Hummer through the looking glass

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Though the brand isn't for everyone, Hummer's trio of animated spots, via Modernista Boston and Stockholm-based animation company Filmtecknarna, are real crowd pleasers, thanks to prism-like effects cued up with emotive electronic music.

The first, "Evolution," introduces the sport utility truck, or SUT, by showing a bright yellow H2 morphing into a black SUT while spinning, refracting and rotating pieces dance on a mostly white background. In "Lifestyle Nature," the vehicle drives through an environment influenced by Hummer's mirror-floor print ads, using the kaleidoscope look to incorporate elements such as snowboards, bikes and windsurfing equipment, while the back end folds away to emphasize storage room. The third, "Accessories," shows customizable elements and their functions while also serving as set pieces and moving elements.

Modernista creatives came to Filmtecknarna after seeing a music video directed by the company's owner, Jonas Odell, for synth pop band Goldfrapp that used animated kaleidoscopic effects. Directors and VFX artists Boris Navratil and David Nord then took the lead in designing the spots that take a cue from Goldfrapp's clip, but achieve a very different look with a 3-D treatment. "In a kaleidoscope, you are looking at a prism, and as you rotate the mirrors they create objects that flow into each other," explains Navratil of the standard 2-D effect. "This time, instead of using mirrors we just built these weird shapes that were made out of pieces of the car and moved them around each other and rendered them as full objects. The objects reflect each other, but they have shadows and dimensions and give it a weight and a mass."

One major challenge in animating the kaleidoscopic elements was to make weighted and sometimes-awkward elements move effortlessly to preselected music (Jack Drag's "Debutante," Album Leaf's "Vermillion" and Ratatat's "Seventeen Years"). Accomplishing that with agile camera movements and musical choreography, the animators manage to turn a bulky, square vehicle into an unexpectedly quick and smooth shape-shifter. To be sure that each visual element had an audible accent, each shot and sequence were animated separately to the beat, then tweaked with time stretching to perfectly synchronize the two. "It really reflects the energy of the music, and that was really important," says Navratil. "A soft movement to a hard beat. Even though it's heavy, it still flows delicately."

The most complicated spot was "Lifestyle Nature," due to the numerous elements and complex but beautiful backgrounds. Shooting the human figures that appear on the athletic apparatus on a greenscreen during a one-day shoot in Stockholm, the people were incorporated with 2-D kaleidoscopic elements and embellished with 3-D accents and shadows to give them depth. Because faces weren't as important as poses and clothes, the directors shot with two actors, despite the dozen or more who appear onscreen.

Navratil credits the spots' success to the freedom given the animation team. "We're an experimental house. We don't want to stick ourselves to any one technique, but we like to try different things." In recent years, the company has produced an MTV Video Music Award-winning industrial cutout video for rock band Franz Ferdinand, as well as eye-poppers for McDonald's and BMW in the U.K. "We're really happy because we're getting a lot of compliments, especially from people who don't like the Hummer," says Navratil. "It's a funny compliment. 'Love the spot. Hate the car.' "

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