Ballerina – a Case Study

This is a description of how we worked with our TV ad for Ballerina. The ad was created together with the client, Göteborgs Kex, and the agency, åkestam.holst.

The objective of this exercise is to offer an insight into the production of CG, Computer Graphics – specifically 3D-projects, displaying the different steps of the creation and production. It may be difficult for the client to foresee how the finished product will look like, since the steps in CG-production differ slightly from traditional film-making. The following case study features an example of how a production might look like from conception to finished product.

Order

When the ad agency commenced the creative work, they were guided by these key words from the client, Göteborg Kex (Gothenburg’s Crackers).

‘Novelty – filled to the rim with chocolate – Ballerina Cookies – filled with Ballerina filling and stuffed with chocolate bits – more chocolate in one cookie than you ever thought possible!’

The target group is the chocolate-loving family who loves their coffee breaks, and everyone else who is enamored with chocolate and still in possession of their childlike mind.

The film is supposed to feel playful, spontaneous, pacey and ‘chocolatey’. Since the colors of the product are red and yellow, it is desirable that they are featured prominently in the film’s color scale.

Script

We met the agency, who explained their ideas, after which we received a script where the film’s course of events were described.

Mood boards

Collage of steampunk-references and a Ballerina signpost

Mood board with French influences and Ballerina products to set the color scheme

References of steam engines and kitchen utensils

Here we present images that create a feeling for how the film will be experienced. To mention but a couple of examples, it’s about trying to figure out color scales, character styles and set and prop designs. Moodboards are a quick first step to create an understanding how the final product will be perceived.

Storyboard

Storyboard with pertaining descriptions of the course of events

When the script is approved, we transform it into a series of images, depicting the course of events. These images are mounted in sequential order, as in a comic book, which, even at this early stage, gives us a feeling of how the finished film will look like. Later, we may very effectively try out alternate edits or ways to tell the story by adding, subtracting or juxtaposing images.

This is our storyboard, as it looks like in its version 1.0. As one may notice, some images that are not included in the final film are present here. For instance, the baker was removed, as were some of the disco images. This is a natural progression in the creative process and is best done at this early stage, when the actual production of the film has not begun. Hence, no work needs be redone or discarded, which will be the case if changes and supplements arrive later in the process.

Boardmatic

The first version of the boardmatic

When our storyboard is ready, we put the images in right order and play them for the right length. The result is a film with exactly the same length as the finished film, giving us an understanding of how long each shot is and how the images and scenes relate to each other temporally.

At the boardmatic stage, as with the storyboard stage, development may occur without too much work being amended or discarded, which, as we all know, is the case when these alterations arrive later in the process.

This is the last version of the boardmatic, produced before the production went into the animatic phase

One of the main discussions during the early boardmatic-phase was if the baker should be present or not. After a longer discussion, we concluded that we did not want the cookies to compete with another character.

After several updates to the boardmatic, we started to feel satisfied. We employed six weeks of pre-production to polish the structure of the film, enabling us to enter the production phase fully prepared.

Design and modeling

The Ballerina cookies

Ballerina cookies with ballerina shoes

Animation test of a Ballerina cookie

Our lead character, the original Ballerina cookies, transform through a number of variations to find their final form. For instance, in one test, the cookies are given small Ballerina shoes. Before the length of their arms and legs are finalized. To test the cookie design, short animated scenes were created, enabling us to try out possible personalities for the cookies.

The baker

Baker design proposal

The baker and his cookies

Turntable of cookies

We scouted through several cartons of cookies from Göteborgs Kex, selecting only the very best of each kind. These cookies were recreated digitally through an optical 3D measurement technology, offering high stringency and a wealth of details. Thus, the product in the film is made identical with those found in the stores by the consumers.

Lever design sketch

Filling meter design sketch

Dough mixer design sketch and reference images

Props turntable

To create an exciting and beautiful Ballerina bakery, we were influenced by steampunk in our design of the sets and machines. Even if they are just visible for a very short time, they are essential in giving the film the playful feeling we were looking for. Scratches and wear and tear were hand-painted on each detail to create the right kind of patina, making it all feel credible.

Animatic

Animatic

When our boardmatic has been approved, we know what angels and scenes the film will comprise. Then we make a first blocking of the scenes in our 3D-animation tool. We build the sets and shoot the scenes with virtual cameras and pace the editing according to the boardmatic, recreating both the character and camera movements in a 3D-environment. At this stage, simple placeholders, displaying their size and position, represent the characters.

Animation

Close-ups of animated Ballerina cookies from different shots

After blocking the film in 3D and receiving Animatic approval, we move on by adding all movements, including all the subtle gestures needed to make the characters feel alive and kicking.

The animations of the Ballerina cookies were evidently paramount. But what was extra satisfying to us was that we could fill out the background with cookies that the viewer, at first sight, will not have time to take in, but which, on subsequent viewings, add depth and surprise.

Simulation

Development of a simulation from the first version to the finished result

The script calls for liquid cookie stuffing filling a glass receptacle, as well as large amounts of chocolate chips falling in slow motion. Both actions employ complicated movement patterns, offering severe difficulties in animating them by hand. Instead, we used simulation, meaning that the laws of physics calculated the movements. It is a time consuming process, but in these cases it is the only possible way forward.

We use two methods of simulations. For the falling chocolate chips, we use a method based on classic Newton physics. Every little adjustment of the material properties, the total amount and the speed heavily affect how the chocolate chips fall. Before reaching the final result, we made a great number of variations, wherein the result was polished closer to perfection every time around.

Development of a simulation from the first version to the finished result

For the cookie filling in the glass receptacle, we deployed a method based on the equations of Navier-Stokes. This process, needless to say, also required numerous versions. The textures of the filling, the movements, as well as other properties, were adjusted all along the process to achieve the result we were aiming for.

The dough

The dough is refined gradually through digital sculpting

Since the dough is visible only in a short clip, we decided to go for a more effective and controllable solution than simulation – simply sculpting the dough to its final shape, with lumps, creases and everything, and then adding distortion. We achieved this through employing Mudbox, a software product that offers digital equivalents to mud.

Lighting

Example of the build-up of the lighting in three scenes

When the design is ready, it is time for lighting and cinematography, creating the mood of the film. Every shot of a film calls for its own lighting, but in order to create coherency, an overall lighting design is needed. For the Ballerina film, some of the key words were “after closing hours”, “cozy” and “everything looking tasty”. Bearing that in mind, we based our lighting on a blue key light, creating strong silhouettes and an evening feel. Closer to the cookies, we complemented with smaller and warmer yellow lamps to give the sense of a theatrical stage. It also made the cookies look savory. We used as much incumbent lighting as possible, such as street lamps, the pulsating light from the warm oven, or small spotlights placed on the same height as a desk lamp would be.

Stages of development

The development from the boardmatic to an approved shot

Here is an example of how one of the shots in the film was developed from the boardmatic phase to the finished film. In every phase, the shot is refined, adding increasingly more details. After finalizing the storyboard, the scene is built up in our 3D-tool, in which we decide upon camera angles. In this case, another set was chosen to better achieve the communication objective. Additional models and details were then added, like, in this case, a tree, a sidewalk and a street lamp. Simultaneously, the lighting is refined, as are the design and materials of the models. Elements of the set design may be added or discarded as a last touch.

Grading

An example of how grading may enhance the elements of a shot

At this point, all the difficult work is behind us. Everything looks almost as we want it to look. At this phase, we give the film a last fine-tuning of colors and color temperature. Some shots may need to be a bit bluer and colder. Or the cookies may need a slightly warmer hue to look more appetizing. To enhance the viewer’s focus on the course of events, some shots may need a subtle vignetting, making the edges darker. This allows for the eyes to focus more easily on the desired part of the image.

Online

The final film

Online is the final step before delivery to broadcast. This is the last opportunity to make changes, often resulting in giving the pack shot some final touch. Logos, offers and legal texts are inserted. Apart from that, this stage focuses chiefly on fine-tuning colors, lightening shadows and the like. For the first time, the sound is added to the image, making this a perfect opportunity for the client to watch the end product materialize.