Post & Effects

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"Invisible Game" marks Converse's return to television after an extended hiatus from the screen. Unlike last month's column, where Creativity examined a graphically "flowing" basketball spot by Motion Theory, in which teamwork ruled, in this game the players aren't even an afterthought. In fact, they don't exist at all. Courtesy of effects by The Mill/New York and direction by Crossroads' Nick Lewin for Boston's Modernista, the spot features a basketball bouncing, darting from side to side and slamming straight into the net by itself, as if it were being handled by ghosts.

The Mill had considered various options to create this effect, including one quickly dismissed plan to paint out real players from a live shoot. "In any place you've got a player catching the ball, once you paint out the player you'd have to either track the CG bits or background of the ball where the player is holding it, or track bits of the ball," notes Mill producer Verity Grantham. "It's quite fiddly and not really necessary if you can create a photorealistic ball," which is ultimately what they did.

As for the solo dance the ball was to perform, the Mill's first thoughts were to use real game footage and map a CG ball over the background plates. However, the live-action references didn't come close enough to the players and weren't action-packed enough to create the dynamic scenes that were required. "We realized we had to recreate a game in a sense," Grantham notes. Luck would have it that "none of us at the Mill really knew the first thing about basketball," says director of animation Aron Hjartarson, but the Modernista creatives were on hand to take the lead on choreography. "They were absolute basketball nuts," Hjartarson says. "We totally had to rely on them for feedback on how the whole thing should work. We did our best to animate whatever moves they wanted, and eventually those moves graduated into plays."

Hjartarson says the most interesting aspect of the commercial was that beyond having to animate the CG ball against a live-action backboard, there were also moments when the Mill crafted not just the ball but the entire court in 3-D. Using a technique called "photogrammetry," which enabled them to lay digital photo textures of the court onto a CG model, the Mill animators cloned photoreal environs. Three shots in the spot were 100 percent computer generated. "There's not a live pixel in there," Hjartarson says. Why bother? Having a CG court enabled them to double the number of angles from which they could capture the ball, allowing for the more dynamic scenes in which viewers feel as if they're seeing the ball from the POV of a real player. "By doing a computer-generated camera, we could animate it to the movement of the ball," explains Hjartarson. "We found that if we only had the live-camera scenes, we were animating the ball to the camera, so the camera almost seemed like it knew what was going to happen ahead of time. We had to get a lot more tension and excitement in there, and that was done by animating the ball ahead of the camera, so it seems as if it doesn't quite know where the ball is going to go."

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