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Your Shot: How A Real Foetus Starred in British Heart Foundation Ad



Grey London, RadicalMedia and Digital Domain on using 4D ultrasound to create a message from the womb

Your Shot: How A Real Foetus Starred in British Heart Foundation Ad

Babies are as tricky to handle in the world of VFX as they are in the reality. When Grey London wanted to tell the story of a foetus in the latest campaign for the British Heart Foundation, they knew they’d have to get their pre-natal star just right. Working with RadicalMedia director Chris Milk and DigitalDomain, the VFX whizzes behind Iron Man 3, Fight Club and Her, the team hit upon the idea of using a 4D ultrasound as a basis for an ultra-realistic baby. Enter Zara, the first person ever to star in a commercial before they’ve even been born. LBB’s Laura Swinton spoke to Grey art director Lex Down, RadicalMedia EP Ben Schneider and Digital Domain's VFX Supervisor Janelle Croshaw to find out how some clever craft brought Zara to life.

LBB> What was the brief like from the British Heart Foundation? 

LD> The initial brief was clear. A lot of people think heart problems only affect the “Jim Royles or Rab C Nesbitt’s” of this world, which of course, is completely untrue. Our job was to educate people about inherited heart conditions that are a potential threat to us all. 

LBB> What was it about the initial brief from Grey that really connected with you?

BS> Well, firstly the opportunity to re-create a human being digitally is a challenge. I knew Chris would be intrigued to take on providing he had the right partners. Chris is constantly breaking new ground and pushing the boundaries of technology. Working with the British Heart Foundation, Grey and Digital Domain, we had the right team to do this and we were off to a good start. 

JS> Chris wanted to create an undiscovered, beautiful world with focus so intimate the viewer is in a constant state of discovery.  He wanted continuous motion.....light moving, camera floating, baby always subtly moving, particles refracting light and volumetric rays shaping the frame.  The thought of creating this beautiful world and using it to introduce the baby girl along with a positive message had me instantly wanting to work on the project.

LBB> And do you think it forged a deeper emotional connection for you personally, knowing that you were, essentially, telling the story of a real foetus?

LD> Yes. It means so much to tell the story of this precious baby and all that she represents.

BS> The baby we were re-creating digitally was actually developing in the mom’s womb at the same time. Having this knowledge made the process ever so meaningful for everyone involved, especially having met the parents and being present at their 4D scan.   

LBB>How did Zara's mum take to getting involved in such an unusual project? 

LD> Caroline is an incredibly bright and caring woman. Getting involved is her way of supporting the British Heart Foundation’s fight against inherited heart conditions. The research this campaign will help fund is crucial to her and others who are also at risk.

Find out about the baby behind the baby in this making-of film directed by RadicalMedia's Lucy Luscombe.

LBB> And what were your thoughts about working with 4D ultrasound?

LD> It was exciting to be able to use this technology as a base to build the creative on.

JS> The ultrasound was used to judge proportions, especially facial proportions.  Videos and photos of 4D ultrasounds were also used as reference to ensure the accuracy of the umbilical cord.  . 

LBB> What do you think that added to the project versus creating a baby from scratch?

LD> Authenticity. People always respond better when something is based on truth.

BS> We took this on board as it was important to the British Heart Foundation that this film was based on a true story - a real baby and in fact it was.  Working with 4D Ultrasound helped to get this right and to refine the digitally-created baby´s features so that they resembled the actual baby, which was developing in the womb at the time. 

LBB> Even though there's a lot of biological data underpinning the ad, it's very cinematic and emotional - what were you trying to achieve with the look of the film?

BS> I´ll quote Chris Milk on this one: 'I wanted to create a sincere and simple piece of film. Forging a deeply emotional connection with girl who needs saving even before she is born.  The story is told in a world that is familiar but still a mystery. She’s invited us in because she has something to say. Something vital.’  

LBB> What sort of research did you do for the visuals, colours, textures of the foetus and womb environment?

JS> Although our initial thoughts were to match fetoscopy tools, we found out after speaking with a few doctors, that it is rarely done anymore due to how invasive it can be to the baby.  In fetoscopy the light is attached to the camera; our lighting is softer back lighting keeping a diffused, welcoming environment instead of harsh frontal lighting.  We used 5-8mm lenses to be able to have the camera as close as possible to the baby.

LBB> What were the main challenges you faced?

JS> The main challenge was getting the quality level needed in the short amount of time.  Digital Domain's CG human workflow and talent made it possible.  All of the digital artists on the show had a great time on this project and the number one request was more time.  In VFX we are often times blowing things up or traumatizing people so it was a wonderful experience looking at happy, cute babies for seven weeks.

LBB>  Digital Domain did an amazing job taking the information from the scan and turning it into a beautiful, living little thing - what were like to collaborate with?

BS> Digital Domain has proven to be a wonderful partner on this journey from the beginning to the end. We were privileged to have a brilliant team of people working on this alongside Chris. This wasn´t so much about getting a job done,  it was about pushing the limits of technology once again and recreating a digital human as close to the real thing as possible.  A challenge every VFX artist loves to explore. 

Although the process in VFX can be quite a time consuming and tedious one, the collaboration with Digital Domain, Chris Milk and The British Heart Foundation was extremely fruitful and refreshing.  

LBB> Zara was born last month - have you heard from or seen any photos of your new star since she was born? 

LD> Yes and she’s absolutely gorgeous and a little hero already, delivering an important message before she can talk.

BS> As we didn't know what day the baby would be born, virtually everyone involved in the project was constantly asking and caring about the unborn child.  When she was born and we saw actual pictures of her, everyone was very happy and excited.   

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Genres: Visual VFX

Categories: Health, Corporate, Social and PSAs

Grey, Wed, 14 May 2014 16:19:02 GMT