Los Angeles-Based Creative Studio, Cinevative, Uses 3D to Promote a Prohibition-Era Musical and Gives a Formerly Retro Network an Updated Look
Normally, when people think about musicals, they don’t also think of 3D. But that’s exactly what Mark Ciglar and the creative team at the Los Angeles-based creative studio Cinevative did when Center Theatre Group hired them to create some TV promo spots for “Minsky’s.” Based on the 1968 film, “The Night they Raided Minsky’s,” this musical, which ran at the Los Angeles’ Ahmanson, is a romantic comedy set in Prohibition-era New York. Without existing footage to work with, Ciglar, Cinevative’s co-founder and creative director, needed to come up with an authentic-looking environment quickly.
After modeling the opening Times Square shot in CINEMA 4D, Cinevative’s 3D artists exported it into After Effects to create the color and look. “We used pink because the printed poster the creative was based on had a lot of pink in it,” Mark Ciglar, Cinevative’s creative director and co-founder explains.
To do this, he and his team pitched the idea of using MAXON’s CINEMA 4D to create the burlesque-themed look the client had in mind. Though many of the marketing people Cinevative works with are unfamiliar with using 3D in this way, Center Theatre Group has been a long-time client of Ciglar’s, so they understood the breadth of possibilities this approach would offer. “With CINEMA 4D, we were able to tell them we could do pretty much anything,” Ciglar recalls. “So we were free to think outside of what we would normally do when branding a stage piece, and they liked that approach.”
Because there was no firm concept to go on, Cinevative was free to work with Center Theatre Group’s marketing department to come up with ideas for the three promo spots (two 15-second versions and one 30-second piece), as long as they based the creative on a poster that had already been printed to advertise the play. The challenge, Ciglar says, was that the poster featured a 2D image of a burlesque dancer posing behind a lighted marquee. Yet the client, who needed to have everything completed in three weeks, wanted something that looked more realistic, something vibrant and of that time period. So, Cinevative used CINEMA 4D to create boards showing how they planned to make a much broader environment, including a bustling Times Square of the 1920's. “Our idea was based on thinking of the sign as a starting point and wondering what we would see if the camera moved away from that area,” says Ciglar.
Ciglar’s team changed the poster’s original pink background to black to create the promo spots for “Minsky’s.” “The dancer was married to the shot in After Effects using an exported CINEMA camera,” Ciglar explains.
To give the lineup of dancing chorus girls a more realistic look, they came up with a plan that combined the 3D environment with the 2D poster art, and animated the dancer by shooting some live-action footage of a woman doing a burlesque show in silhouette. Playing off the klieg lights seen in the Times Square shot, Ciglar had Cinevative’s artists key the live-action footage in Adobe After Effects and bring it into CINEMA 4D, where it was put on a plane with projection and backlit. “The volumetric lighting we used interacted with the plane, so when the dancer in the footage moved her arm, you could see it cutting back and forth through the lights like you would in real life,” Ciglar explains.
Cinevative gave the shot of dancing chorus girls a more realistic look by compositing live-action footage into CINEMA 4D and putting volumetric lighting behind it to give the illusion of the dancers’ arms and legs cutting into the lights as they moved.
Cinevative’s 3D artists, including Brandon Hall, who created the signage in the Times Square shot, modeled everything for the spots in CINEMA 4D, and then composited in the live footage before Seth Minnich animated the lights and camera moves. While the 15-second versions ran as “bookends” with commercials in between, the 30-second spot came out after the musical opened and offers more of an overall flavor of the production. It begins with the camera angle wide on Times Square, and then moves inward toward the theater and the dancers, as if viewers are heading inside the burlesque club themselves. “We wanted to give the feeling of going to a place and revealing what was underneath,” Ciglar explains. (See the 30-second spot here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nS3A987dFZs)
The polygon count for this main sign sequence was 7,056, compared with 368,849 polygons in the opening Times Square shot. Per-frame render times on Cinevative’s 8-core Macs ranged from 7 to 12 seconds.
CINEMA 4D’s MoGraph module was used to create the lighted marquee, which was a focal point in many shots. Rather than having to undertake the tedious task of making each bulb for the sign, artists used the module’s cloner object to multiply the bulb as needed. “We could easily have spent a day doing that, but instead, we did it with just a few clicks,” Ciglar explains, adding that he also likes the cloner tool because it allows him to visualize ideas and try them out quickly. “I was an After Effects designer before I started using CINEMA 4D about three years ago, and I think that being able to see right away whether an idea is really telling the story you want to tell is one of the biggest benefits of C4D.”
The cloner tool (part of CINEMA 4D’s MoGraph Module) was used to duplicate the many lights used in the promo spots’ main marquee.
Throughout the process of creating these spots, Ciglar was constantly reminded of why he appreciates the easy working relationship between After Effects and CINEMA 4D. In several instances, his team moved seamlessly back and forth between the two programs. In the last shot, for example, the cartoon-like woman behind the marquee comes to life and drops one of her gloves she had removed, presumably while dancing. “The lifting and dropping of the glove was done in After Effects, and then we exported the camera move from C4D into After Effects and just moved her into it,” he says. “The fact that we can go both ways - bringing things back and forth when we need them is fantastic.”
Rebranding the American Life Network
Cinevative used 3D again when they were hired this spring to help rebrand the American Life Network. While the concepting phase centered around discussions of the need to maintain the network’s family-programming focus, everyone also understood the client’s desire to come up with something with a less retro feel. In the past, marketing had taken its cue from the 60’s and 70’s TV shows the network offers. However, this rebrand had to reflect their move toward more contemporary content and the addition of some Christian programming. “There was a lot of talk about having something bright, maybe even having a light, something that conveyed some kind of spiritual sense,” Ciglar says.
Cinevative’s 3D artists used CINEMA 4D to create the logo letterforms for the newly rebranded American Life Network logo.
With a month to complete the project, Cinevative started with flat logo treatments and brought them into CINEMA 4D to get an idea of what modeling would be like. The main logo, which Ciglar describes as having a “cathedral look,” was created in CINEMA 4D (where they also lit and animated the letter forms) and then exported to After Effects to complete the rest of the animation and layers. “We were trying to use light to give a sense of reaching upward,” says Ciglar.
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Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at her website: www.slowdog.com