Vision Q&A: A Real CG Page-Turner

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The ol' life-as-book-chapters analogy is even more time-tested than that one about the box of chocolates. For Sears "Chapters," Young & Rubicam/Chicago asked Motion Theory to breathe new visual effects life into the old Sears catalog. We spoke with visual effects supervisor Nick Losq and director Grady Hall about how they made the flipbook-styled spot.

What were some of your goals for how this spot would look?
Grady Hall: As a general overview, the agency wanted to put the focus back on the Sears Book catalog. So the idea was to create a world that was completely defined by the language of a book.
Nick Losq: The visual effects goals were to create effects that complemented the story. Given the nature of paper, there are only so many ways you can turn a page, so we really tried to use the film that Grady and [co-director] Mark Kudsi shot as a guide and reference to how to get these pieces of paper to speak to the audience, just as the characters in the story do.

How much is filmed and how much is CG?
NL: Our goal is to always get as much in-camera as possible. There's something about the life of that footage that is so much richer than what we can do with something completely CG. So it was about adding little complements and touches in CG to the in-camera footage. There's a lot of interaction between the characters and the effects, which is always a nice way to ground something, and it allows the viewer to see it as something real. It's about creating a cohesive vision, because there's nothing worse than an effect that contradicts the other elements in the commercial.

What was the most difficult aspect?
NL: Overall, I think it was just understanding the nature of paper. There are so many different types of paper, all of which behave differently and move differently. So it was about picking a paper that would fit in and match consistently throughout the spot. We did a lot of tests in terms of how stiff a piece of paper was in someone's hand—it was about making sure that look was perfect throughout the spot.

What kind of testing did you do with paper?
NL: We were trying anything from oversize card stock to regular 8.5x11 paper, doing tests, flipping it, seeing if it folded or had a lot of creases. We really tried to analyze how these paper types behaved in real life in order to create the effects. For us, it came down to two types of paper flipping—the kind where it was enacted by itself, like a gentle breeze blowing a page, and the type where the actors were interacting with it. Those were much easier because once you have someone have an influence on how that page moves, you can take it from A to B much easier.

Was it tough to fit so much in every room or chapter, so to speak?
GH: Well, you don't want to stuff too much into a commercial, because even though you want the viewer to see all these things, they end up seeing nothing. In this case, we were adding a lot of variety to what they had in mind in terms of page turns. So when we said we couldn't fit two more rooms in, everyone accepted it. I love the pacing of it and think we managed to find a good balance between things. I think one more room would've been too much; we could've gone with one less, but I think it's a good number as it is.
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