Cadre Pictures uses Redshift to fill the pantry
Sitting atop a Richmond pub on the crest of a hill in Swan Street, Cadre Pictures boasts a tight collection of talented artists with years of experience in commercial production.
“People think we just create realistic VFX,” says Steven Kerswell, Senior Producer at Melbourne’s Cadre Pictures, “but we want the market to know we do all kinds of stylised stuff as well.” Almost as proof of this expansive creative ability, the crew at Cadre Pictures has been busy creating animated contents of a kitchen pantry and fridge, all an effort to help the Australian Department of Health explain the Health Star Rating system, in a national media campaign.
In the initial pitch, Cadre Pictures developed quirky 2D character designs and a 3D proof of capability render. Having worked with the ad agency previously creating realistic CG hands for the Reserve Bank of Australia’s new banknotes, the first challenge was to convince them and the client Cadre could nail a more stylised character project. And they did, they won the job. A 45-second fully-CG sequence with a five-week turnaround, including a series of print resolution renders.
Completed ‘Health Star Rating’ TV commercial.
The Health Star Rating system uses stars to show the nutritional profile of packaged foods. Ad agency Spinach called out to Cadre Pictures to put together advertisements with wide appeal, to increase awareness and understanding of the system.
While the message might be seen as fairly dry, Cadre Pictures has brought together their wild skills in character design and animation to produce something much more interesting. “We truly value our relationship with Spinach, they are a great bunch to work with and we are fortunate they have faith in us and give us a lot of creative freedom,” says Kerswell.
There was a fine line of character design where the characters who were supposed to be not-so-healthy, couldn’t appear too sad. Those with the five stars also couldn’t be too gleeful. “We could edge the characters close to the line but never go too far on the ‘emotional’,” says Steven Kerswell.
“All of the characters are geometrically really simple,” explains Eoin Cannon, Cadre’s Lead Modeler, “and we didn’t have time to generate a custom solution for everything. We made some arms and legs which were adaptable, able to be slotted into every character. The eyes and mouths were more of a rigging puzzle in Autodesk 3ds Max than modeling.”
While modeling was going on with the boxes, arms and legs, rigging of the eyes and mouth was another puzzle. Ben Bryan, Technical Director, rigged the arms so they could extend from the sides or the bottom of the packet, depending on the happy or sad mood or the angle of the pack in the shot. There was a universal rigging element to the arms and legs which allowed him to skin all the components once and then use that to do them all irrespective of body shape or size.
“This was a nice solution which we could roll out and test, because we were never sure how it would come together until it was done,” says Ben Bryan. “It saved me a lot of time. The eyeball rig had 120 components to it and the mouth is the same. There’s no morph targets or blend shapes on the entire job.” Bryan spent a lot of time positioning the controls. “Essentially it’s like pushing PlayDoh, even the eyelids are almost infinitely pliable. The model is one big face, so it’s fairly important to get it right,” he adds.
The rigging was two-staged, the base rig handling the broad-stroke movements, with a secondary rig adding fine-grained controls to produce any mouth or eye shape that an animator can imagine.”
To generate that glossy plastic sheeting look on the characters, a simple Bump-mapping and displacement was employed. “Alan Do, our Look Dev artist, spent quite a bit of time generating specular and gloss maps,” says Bryan. “Taking Eoin’s Zbrush asset he then worked with Mudbox to generate the larger scale crinkles in the products as well. That’s the level of detail which makes the packaging look almost hand-made.” The characters come with all the details you’d expect, from folded cardboard flaps to manufacturing seams. But also those almost unseen additions. Tiny scratches, dust and details including fingerprint smudges, which although pretty much unseen, if they weren’t there, would leave the products looking too perfect and lacking the necessary character and personality. Each of the boxes for the character bodies had to be designed and signed off by the agency and client at an early stage as well, and this brought in a certain enthusiasm, confidence and sense of inspiration for the production for everyone involved. “With the amount of details he adds you can take pretty much any of Alan’s work and it will be print-ready,” says Ben, of Alan Do’s characters. “He finalled the most astonishing detail on the characters, especially around the mouth where the imperfections make them look even more believable.”
Cadre Pictures has a parallel workflow process. While Eoin is tweaking the modeling, Brian is doing a lot of animation, at the same time, textures are being worked on and the lighting is being developed. This time-saving workflow sets Cadre apart from many other studios where their process is in a line. “You could almost take a snapshot of the entire commercial at any point,” says Ben. “You’re never stuck not knowing how it’s going to look. At a very early stage, we are seeing the whole commercial coming together.”
Redshift renderer is an active tool in Cadre Picture’s work, and the use of GPU rendering is a strong factor in how the team is able to deliver final results so quickly approaching the Health Star Rating job completion. “When we first started Cadre the Redshift renderer was able to deliver final commercial renders on three machines overnight, and we have 20-something now. To render out a frame these days we average around two minutes a frame, and the most on Health Star would have been eight minutes. We use in-camera motion blur and depth of field for a lot of the shots, whereas before we would have done that on the compositing stage. I think it’s changed the way we work. We think less about the rendering side of the job because we know it’s not going to be an issue,” says Ben. “Even though we’re now a leaner team, we can turn around more work than we used to, better, quicker and more efficiently,” says Steven Kerswell.
Following the rendering stage, the completed Health Star Rating piece was ultimately comped in Adobe After Effects. The Cadre team decided to run this extra stage is because it gives the piece a smooth, creative grade. “When we feed in 20 passes into AE, and we re-render a new version of that, rather than manually switching each of those over individually, we can write scripts that point After Effects to the new version,” explains Ben.
Seeing each stage of the character and scene builds is so important on a job like the Health Star Rating job. The Cadre crew already have ‘Daily Maker’ buttons in 3dsMax, Fusion and Nuke but scripted one specifically for Adobe After Effects on this job which allowed the producers a review of each stage of production multiple times during a day. “Sometimes, work that goes into Dailies is slightly off, and we can pick it up early, and re-direct. Sometimes Dailies give inspiration and most definitely, Dailies give the artist a chance to show where they are,” says Ben. It also helps the producer when the clients ask about particular aspects of the visuals. They know in detail the progress of each aspect of the job.
The advertisements for the Health Star Rating are now complete.
Title: Health Star Rating
Senior Producer: Steven Kerswell
Creative Director: Pat da Cunha
Surfacing & Lighting Lead: Alan Do
Technical Director: Ben Bryan
Modelling: Eoin Cannon
Lead Animator: Brian Doecke
Animator: Rimelle Khayat
Lighting: Tim Murphy
3D Generalist: Duncan MacDonald
Compositing: Christopher Frey
Concept Artist: Glenn Thomas
Concept Artist: Matt Dobrich
Concept Artist: Tom Lopez