June 22, 2006

Thursdays are !mpossible on Discovery Channel

Thursday nights will never be the same after you watch an imaginative Discovery Channel promo campaign created by !mpossible Pictures. Charged with "branding the night," the creative digital studio has designed

and produced a series of 12 high-concept animated promos and banners, including the recent Discovery Channel "Atmosfearic Thursdays" and "Conspiracy Thursdays."

The campaign marks a successful ongoing collaboration between !mpossible Pictures and Discovery Communication's flagship channel, the Discovery Channel. Over the past six months, the studio has been responsible for turnkey creative, design, 3D, and Discreet Flame/Smoke compositing services.

Currently running are the promos for "Atmosfearic Thursdays," which includes "Twister" and "Tsunami." !mpossible Pictures concepted the theme title and the two featured topics, which employed heavy experimentation in 3D and compositing.

With a typical turnaround time of two weeks, the studio had to find clever, doable, yet realistic ways to execute these natural disasters. For example, "Twister" was envisioned from the point of view of a passenger in a moving car as a massive tornado makes it way across fields somewhere in Kansas.

Prior to starting, 3D/CGI Artist Chad Jacobson conducted research of actual tornadoes and past heroic visual effects efforts to create them. He then created a digital pre-viz animatic to simulate the scene, and determine the size, speed, and movement of the tornado. This "living" 3D storyboard was an effective tool for !mpossible to rapidly provide Discovery with an overall glimpse of their vision. Jacobson performed tests with the particle system simulator in Softimage XSI taking advantage of the built-in XSI compositor, which allowed him to quickly composite his rough particles and see if the effects were headed towards a realistic result.

The challenge with "Twister" was how to control the tornado in terms of its physics. Jacobson created a particle system of animated dirt and mist that could be deformed and choreographed via lattice deformation. This twister began to take shape once the photorealistic particle systems were layered with animated images going through a twisted vortex, which was also warped and wave-deformed. Doing it this way made the CG mass much more organic rather than too computer-perfect and mathematical.

Jacobson also used the same particle system to attach objects such as debris, grass, and vehicles to the twister, which ultimately comprised almost two dozen layers. Initial compositing passes were done in Softimage XSI, which Jacobson credits for its usability, layout, and customer support. The final heavy compositing was performed with Discreet Flame. Once camera shake was added in post, Jacobson says the final look and feel exceeded everyone's expectations.

The upcoming promos follow the theme of "Conspiracy Thursdays," which draws viewers into thought-provoking worlds of government cover-ups and hidden mysteries. The final month of promos will highlight prehistoric and ancient civilizations themes. Promos having already aired celebrated the following different themes: Killer Thursdays "Ants" and "Squid," Turbo Thursdays "Pistons," and "Wind Tunnel," and finally, Phenomathon Thursdays "Saucer" and "Eyes."

Design & Post-Production Company: !mpossible Pictures
President / Creative Director: Joel Pilger
3D/CGI Artist: Chad Jacobson
Discreet Flame VFX Artists: Hector Espinosa, Brian Eloe, Joel Pilger
Production Coordinator: Emily Crenshaw
Designers: Chad Jacobson, Hector Espinosa, Joel Pilger
Freelance Designer: Ben Larson for Bottle Rocket Design