Buf views the world as an inkjet

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The latest post-effects smorgasbord from HP, "Inside the Printer," imagines a world, and the seemingly requisite office space, as produced by an ink jet, rapidly panning from side to side, scanning shirts onto the bodies of workers and putting packages into their hands. Produced at Paris effects company Buf, and directed by Paranoid's Thierry Poiraud, the spots add to and complement spots "Constant Change," with effects by Digital Domain and "Change," via Passion Pictures, showing a workplace affected by HP technology in a vividly visual way. Set in a shop called Kaliforniarepublik on a tree-lined street, the opening shot contains only beige and neutral tones, while bright greens, oranges, reds and teals are added one at a time, after each pass of the "printer." Inside the shop and office area, entire tables appear, left to right, accompanied by a track emphasized with a cartridge's familiar shrill buzz.

According to commercials producer and co-founder Olivier Gilbert, the idea of scanning characters and scenery into the spot like a printer scans words and images onto a page was Poiraud's idea. "I don't know what the agency told him exactly, but Thierry came to us with this strange concept," says Gilbert. "Everybody was sure it was a brilliant idea, but nobody knows how to do such a thing. After a few days of discussions and some rough tests, we agreed to do it in 3-D because of the pull and back effect, but no one could imagine the result at this time."

Tackling the challenge head-on, the crew shot for a week in Los Angeles with two cameras hung from cables and synchronized them to capture all of the possible information available on the scene. "We didn't shoot on green, because the set was too large, too complicated, and not all that useful," Gilbert says. "Theoretically, if the information wasn't on camera one, it was on camera two. Theoretically only, because we had problems with a guy walking by in front of the store."

After the shoot, the production team turned the project over to seven of Buf's effects artists, who used all of the footage to rebuild the live action scenes in 3-D so that the camera movements could be fast and colors would be consistent. Jam Abelanet and Nicolas Dark served as heads of 3-D, collaborating with Flame artist Francis Polve and executive producer Guillaume Raffi. The artists rebuilt on simple models with animated maps, like the ones used in video game animation, but in higher resolution. "It was the hardest part of the spot, a nightmare for our graphic artists because every detail was important," Gilbert says.

After the camera travels from the outside of the building to the interior of the office, it drops down to desk-level to take the viewer inside a printer, where the voiceover tells us that, "there's a lot of science inside an HP printer." The science of showing the inside was slightly less complicated than showing the world seen through one, though. "The interior of the printer was a classical 3-D work," says Gilbert, "but we needed to be very realistic so we had to take down a real HP printer, piece by piece, and model it in 3-D."

With 75 percent of the final spot composed of effects and computer graphics, the project was finished three weeks after the end of the shoot. While Gilbert praises his artists willing to work night and day to get it done, and especially Poiraud for keeping everyone motivated, he is amazed that something inconceivable could become postproduction reality.

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