, “In this second outing for piggy, Arnold really wanted to create a new character design that was different from but reminiscent of the piggy bank from the first commercial. The logic was that every person has their own version of Piggy, in the same way that everyone would have a different dog.”

Shot over three days in Cape Town, Redding and Jed Fisher, lead animator, supervised from a VFX point of view while also operating three different-sized Piggy puppets. Talking about how important it was for the puppets to represent the movement of the character, Redding said, “We’d used a rigid stand-in model for the first Piggy commercial but because he needed to be so much more mobile this time and changed size from shot to shot, we wanted to have a way of capturing great on-set reference.”

“The puppets gave the editor and director of photography some much needed content for framing and pacing,” added Fisher. “It also helped me form a good understanding of how Piggy would behave in each scene. In fact several changes and adaptations were made to the action once we saw how each scene worked by blocking with the puppets.”

“The premise for this follow up commercial meant the character needed to run the entire time, so we redesigned the pig from scratch to allow for its extended mobility. The rigging and modeling teams built what was as close to an anatomically feasible skeleton as possible and then buried it under the caricatured look of the embellished piggy bank,” said Tim Jenkinson, the VFX/CG supervisor.

To find the pig’s characterization, the team worked with Framestore’s art department to explore several options for the main character. Once the designs were finalized, the modeling department spent time working the sketches into a 3D character. “The most important thing was to make the character appealing and cute. We spent a lot of time reworking and finessing the features of the pig as even the smallest change in the shape or size of the snout, eyes, brows or cheeks had a huge impact on its character,” said Jenkinson.

In addition, the story called for the character to grow throughout the film, as Piggy’s human raises more and more money for her charity. This meant creating three separate Piggy models: small, medium and large, and building scalability into each version so the animators could create a continuous enlargement of the character across the edit.

Piggy travels through several environments: running along a sandy beach, struggling through deep snow and splashing in heavy rain. This meant considerable work was required to properly embed him into shots. Bespoke CG FX simulations were created to show the best possible interactions with on set elements like water splashing off the character and snow being disturbed as he buries himself. 

“The variation in scale and environments meant we needed to be able to adapt the groom setup so that throughout the commercial, the hair on the main character also grew. It also needed to be adapted in each shot to account for how wet he was or how sweaty he got in any particular scene,” said Redding.

The compositing and DMP teams were also tasked with several additions throughout the commercial including enhancing weather effects, rebuilding clean plates that were impossible to achieve in camera, multiplying extras to create a crowd and even removing Jed and the puppet from the rushes. 

In the final sequence of The Marathon, there’s a shot that the team called the “Pigsplosion.” Here the piggy bank, now swollen with charitable donations bursts into 40 smaller pigs and sends a cascade of coins flying. To achieve this, the team first ran a simulation of how this pigsplosion would look, and then animator Fisher hand-animated each individual piggy bank using the simulation as a reference guide.

“It was great to revisit the piggy bank characters for this commercial,” added Jenkinson. “Having the experience of the first commercial meant we knew largely was what required from our new piggy. We built on what we learnt from the first character and took it further, while making sure we maintained the right balance between the character feeling real and keeping the sense that this is a piggy bank.”

As well as the VFX and character animation, the commercial also features a color grade by Steffan Perry, Framestore’s head of grading, for which the team used the Baselight Grade Renderer for Flame to place the most up to date grade for each shot onto the edit live in Flame.