For many years, folklore tales from Ireland, Scotland and England have included stories of mythical giants roaming the land. With a penchant for terrorizing townspeople and their children they were feared and vilified at the outset. However, upon delving deeper into the stories one usually finds that the giants were simply large humans with a soft heart and the ending of the tale portrayed the giants as becoming friends and protectors.
What do tales of mysterious giants roaming the green hillsides of England and Scotland have to do with live action, computer graphics and our television industry?
For that answer all one has to do is tune in to one of the most popular shows appearing on the Discovery Channel on Monday nights. American Choppers has exploded onto the airways with humor, technical creativity and downright family fun. Featuring the outstanding work and abilities of a father, two sons and an assortment of wonderful design technicians, this weekly show which features the construction of one of a kind motorcycles is a treat for even those who don’t don their leathers and hit the back roads on their bikes. The Teutuls, Senior, Junior and Mikey intersperse humor, family squabbles and fun in between some really awesome design and construction work on a now large number of unique and beautiful motorcycles. Their creations are one of a kind and have taken the Chopper enthusiasts to new heights of dreams.
What could be more fun and entertaining than watching the Teutul’s hard at work in their Orange County, New York shop working on yet another awesome bike? It has to be following the Tuetles as they wing across the Atlantic to England and Europe where they attend a bike rally, visit Omaha Beach, don kilts and partake of High Tea. This improbable journey called for a unique and outstanding promotional spot. One that would depict the flavor and the adventures that were in store for this family in the British Isles.
The artists commissioned to do the promotional material brought great experience and credits to the project. Heading the team were Adam Bluming as director and Zack Nederlander as visual effects supervisor. Also onboard contributing to the animation and compositing work were John Robson and Cory Shaw with Melanie Franciosi handling the color keying in the composite phase. Adam Bluming is well known in the graphic design and live action industry for his work. Beginning his graphic design work in high school creating album covers, Adam’s talents led him deeper into the creative world where he attended the Rhode Island School of Design and the day after graduation began his work with R/GA LA. R/GA later became Imaginary Forces where Adam worked for 8 years and became a Creative Director heading many projects including creating live action teasers for the movie Men in Black II and commercials for Nintendo, Nissan and Coors Light. Adam formed his firm, Convert, one year ago with Executive Producer Mick Ebeling and signed on as one of the Directors on the Ebeling Group’s roster.
Zack Nederlander began his career studying computer engineering but quickly found his love of graphic design pushing him in another direction. Zack attended the Savannah College of Art & Design where he immersed himself in the computer art field. Upon graduation, Zack moved to Los Angeles where he worked on various commercials and picked up experience in visual effects, animation and compositing along the way. Zack delved deeply into visual effects and worked as lead compositor for a firm that executed seventy shots for the Miramax film, The Aviator. He is also working on a series of mixed reality combining visual effects with live action animation in commercials and music videos.
Adam and Zack had worked together on previous projects due to the fact that Adam had found himself drawn toward visual effects in his live action work. Working with Zack on a spot for BBC America, Adam became more excited about visual effects. In the meantime Convert had done the rebrand for BBC America which involved a large live action campaign including visual effects. Convert has also finished some pieces for AMC as well as co-directing the music video for GO on Common’s latest album.
Convert prepared to fly to New York for the filming and contacted long time friend and co-worker Zack Nederlander to be the effects supervisor for this project with Adam.. Adam and Zack brainstormed on just how they felt the project should be put together and the tack that they wanted to take. Adam felt that it would be fun and entertaining if the project called for the Tuetles to interact with famous European landmarks, as if they were giants modifying them with their own unique touch.
Adam explained, “I felt like we could have one of them attaching a sidecar to a double decker bus and if he’s a giant, he could squat next to it. Also, what about having one of them pulling the guts out of Big Ben and the face of Big Ben could become a working tachometer.”
The timetable left little room for retakes. With a two week deadline to finish the entire green screen, tracking and composite shots, they flew to New York and set to work creating a promo that will leave you laughing as well as inspired by the innovative artwork and live action combinations that are included.
Zack related, “We opted for one of the highest quality HD cams that records nearly uncompressed HD over a high-bandwidth, dual-link HD-SDI tether to HDCAM-SR format. Even though we were going to standard definition in the end we needed a lot of information to get really nice tracks because we didn't have time to do motion control. It was quick and there were a lot of shots. "Each one of those shots had to have a rich environment created for it. From that we decided immediately to keep everything high def throughout the pipeline. We used programs like Boujou Bullet and SynthEyes which were 3d tracking programs to extract our 3d camera information.”
In fact, the list of programs used on this project was varied and exciting. For modeling and animation - CINEMA 4D R9.5, for compositing - Adobe After Effects 6.5, for image editing - Adobe Photoshop CS2 and Apple Final Cut Pro 5 and for 3D tracking - 2D3 Boujou Bullet v2.1 and Andersson Technologies SynthEyes.
Zack explained the planning, “We didn’t have time to build the models so we purchased them. We got them in every 3D format that you can imagine and in CINEMA 4D we were able to assimilate all of these different formats as well as the tracking data that we got from Boujou Bullet and SynthEyes and work directly on importing our extremely high resolution/high def footage and combine these worlds entirely in CINEMA 4D. We found ourselves using all of the features in this new version of Cinema which was really interesting.
"Some of those features were really new, so MAXON helped us out a ton. I called them basically every other day. And then we’d render out our stuff using After Effects which most people don’t realize is a really high end compositing tool and works terrifically with CINEMA 4D because CINEMA 4D can export an After Effects file.”
The team then had a way of working that allowed each program to seamlessly interface with the next in the pipeline. When revisions were called for they found that they were able to turn around and revisit any step in the process easily in CINEMA 4D. Each of the four artists working on the project could open each other’s files and pick up where the other artist had left off. This allowed for a very high quality and production value.
Adam brought a fresh perspective to the piece with his desire to stylize the film directly from the beginning rather than setting up the color and stylizing during the final process.
Adam related, “You know ... the whole soul of the spot is to make these guys look like kids in a candy store. Or just like a big playground where they concoct things in their imagination.”
Junior sizes up L'Arc de Triomph
Adam felt with that in his mind, it would be unique instead of trying to make things look real, to go the other way and create a feeling of fantasy. He wanted to create the landmarks to look like giant toy cardboard props. This idea led to an atmosphere that allowed for leeway in creation and imagination. Where other artists might massage and finesse the look and feel of a work to make it seem as real as possible, instead they were working toward making everything look real in the sense that the Teutuls were truly there, but with a fun measure of make believe thrown in. For example, the spot where Mikey looks like he’s next to a real double decker bus that is made of cardboard depicts the idea well.
A very unique and wonderful presentation began to emerge, a true marriage of fantasy and real life that leaves the viewers smiling and wanting more. It follows all of the rules of good film such as focal length, lighting, depth of field, yet incorporates whimsy and an almost magical feel as Senior, Junior and Mikey are shown in various situations in their new British “playground.”
As you might expect, the filming was not without its humorous anecdotes. Adam relates while chuckling, “When the Teutuls first came on set, their giant trucks arrived, huge 18 wheelers, really just to carry them… They walk in and the AD pulled Senior over and with a kind of stuttering voice said... ‘Senior, this is Adam Bluming, he’s the director,’ and he puts this giant hand out which completely sandwiched mine even with one hand and with a very loud gruff voice he said ‘ADAM,’ I said yes and his face was all red and he said ‘OKAY ... LET’S JUST GET THIS DONE!’ And I immediately felt like I was on the show with just three hours to create some bizarre looking bike ... it didn’t scare me but it did make me feel like, wow, I’m on this mission, this spot has to be done and it has to be done on time, he was cracking the whip and I have to get a lot done in a time that isn’t really do-able, and we did it you know. And it was really funny how in some strange way I felt like I was on American Choppers, but only in their commercial department."
Senior Teutul, A big Man in England
Another incident that fit Senior’s personality so well came much later after the filming. Adam laughs as he remembers, “A funny story which actually just happened yesterday, was Mick, our Executive Producer, just so happened to be flying out of LAX yesterday and bumped into Junior, Senior, and Mikey at LAX, and I came up to them and said, ‘Hey guys, did you see our spot? Did you like it?’ The only response was ... Senior, through his glasses with a grin, saying, ‘Yep.’ And it just felt so funny because it was kind of the affirmation and pat on the back like the end of their show. Never too emotional, it’s never too complimentary, it’s ‘Yep.’ Sort of like, 'you did a good job and I approve so on to the next.'”
If you have watched the show and have seen Senior relating to his sons and co-workers you know that this large gruff man with a heart of gold and few words is the same off as on camera and on the job.
CINEMA 4D R9.5 plays an all important role in Convert’s overall design work. It is their main 3D program and has become not just something that the firm uses occasionally, it’s basically become such a standard that they do most of their work in CINEMA 4D R9.5 now.
Adam and Zack look forward to working on many more projects together.
I think that you will find the promo original with loads of fun and a special look at three guys who find that things are quite different on the other side of “The Pond.” Have fun watching the promo here.
You can also find out more about Convert and their work at The Ebeling Group.
Let’s hope that these two gentlemen team up again and again to provide us with more of their outstanding visual work.
Story by Kathie Berry
Websites: http://www.berry-designs.com http://www.planit3d.com
January 2, 2006