Pennington Birds: Behind the Scenes

It’s pretty unbelievable how much work goes into thirty seconds of advertising. From concept to screen there are hundreds of steps along the way. Some of us spent a large part of our summer working on a campaign featuring a spot for the Pennington Wild Bird Band. I thought it would be fun to share some of the works in progress along the way in a behind the scenes look at how it all came together.


Character Design
As we put our initial ideas together for how our bird characters should look, feel, and act, we worked with uber talented former Disney animators Rob Corley and Tom Bancroft of FunnyPages Productions. Each character was designed taking into account real personality attributes you’d find in each bird species. A range of directions for each character are explored before settling on a design.

Character Explorations: Chaz

Character Explorations: Chickadee

Character Explorations: Lester & Finch

And of course they all need to work together as a group.

Now let’s think about what they look like in color.

And this is all just to pitch an idea : ) Once the idea gets the green-light, it’s time to buckle down into production mode.

Production
To bring our four feathered troubadours to life, IQ enlisted the help of the supernaturally talented animation studio, Milford, in Stockholm Sweden. I really can’t say enough about these guys — some of the most creative folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. Milford really has a love for their craft — and it shows. And they’re a blast to work as well! So… if you’re ever in need of a stellar character animation troupe, you know where to find them.

Each character’s design was fine-tuned and optimized for the 3D modelling process.


Chaz Cardinale (the Cardinal)
Chaz is the self-proclaimed leading man and the baritone. He is handsome, slightly suave, and knows it. Chaz has a high confidence factor border lining on a bit conceited. He’s never mean, but not above razzing Lester.


Chicka Dee
Sassy and classy, Chicka Dee is our strong-minded, empowered, woman of the group. She’s in her late 20’s and sings soprano. She is the responsible one, often the voice of reason, and like most women generally has her way amongst the boys.


Finch
Finch originally hails from the Northeast and is the bands bass. He’s got a great low voice and has a hint of a Brooklyn/Jersey accent in him—both in voice and attitude. Finch is a tad older and more experienced therefore a tad cynical. He thinks Chaz and Lester are clowns, hence the constant busting of their chops.


Lester
A woodpecker spends all day beating his head against a tree — so of course he’s going to be the stupid one. Let’s give him a crazy eye too. Lester is the tenor. Very well liked, but often ends up being the brunt of everyone’s jokes, especially from Finch.

Let’s make stuff move already…
Out of 50 some odd scripts that were written, we culled it down to three, and built them out with colored still frames, voice over, and simple 2D animation. We took these three concept animatics into audience testing, and put the spots destiny into the hands of the gods…

The Last Seed (my personal fav of the three selected)

Monkey

Pitchpipe

Birds of a Feather
The feathers were crucial to get right, and this proved to be a huge technical challenge. For our fellow 3D geeks out there, here’s how the problem was solved:

For each bird, a special growth surface was created which had points for the placement of each feather. A curve was placed on each point and then groomed with a set of control curves.

A big challenge was to have the feathers follow the animated mesh correctly without intersecting each other.To solve this, a set of deformation tools were written in Houdini. Once the animation was done the feathers were exported as curves with a set of attributes that described each feather.

The curves were then fed through a Python script which read these attributes and generated a feather for each curve. These were written to disk as RIB archives and rendered with 3delight.

OK. That was a bit technical.

Still with me? Good.

Test Render: working through the movement and refining the aesthetics.

Props for the Scene are created.

And put together with a nice polish.

All the finishing touches are made to each scene. Every single frame is evaluated and scrutinized. Here’s a few of my favorite key frames.

And done! Now if I can just get that damn song out of my head….
Here’s the final spot:

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