In the production of commercials and other types of advertising, there are often short deadlines to meet especially when a client makes a change at the last moment. To be a success in this area, companies need to have the ability to produce quality products that catch the viewer’s attention so that they remember the product, company, or event. One company that has proved time and again that they have what it takes to make it in the dynamic world of advertising is V12.
V12 is a small, Emmy-nominated company specializing in commercial production, broadcast branding, and animation. The company was started in 1998 by David Hwang and Steve Lavy and has grown from five to over 30 personnel. Many of V12’s projects feature high energy, high impact video and audio in a variety of areas: sports, the Internet, department stores, food products, networks, and more.
Much of V12’s work is for repeat clients requesting additional projects and this means that each project needs to have continuity between it and previous ones. Some of the best examples of this are the graphics V12 produced for ESPN for the NBA 2003 season games and finals. According to David Sparrgrove, the Executive Creative Director at V12, as the season progressed, each commercial built on the preceding one, culminating in the championship spot.
CINEMA 4D is the 3D tool of choice for V12 and unlike most Creative Directors, David knows how to use the program and is extremely hands on when it comes to the creative process of a project. Because of this, he is able to create the initial design and concept, present it to the client, make changes based on their requests, and get the design settled before it is handed off to the animators. This allows the animators to concentrate on refining and building on the design instead of dealing with redesigns and rework since the approved design is already agreed to.
When V12 was initially concepting the entire NBA project, the actual look of the package came about as David was playing around in CINEMA 4D in order to come up with some 3D elements. While doing so, they stumbled across a look and style of animation that was very clean and slick and which they presented to ESPN. This look was based on some of the built-in Bhodinut Shaders and was labeled by V12 as “Uber-3D.” As the regular NBA season progressed to the playoffs and the conference finals, this “Uber-3D” look continued to evolve culminating with the graphics for the finals.
From the very beginning of the project, V12 was not given a concept to follow but was asked to come up with something entirely new. They did research by looking at what was being done on other networks with regard to sports graphics, specifically basketball, then expanded the research to include magazines and books on basketball. They finally settled on a look that included basketball stars with a jazzy look but without a lot of sports graphics. However, as the project progressed, it began to include more and more big 3D elements so they began using a lot of black to help keep it looking cool, unique, and slick.
Unlike most packages that provide one large seamless 3D animation and integrates images of running players into the 3D, V12 ended up doing more editorials by using cuts and 3D elements to allude to the motion of basketball players along with the intensity and fast-paced action of the game. This was done by using animated 3D lines that move around much like a basketball player does on the court, such as weaving around other players and swooping up to make a basket. Short clips of players running on the court or still images that flash in and out of the video help bring out the intensity and action as well.
For the championship game, V12 took the concept of the big stadium feel, then stripped it down to a more abstract representation of a stadium or arena with the 3D lines converging into the final logo, taking the viewer up into an abstract arena made up of the 3D lines and logos. As I watched the commercial, the abstract arena at the end reminded me of a Roman Coliseum, which is exactly the effect V12 was going for - a battle or conflict between teams which was built up over the regular season to the playoffs, the conference finals, and finally to the championship. ESPN wanted even more flash and sizzle for the finals so V12 pulled out all the stops. The ability of CINEMA 4D to render quickly, along with the network rendering capabilities, allowed them to produce a large amount of material over just a couple of weeks that could then be edited together in Adobe After Effects with the player videos and clips.
As the season progressed, V12 continued to use the slick, clean look they had developed. In fact, ESPN grabbed hold of the concept and continued to ask for more “Uber-3D” in the packages. According to David, several of their animators use Maya, Softimage, and 3D Studio Max and they just could not replicate the “Uber-3D” look. As a result, they had to bring in people who knew CINEMA 4D and who could reproduce this new look.
The ease of modeling allows them to create a tremendous amount of volume. This gives them and their clients a lot of choices in a very short amount of time. It also gives the designers more time to play since they can quickly model elements and animate it “instead of being a slave to the system.” Instead of the system dictating what they could do, they were able to come up with ideas and then quickly model what was needed, animate it, and before you know it, you’ve got dozens of items to choose from. This allows them to have a library of shapes and animations that can be shared among the animators for a particular project.
“It always amazed me how quickly (the animators) could put something together. A lot of times, what I’ll do is the initial design in CINEMA or I’ll put everything together and model it, put a logo in there or whatever; and that will be approved by the client. I can usually do that really fast, like just within a day and then we’ll get an approval. Then I’ll give that to one of the other guys, they’ll animate it and put their spin on it. That worked out really well because it freed them up to make it look really great” without having to worry about rework and redesigns. Because he’s so hands on, David is able to get exactly what he knows the client will want and then let the animators do what they are best at once everything is set. To maintain consistency, David brings the animators on board by giving them his original scene file allowing them to see immediately what textures and light setups he used. He follows this up with a discussion on what “Uber-3D” is and the animators are literally able to run with it from there. However, if they do happen to go overboard with ornate 3D elements for example, David is able to quickly reel them back in. Since he’s not only the director, but also the initial designer of the project, he is able to show the animators what he is looking for instead of them trying to interpret what he’s trying to say. The designers also collaborate and share their own scene files with each other so that when they’ve built an element a certain way, the other animators can see how its been done and repeat it.
This collaboration and consistency spills over into other projects as clients ask how they can get the same look for their project. V12 also comes up with additional ideas that, while they may not be used on the current project, they can be used in other projects and carry along some of the style from the original project. There’s also a lot of consistency that occurs just from rendering in CINEMA 4D, “there’s a cleanliness and just a quality to it that is really clean and smooth.” Everything ”really looks professional without breaking the bank and taking forever to render.”
One question I particularly wanted to ask was how V12 determined what tools to use for a particular project. According to David, “For a lot of the work we do, we end up using the same toolset, After Effects and CINEMA, but if we come up with an idea” such as one project where a brain was needed and where it wasn’t really appropriate because the object required organic modeling, “we ended up outsourcing it and they modeled it in Softimage … so that seemed more appropriate for that.” Of course, at the last minute, the client needed some changes and the brain model was brought into CINEMA 4D to add the additional footage and the look on the two segments was a little bit different. “It really depends on the idea, but we try to set it up so that we can produce in house which usually means that we’ll be using the tools that we have.”
As a designer, David says that he just wants to come up with an idea, do his work, and play with his ideas, not fight the tool he’s using. CINEMA 4D works well for their needs because of the massive amounts of versioning that they are required to put out with repeat clients. The ease of changing elements to suit the project while keeping continuity and brand recognition allows them to begin work on new projects quickly and produce results in much shorter time period.
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