November 13, 2008

Mantra Serves Up a Cold One in Miller Lite Spot for ESPN's SportsCenter

New York - Mantra, Creative Group’s design and visual effects boutique, has accomplished a technical and creative feat for ESPN’s SportsCenter.  
The company has retooled a Miller Lite spot that had been shot prior to a branding and packing redesign by the beverage maker, conforming it to the new look.  

Mantra devoted three teams to various aspects of the project, including one responsible for roto-scoping and 3D tracking, another 3D team for building and moving, and a third for final compositing work. They built a new Miller Lite bottle, tracking it along with the commercial’s action and the talent’s motion, and replaced the Miller Lite label anywhere it appeared in the shot.
Replacing the label entailed essentially rebuilding a brand-new bottle, placing ice and moisture around it, and then adding it back into the scene.  
Jinchao Li, the lead 3D animation director on the project, took the existing scenes as shot and recreated their environments in 3D. He then added lighting effects to match the original look, which allowed him to properly reflect the light off the bottles that were replaced in each scene.  
Artists also had to roto-scope the spot wherever the bottles were, and then cut the current images out. They recreated a new 3D bottle, which was tracked and patched into each scene.  
“We had multiple layers of 3D tracking and 3D environment builds,” recalls Chris Valentino, Mantra’s head of production. “It was a pretty complicated project.”  
Adding to the complexity of the task was the fact that the Miller Lite bottle is a well-known brand in and of itself. It was critical to capture the exact look of the bottle down to the tiniest detail.
Continues Valentino, “When we built the Miller Lite bottle, we had to make sure the glass was etched with Miller Lite writing, and we had to completely match the color and the texture. Not only did we have to build the bottle, we also had to build the liquid inside the bottle, so that when the bottle moved, the liquid moved as well.”
Despite this and other tricky elements, Mantra completed the work in just 10 days, working out of its Manhattan-based facility and partnering with its Beijing, China-based studio. Helping the team complete the project was an array of software tools, including Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, Autodesk Maya and 3ds Max for the build, and Final Cut for the reconform and output.  
Once the spot was completed, it was delivered to ESPN’s transmission headquarters via satellite, airing during SportsCenter three days later.
As Valentino sees it, Mantra’s success on the Miller Lite spot is owed not only to its expert team of animators and visual effects artists, but also to its longstanding relationships with clients such as ESPN. “Everything is about branding, so when we design something, we’re not designing it just because we want it to look cool and it’s going to look nice on our reel,” he says. “We’re designing something that is going to be effective for our client. We’re looking for something that is going to be able to say something about their brand and bring it to another level. We truly work with our clients as well as for them.”