I read an essay once by Steven Millhauser that explained why miniatures are so engaging. In a nutshell, he says that miniatures enchant us by teasing us with what is at the limits of our vision. We can only perceive so many details, and so our imagination kicks in to fill in the blanks. Without realizing it, we become co-authors of a world that is just at the edge of our perception.
A similar principle is at work in “Open Science,” a new spot for DuPont from agency Ogilvy, New York. The combination of Stink’s Gaelle Denis (check her City Paradise, if you haven’t seen it) and MassMarket makes for a winning combination that’s all charm and magic.
The entire spot is a seamless blend of actual miniatures and CG. The following Q&A (courtesy of Glossy) with lead compositor Chris Staves sheds light on the creative and technical processes involved.
What was the creative brief?
Gaelle Denis came to us after creating her beautiful and lush short film, City Paradise. So, we already had a very good idea what her visual style was all about. She asked us to help her create a spot that would seamlessly meld miniatures, CG and live action in a surreal blend.
Dupont was very open to an experimental approach to the filmmaking, so we had a lot of creative freedom to really experiment with techniques and design directions.
How did you approach this job creatively?
Gaelle definitely knew she wanted to shoot some miniatures, but the budget of the job would not allow for all 4 vignettes to be shot as real miniatures, so we met with her and discussed which scenes made the most sense to do miniature and which ones could be handled in CG. We decided to shoot the first two scenes as primarily miniature and the second two as nearly all CG.
The goal throughout though was to make them all feel seamless and integrated, so that there was a cohesive blend of miniature and CG. So, there were always some CG elements to the miniature shoots and there were always miniature elements added to the CG scenes.
What did you bring to this job creativity?
For the opening sequence, Kansas being restored after a devastating tornado, we combined CG cranes, cars, and some houses to the stop motion animation we had created of the miniature landscape being destroyed. We also tracked in cotton clouds that we had shot, and did a great deal of cleanup and enhancement of the filmed destruction. We also tracked in some live action people that we shot to appear walking along the sidewalks near the end of the shot.
In the Village scene, we animated the lights switching on, added a sky and some misty clouds, and some CG lights and some live action silhouettes of people in the windows.
The Car Park and Corn Field scenes were almost entirely CG. We photographed still frames of some miniature elements to incorporate into those scenes, such as the foreground building in Car Park, and some of the small shacks in Corn Field.
We mapped these photographic elements onto CG models to integrate them into the CG camera move. Again, in the Car Park scene, we tracked in live action people picnicing, walking and flying kites into the scene as well.
The overall look and feel of the piece was a collaboration between our designers working with Gaelle to develop matte paintings, our 3D team laying out and animating the scene, and the Flame compositors putting all the elements together. Creatively, we were given a lot of freedom to really bring something to the table, working closely with Gaelle, to achieve the final look.
Tell me about the miniatures.
The miniatures were built at England’s world renowned Shepperton Studios. The two massive sets were beautifully crafted and they worked brilliantly to achieve the desired effect. For the Kansas scene, we built the entire finished town and filmed a motion-control camera move of it. We projected moving cloud footage over the scene to give the affect of time lapse.
We then spent about a day and a half meticulously destroying the town little by little. After each shot, we would bring in scaffolding and four animators would break little bits of the houses, littering debris around as they went. We would then pull down the scaffolding and do another pass of the entire motion-control move.
All told, we had about 50 passes of filmed footage. By having the entire move shot each time, we were able to control the speed of rebuilding in post by cutting from pass to pass, working our way backwards from totally destroyed city to fully built city.
The Village scene worked in a similar way. We had a motion control move that we shot about 60 times for each light switching on. Again, this allowed us to have ultimate control in post over the timing of the lights. The car was also a miniature pulled along by a wire.
DuPont “Open Science”
Agency: Ogilvy, New York
Worldwide Creative Director: David Fowler
Creative Director: Jim Nolan
Art Director: Kanad Banerjee
Copywriter: Michael Demos
Executive Producer: Lee Weiss
Senior Producer: Be Garrett
Production Company: Stink
Director: Gaelle Denis
Executive Producer: Daniel Bergman
Line Producer: Tracey Cooper
Editorial: Trim, London
Editor: Paul Hardcastle
Visual Effects: MassMarket, New York
Executive Producer: Justin Lane
VFX Producer: Rich Rama, Rasha Clark
Assistant Producer: Kay Chen
Lead Flame Artist: Chris Staves
Flame Artist: Jamie Scott
Junior Flame Artist: Jeen Lee, Dan Boujoulian
Lead CG: Andreas Berner
CG Artist: Cody Chen, Kitty Lin, Jordan Blit, Iggy Ayestaran, Lee Wolland,
Jonah Friedman, Marco Iozzi
Previz Artist: Jim Hundertmark
Lead Designer: Anh Vu
Designer: Pete Sickbert-Bennett
Tracking: Joerg Liebold, Joon Park, Jeen Lee