January 22, 2007

An Orchid By Any Other Name...

New York - Production company Nola Pictures (www.nolapictures.com) and visual effects studio Guava (www.guavanyc.com) joined forces on a vibrant one minute and 45-second silent animated sequence for New York-based cosmetics company, M.A.C.

Directed by Nola’s Juan Delcan, “Strange Hybrid” is a light and breezy, yet utterly hypnotic blend of dancing flowers, colorful powders, entwining stems and petals, and a beautiful woman’s face. The piece began playing in M.A.C. stores worldwide at the start of 2007.

Having been introduced to Delcan’s work at the most recent Council of Fashion Designers (CFDA) awards show, Laren Stover, executive director of Editorial on the M.A.C. creative team, approached the director with an offer he simply could not refuse.

“Laren gave me several books containing pictures of beautiful orchids, together with a single photograph of a woman,” says Delcan. “The picture had multiple exposures as the result of a developing error, but they’d fallen in love with the look of it. Then Laren said: ‘Do whatever you want, but make it look kooky!’ That was pretty much the whole briefing. I love working that way.”

“With a three-week schedule, the Guava team had already begun building 3D flowers although there was no storyboard or solid concept in place. We weren’t sure where we were going until we found a track to use simply as reference and give some flow to the creative process,” says Charles Self, senior visual effects producer at Guava.  

Delcan admits to some initial skepticism about creating such delicate flowers in 3D, but says he was quickly convinced by the Guava team. A crucial element in the success of this project was the extensive work done with the Z-pass. The Guava team was able to work out a method using Autodesk Inferno, which allowed for an extremely shallow depth of field that enabled a much more intimate and delicate look.  

The 3D work was done using Autodesk Maya’s PaintEffects animation techniques, together with conventional character animation to give the orchids some human personality without turning them into cartoons. Although all the team members agree that the spot was a “pure joy” to work on, that’s not to say there weren’t some tense moments during the tightly scheduled project.

According to CG technical supervisor Adrian Graham, Guava’s biggest technical challenge was getting the maximum amount of detail using the least amount of time and render power. CG technical director, Spyridon Serbos, came up with a number of conceptual elements that were transformed into clips and segments of the dancing flowers. Visual Effects supervisor Aron Baxter laid the foundation for integrating the 2D and 3D.  

“The final piece is unlike anything we’ve worked on, or even seen, before,” says Alex Catchpoole, visual effects supervisor at Guava. “It was fantastic to have such free rein and such a vision to work with. It’s always wonderful to give talented, creative people an open brief, and then watch things unfold.”

Technologies used: Autodesk Inferno, Autodesk Maya



Client: M.A.C.

Title: “Strange Hybrid”

Product: Summer Colors Intro

James Gager Senior VP, Creative

Toni Lakis VP, Design

Andy Boonthong Exec. Director, International

Laren Stover Exec Director, Editorial

Jason Naylor Designer



Company: Nola Pictures

Juan Delcan Director

Charlie Curran Executive Producer


Visual Effects and Animation: Guava

Steve Talkowski Director of Animation

Adrian Graham CG Technical Supervisor

Spyridon Serbos CG Technical Director / Animator

David Bernkopf CG Animator / Digital Photography

Aron Baxter Visual Effects Supervisor / Artist

Alex Catchpoole Visual Effects Supervisor / Artist

Charles Self Senior Visual Effects Producer

Steve Giangrasso CG Producer