When Fin Design + Effects were presented the brief for Cadbury’s Easter Bunny, the task ahead looked simple. Well, simple on paper, at least. Simulating a furry character, wearing clothes, doing stunts on a BMX bike. All in CG. A little bit trickier when put into practice though, as Fin’s Head of 3D and CG supervisor/lead on the spot, Stuart White, explains to LBB’s Addison Capper…
LBB> What kind of brief did your client initially approach you with and what were your immediate thoughts when you saw it?
SW> It was a very straightforward brief really - the Easter Bunny, looking like a photo-real rabbit, riding a small bike around the streets at night, pulling BMX tricks and delivering Easter eggs. Right from the start it was easy to visualise and easy to see that it could be a really cool spot to work on.
LBB> How much and what kind of research did you have to undertake regarding the rabbit and its character design?
SW> Michael Spiccia is a very visually literate director – before we could even blink he'd photo-shopped some frames together to sketch out the size relationship between bunny and bike, his anatomy and so on. We had a concept artist put together a look-frame from the end of the ad to get everybody's head in the same space. Perhaps the biggest win, from a research point of view, was finding some nice hi-res stock photography of one particular individual bunny that everybody liked. He became ‘our bunny’. From then on we had a nice concrete reference point for modelling the face, the body, the fur etc. Being a European rabbit, he was brown, so we got a real rabbit pelt that was the go to reference for the white fur colour.
LBB> The rabbit's nose twitches and fur are uncanny. From a practical point of view, what are rabbits like to work with, compared to other animals and textures?
SW> The rabbit certainly posed some challenges in CG – rendering millions of individual furry hairs being the obvious one. Making him move correctly was an issue as well. For one, a rabbit's front paws like to be close together, not spread out on the handlebars of a bike. Also they don't have thumbs to grip things with. When they do move, they have very loose skin - they are basically like a big rubber sock stretched over some bones. Our rigging department did a great job emulating that stretchiness in the skin and adding in secondary jiggles in his thigh muscles and so on.
LBB> How closely did you work with director Michael Spiccia to get the aesthetic of the film right?
SW> Ha - very, very closely! Michael Spiccia is ‘Mr Detail’. We have a long history of working with him, so we know when we begin work that he will dial into every visual element that goes on screen. The first phase on every shot is always playtime, it's "go for it - impress me!" Then comes the scrutiny and a lot of refinement driven by the director. How are the poses? How is the fur sitting? Where is the rim light coming from? How much depth of field? The finished aesthetic is the product of our artists and his vision coming together.
LBB> How did you manage to make the bunny's skeleton look so realistic, yet not too cumbersome on the bike?
SW> Relentless refinement of the animation. We only had one animator on this job, a guy called Duncan McLaren, but he was on this spot for months. Thank goodness he's a patient and lovely guy because, between myself and the director, he must have done more than twenty or thirty versions of the animation on some of those shots. Our senior rigger, Gerard van Ommen Kloeke, then performed miracles in taking this rather human animation and making sure it read on screen as a physically credible fluffy rabbit.
LBB> You explained that some frames took over 12 hours to render - why was this so, and how long did the concept take from idea to completion?
SW> When you're trying to make something look real in computer graphics these days, you end up trying to mimic the real physical behaviour of light. Think about just one particle of light – it might start in the sun, bounce off the leaf of a nearby tree, fly on over and hit an individual hair on our CG rabbit, get stuck in the fur bouncing around and ricocheting off some other hairs, then escape the rabbit and hit the lens on our CG camera, bend a bit and finally hit the ‘film’ gate at the back of the camera. Repeat this millions of times and you've got one frame of CG rabbit.
We were on the job for about three months, but I tried to drive everybody hard from early on because we knew we had massive renders waiting for us at the end of the schedule.
LBB> What were the most challenging aspects of this project and how did you overcome them?
SW> Two curveballs came up going into the job. Firstly, for aesthetic reasons, Michael wanted to shoot the spot on anamorphic lenses. These lenses make images look cinematic and awesome... by completely screwing up the image in lovely ways. Unfortunately, to put a CG rabbit into these pictures, you've got to mathematically work out how to straighten these crazy pictures out. Fortunately we've become good at doing this at Fin.
The second curveball that came up was when I walked into a meeting and everybody was talking about the jacket that the bunny would be wearing. "Wearing a what!?!" I whispered to my producer. Doing fur in CG is notoriously hard, just as simulating cloth in CG is no walk in the park. Simulating a furry character wearing clothes, doing stunts on a BMX bike...? Well, that's the kind of challenge that keeps this gig interesting, isn't it?
View a making of the film below.
Director: Michael Spiccia
Production Company: Goodoil Films
Director: Michael Spiccia
Prod Co. Exec Prod: Juliet Bishop
D.O.P. Crighton Bone
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
Creative Directors: Matt Gilmour
Copywriter: Jon Burden
Art Director: Wassim Kanaan
Agency Producer: Llew Griffiths
Post Production Company: Fin Design + Effects
VFX Executive Producer: Billy Becket Lead
Flame Artist: Nick Ponzoni
3D Supervisor: Stuart White
3D Team: Tim Streets, Tom Corbett, Mark White, Bastian Konradt, Duncan Maclaren and Gerard Van Ommen Kloeke Nuke / Smoke Artist: Blake Druery, Michael Smith Colorist: Nick Ponzoni