On The Wings of Glory

California motion design house creates quirky 3D promo for the Red Bull Flugtag

Culver City, California-based Monkeyhead does a lot of work for Red Bull. But when the motion design house was asked to create a graphics package for "On the Wings of Glory," the five-part TV series documenting the 2010 Red Bull Flugtag, they departed from the serious, edgy look they normally use for the energy drink maker and offered up something quirky and funny instead. "I think they were expecting something more serious from us, but we liked the idea of doing an opener that captured the fun and spirit of the event," recalls Josh Sahley, Monkeyhead's founder and creative director. "They loved our test run and gave us the green light to go ahead."

With just two weeks to complete the project, Monkeyhead's four-person creative team started by making mockups of their cartoony renderings in Photoshop. The bulk of the work, including 3D modeling and animation, was done with MAXON's CINEMA 4D.


Monkeyhead used CINEMA 4D to animate a vector image of the show's logo. Animators added extra bounce to the wings to lend a stronger sense of energy and fun.

Sahley has been using CINEMA for years "because you can get cool results quickly," he says, adding that Monkeyhead used the 3D software recently to create a 30-second teaser and full graphic promo for HBO's 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert. "We did all our 3D models in CINEMA and HBO was pleasantly surprised to see that we could create photo-realistic graphics within their timeframe," says Sahley.


Monkeyhead's graphics were so realistic looking HBO asked which parts of the promo were photos and which were 3D not realizing that everything had been done in CINEMA 4D.

The project, which focused on graphics meant to capture characteristics of each artist, such as Bruce Springsteen's battered guitar, earned Monkeyhead a gold award for art direction and design for a special event promo at last year's PromaxBDA awards. (Check out Monkeyhead's website and watch their reel here: http://www.monkeyhead.tv.)


Monkeyhead used Adobe After Effects for final compositing of the HBO graphics package and rendered with C4D's NET Render.

What's a Flugtag?

Flugtag means "flying day" in German, and since 1991 the Red Bull Flugtag has been challenging people all over the world to build their own human-powered flying machines and attempt to get them airborne when launched off a 30-foot-high deck—which, fortunately, is always above water.


Monkeyhead creative director Josh Sahley opted to remove realistic ripples on the water to allow for more cartoon-like reflections that enhanced the look of the opener for "On the Wings of Glory."

"On the Wings of Glory," chronicled the efforts of six U.S. teams as they created, built and attempted to pilot their crafts at events last year in Miami, the Twin Cities, Long Beach and Philadelphia. Host Bert Kreischer accompanied the teams from place to place, and even launched his own flying, TV-shaped contraption at the Philadelphia competition. (Watch the show opener here: http://www.monkeyhead.tv/project.php?project=On+The+Wings+Of+Glory.)

Once Sahley, the creative director and photographer on the project, had the rough timing for the opener in mind, the team did a photo shoot with Kreischer so they could get a wide array of head movements to animate the bobblehead-like character Monkeyhead created of him.


Host Bert Kreischer's bobbleheaded doppelganger plays it cool until nearly getting smacked down by a cowboy-inspired flying machine.

Next, Sahley and the others chose the high-resolution stills of Kreischer's head they liked most, cut them out and put them onto smaller bodies that were painted to look as if they blended together. "We put all the stills together in Photoshop and then saved them out as flattened text with alpha channels, he explains." Then we brought those into the 3D environment we built in CINEMA to see how they looked."

To create the opener's zany, flying-flugtag-filled world Monkeyhead modeled some of the actual crafts being piloted at the events. All of the flying machines designed by flugtag participants must be approved before the competition, so Monkeyhead was able to use blueprints as a basis for their designs before tweaking them a little for a more outrageous look.


Small details like retractable wheels on the fighter jet flugtag are nearly indetectable, but Sahley wanted to be sure each craft would look good in close-up.

Adding to the off-the-wall look of the graphics is the fact that in the opener several flugtags actually swoop and fly overhead. In reality, of course, most never defy gravity. They just plunge off the ramp and immediately go straight down into the water. Kreischer looks confident for the first couple of seconds of the opener but quickly loses his cool as he tries to leap out of the way of a flying craft shaped like a huge cowboy head. From there on out, the sky is filled with oddball machines like a layer cake with wings, an out-of-control cuckoo clock, a weird-looking fish, a very odd eagle and a high-topped tennis shoe.

As the flugtags zoom and sputter above the water the scene wipes to reveal each of the four cities the teams visit for each event. "At first we got carried away and had too much detail in those city backgrounds, so we decided to pull back and go with a simple look one of designers suggested early on," Sahley says, adding that Miami got special treatment because that's where he's from. "We did give Miami more attention by giving it a the kind of pastel look Miami has and some palm trees."


Miami, which is Sahley's hometown, looks a bit more stylish in the background than other cities on the flugtag tour.

Though the flugtag's were designed to be fairly simple, as well, the creative team did add a few details to make each one unique. The cake's frosting, for example, includes all the little ridges and individual flowers you'd expect from a good decorator. Small details on the side of the tennis shoe are never even seen. "We treated every object like it might get a close-up because you never know how things might end up," says Sahley. "If something was going to be shown, we wanted it to be sure it would look good."


In Philadelphia, Kreischer was the last person of the season to fly and actually piloted his own flugtag, an old-school TV with rabbit ears.

Even the water veered from reality after the Monkeyhead team tossed out their original photo-realistic look for "a dream world of water that looks almost like a kind of jelly," says Sahley. "We thought the realism took away from the fun, so we used deformers and textures to make the water look more gelatinous." Though they know that many people won't notice the reflections on the water, they took the time to make them because they like the "cartoony touch" they add to the look. "I like to do something original for every piece we work on and the water is definitely an original in this one," he says.


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Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Contact her at her website: www.slowdog.com

June 13, 2011

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