Post & Effects

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Although it's no surprise when a videogame commercial looks cool, "Consequences," from TBWAChiatDayL.A. for Sony PS2's game Dark Cloud 2, introduces a fresh vibe even to this genre, thanks to the effects magic of San Francisco's The Orphanage, founded by a trio of ILM alums. The spot opens on a dilapidated suburban home, crushed by the fallen branch of a huge tree in its yard. It quickly takes a trippy rewind back 200 years, through various eras, to before the home was even built, and the tree, the spot's "hero," was just a seed spewed from the mouth of a farmer onto a barren field. All this happens in the course of about 15 seconds, but it's not presented via the usual time-lapse trickery. Rather, it was created via a panoply of effects techniques that included live action, stop-motion puppetry, 2-D, CG - even a specialized organic growth program that can actually turn a seed into a tree.

Orphanage director Stu Maschwitz oversaw the entire process, which took about a month and a half. Aside from a month of post, there were two live-action shoots. One captured the end of the sequence, in which a seed emerges from the ground and flies backward into the farmer's mouth, illustrating the tag, "Every action has a consequence." Maschwitz used basic stop-motion puppeteering techniques to bury the seed in the ground. Things got difficult when the seed hits arboreal puberty and turns into a sapling, accomplished via specialized software called Xfrog, from Greenworks, which allows an effects artist to dial in various parameters to "grow" an organic object. "We came up with a choreography for the sapling that we liked, and rendering it was one of the most computer horsepower-intensive things we did," Maschwitz notes. "One of my favorite moments is when it comes out of the ground in that stop-motion kind of a way, because it's the collision of high- and low-tech." As for the house that sees better days, that was a miniature shot on set, crushed by a real branch that was eventually composited onto the body of an entire tree, also grown through Xfrog.

Overall, an inordinate number of details added in post beefed up the reverse journey, yielding the ultra-cool flickery look. As the tree shrinks and the house goes from weathered to spanking new, subtleties abound: for example, cars shift position ever so slightly and pink flamingos and slides pop in and out to ornament the lawn. The sky takes various turns as well, going from night to day, stormy to filled with billowy clouds and blue skies. The crucial minutiae, again, were a wild mix of stock footage, live action and CG via Maya, and went into what Maschwitz describes as a "monster comp" in After Effects of about 300 to 500 images. "The thing about time lapse is that it usually doesn't last over the course of 200 years," Maschwitz points out. "It would be pretty amazing if someone had had the foresight to put a little setup there the minute they invented cameras."

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