MPC is one of the powerhouses of VFX, known in the movie and advertising industries for beautifully rendered visuals and its eye-popping characters. Astonishingly real animals and monsters, with fur and feathers realised down to the individual follicle. Such projects involve painstaking work and hours and hours of rendering – well worth it for films viewed at IMAX or on 4K and HD screens.
But in a world where brands want and need to be switched on and responsive, marketers an agencies can’t hang around for their social content. It can mean that these beautifully designed and built 3D character creations don’t have much use beyond the big brand activity. That’s why Andre Assalino at MPC Creative developed the Animated Character Engine – or ‘ACE’ to you and me.
“ACE is something that came out of us thinking that clients need more than just the massive assets that we create,” says Andre. The software allows agencies and brands to knock together still images, gifs and short Instagram videos for social media. There are hundreds of pre-set animations, specific to the character, and the user can change backgrounds, camera angle, scale and audio.
According to Dan Phillips, Head of Digital and Interactive at MPC, the idea is an example of how the company stays abreast of the ever-changing tech and media landscape. “We think about how we can solve problems before they come up, how we can pre-empt what clients might ask for just by looking at where technology is going,” he says.
“We work with 3D assets a lot of the time, whether that’s characters or environments, and it’s about using those assets and optimising them for the technology you’re working on. You can’t render out photoreal or Pixar-level assets if you want them to react in realtime on a mobile phone. So the challenge is how you take an asset and make it work in a nimble way.”
One of Andre’s inspirations for ACE was the famous Old Spice Response campaign from Wieden+Kennedy. In it, brand spokesperson Isaiah Mustafa and a small crew of writers responded to social media messages with personalised videos. And while that was challenging enough as a live action project, Andre wanted to be able to help brands be just as reactive with their CG mascots.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about ACE is that it also represents a different business model for creative businesses. Rather than just creating a finished ‘product’ for a client, they’ve built a tool that can be licensed out. It also changes the relationship and allows clients – whether agencies or brands – to experiment creatively, says Andre.
“The thing with ACE, and this sounds counterintuitive, is to give brands more control,” he says. “But what we get out of it is that it gives them a tool to be more creative with the assets we’ve built for them. If they’re thinking of a new TV campaign and they want to try things out and figure out what might look cool, they can have a go internally to get a feel for the idea. If they need some responsive marketing, they can just do it. If they need to do something of higher quality, give us a call.”