Evolution doesn't happen overnight, and neither did Guinness' latest commercial. For director Daniel Kleinman, agency AMV BBDO and visual effects specialists Framestore CFC, the visually stunning spot "noitulovE"-which depicts the backward journey through the history of life on Earth as living creatures and landscapes rapidly devolve into their earliest states-took no less than six months of meticulous storyboarding and VFX wizardry to create. "The challenges were pretty epic," laughs Kleinman. "By its nature, the idea for this spot is not something you can go out and film. Very little of it exists, so we had to concoct it. Do we do it all CG? Do we do it with stock footage? Do we do it with animation? What we finally decided was to make it a bit mixed-media."
According to Framestore VFX supervisor William Bartlett, the progression from present-day pub to prehistoric puddle was achieved by splicing live-action film, stock footage and a few evolved VFX techniques-some of which were improvised on the fly. "We looked at the storyboards and saw 15 computer-generated creatures, plus nine or 10 different land or plant transformations," says Bartlett. "So we came up with lots of different ideas-stock footage of chimpanzees, traditional stop-frame animation for growing foliage, and a bread mix that I cooked up in the kitchen to simulate rock transformations." These were thrown into the mix along with the pub scene (which was shot in a studio), the background plates for the main landscape (shot in Iceland over the course of a single day using a laptop computer, a mobile generator and the time-lapse modes of a few digital cameras), and some additional CG work to come up with the final product. "Mixing all of these things together and getting it not to look like a collage of 10 different sources was the hardest part."
Harder than squeezing millions of years of evolution into a 50-second spot? "The challenge was creating the feeling that you've really been on a journey in quite a short space of time, while keeping it easy on the eye and not a bombardment of confusing images," says Kleinman. "I really wanted it to be a story of three characters that you follow all the way through. Even when they're lizards running along the ground, you know it's still those same three guys."
And while those lizards and their fellow critters were largely the product of Kleinman and co.'s imagination-"I didn't want it to appear like some kind of science program, so we made up our own pseudo-historical creatures that weren't particularly scientifically accurate"-the mudskippers at the end are actually real specimens imported from Singapore. "We thought we would just shoot them for reference, but when we put them in front of the cameras, they were fantastic," says Bartlett. "We managed to get them to drink and flop around. So apart from the end bit where he shakes his head and sticks out his tongue, they're real." And apparently easy to work with. "They took direction better than quite a few actors I've worked with!" laughs Kleinman.
Client: Guinness Agency: AMV/BBDO, London Creatives: Ian Heathfield, Matt Doman Producers: Yvonne Chalkley Director: Daniel Kleinman/Kleinman Productions, London Editor: Steve Gandolfi/Cut & Run, London VFX: Framestore CFC, London VFX Supervisor: William Bartlett