A host of Aardman Animation characters get talking on a Google+ Hangout
Aardman Animation’s stable of popular characters have been brought together for the first time in a festive Google+ campaign. Wallace, Gromit, Ginger, Shaun and the stars of Creature Comforts get chatting via a Google+ Hangout in an amusing short from adam&eveDDB. Anyone wishing to connect with friends and loved ones through Hangout this festive season can even don Wallace’s iconic tank top, thanks to a Holiday Effects app. Aardman director Merlin Crossingham talks us through the creative challenges of working with such a well-loved set of characters and The Mill’s Luke Colson (Executive VFX Producer) and Carl Phillips (VFX Producer) shine a light on the technical challenges.
LBB> How did the Google+ project come about and how did you get involved?
MC> Aardman was approached by adam&eveDDB on behalf of Google, with this idea as part of their on-going range of communications with the Google+ brand. We loved the idea and with a little Aardman polish, the project came to life.
LC> The Mill works extensively with adam&eveDDB on a number of brands, Google being one of them. As soon as the script was signed off and Aardman were on board, we began talking with them. So literally, we started working within days of the project being confirmed.
LBB> Is this the first time characters from the worlds of Creature Comforts, Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run have been brought together in this way?
MC> Yes this is the first time these different characters have come together. While Shaun now exists in his own world, he started out in 'A Close Shave'. Because all of the characters are from the same stable and share design principals they sit very comfortably together. The only reason they hadn’t come together before was that there was no reason. The Google+ script gave us that reason, and we love the end result.
LBB> How did you ensure consistency between all of the characters?
LC> The process was actually quite a tricky one with lots of strands of the project having to run concurrently in order for the project to be delivered within the tight deadline. The initial edit and Hangout build was quite rough and had simple line drawings in so we could all get a sense of timing. As animations were done, even if rough, we would drop these into the corresponding place in the edit, and we literally continued this process for days, making tweaks to framing and the UI and edit as and when the animations went in. Only when we had all the completed animations in place, were we in a position to grade the final individual animations. This is where the consistency was fully achieved.
LBB> A bit geeky - but we really liked the webcam effects and phone camera shakiness - how did you achieve that with stop motion?
MC> We did the webcam movement using motion control, which allows us to program and control the camera to move however we need. For the handheld Ginger shots we filmed Ginger against a green screen and composited her onto a background made up from several layers of plants also shot on green screen. The moving background was created in post-production. Things are never quite what they seem...
LBB> What was the biggest creative challenge involved in the project?
MC> The biggest creative challenge was that once a character is introduced they stay live on screen in a small screen below the main window. In animation terms this meant that we had to create nearly 4mins of animation, that all had to choreograph as if it was a live event.
LBB> And what was the biggest technical challenge you faced working on this project?
CP> The biggest challenge faced on this project from our point of view was with regard to the multiple panels on the Hangout user interface. This essentially meant that we had six streams of content over approx. 60 seconds each. This is actually a lot of animation, so any edit change had to be watched for continuity very closely. From an output point of view this meant that any change had a knock on effect so I would say ensuring edit continuity was the toughest technical challenge on this project.
LBB> In terms of pre-production/writing, how did you go about developing the Hangout chat & imagining how these characters would interact?
MC> When developing the script, making it feel as spontaneous and natural as possible was vital, once we had the bones of the structure we could go in and make sure that the dialogue was appropriate for each character.
LBB> How did the idea to create the Aardman-inspired holiday effect app come about and how did you go about bringing that aspect of the project to life?
MC> The first time I used the hangout and discovered the effects I knew that we had to do at least some Gromit ears. I would like to think I had the idea, but the truth is that the Google team were way ahead of me on this one and already had plans to make it happen. To create the effects, we shot bespoke stills of each element that could then be embedded into the Google effects program by the magicians at Google.