An international creative production studio based in Amsterdam and New York, Ambassadors is a homebase for artists across creative production to visual effects & 3D, design, grading, sound, music, edit and technology innovation to come together to craft amazing content for brands such as Nike, Uber, Jaguar and Booking.com.
We spoke with Head of 3D, Will Jeffers, to find out more about the animated television commercial series: ‘Antibiotics: Use Wisely, Take Precisely’ for the Federal Office of Public Health. The production used Maya, V-Ray, Yeti, and YellowDog’s Cloud Render platform.
We work a lot with sustainable Dutch bank ASN Bank and the creative agency Selmore to craft an animated brand world with miniature sets. The CG characters for that, including a very fluffy dog and a badger, were designed to be very tactile, have tangible fabrics, and look and feel very realistic. It was designed to have a very stop-motion feeling but with the benefits of using CG.
More recently, a Swiss agency were looking to create a similar look for a campaign promoting the safe use of antibiotics. They had seen our previous work and invited us to pitch on the project. So the Ambassadors creative team wrote a beautiful treatment and combined this with some examples of our previous work. We won the pitch!
It was a full Ambassadors creative production, so we further developed the brief internally with our creative team and were responsible for the concepts in all of the pre-production. We organised the shoot with the crew. Because this production was for the Swiss market, we created versions for German, French, and Italian audiences. On top of that, each spot was done as a onetake and the client wanted cut-downs. To cut down one shot is difficult, so we had to do animation variations for more or less the whole thing. The brief had expanded to be three languages, three films, with two versions each. Factoring all of that in with multiple characters and a lot with fur, meant that the challenge of rendering it all to a deadline really came into play.
We were going for a filmic look. We shot anamorphic on an Alexa LF and embraced the insanely shallow depth of field. One of the things that we’ve been doing recently on miniature shoots like this one is creating character assets before shoots and then 3D printing them. On set, we then paint them in mid-grey and set up all the lighting, all the camera work, all the depth of field, focus, and pulls around these 3D characters. So we’ll shoot a take with the talent and then shoot a clean plate separately. That second shoot will be the one that all the CG goes into.
We run a Maya, V-Ray, and Yeti pipeline and there was a small bit of Houdini in this production for some of the dynamics on the fur and some water drops. We’ve used V-Ray for many years. I’m a big fan: I think it’s a fantastic engine. We’re looking to upgrade to V-Ray Next very soon.
In the films that included the dog and the humans and the sheep, they really needed a lot of good fur and hair work applied to them so that’s where Yeti featured.
In the sheep commercial, there were shots where 60-70% of the frame was basically one big ball of beautiful Yeti. That is a render challenge and so we had to think of clever ways to chop that up to make it achievable. YellowDog was critical to the success of that particular film.
Yeti is nice: its relatively quick; its procedural. It can be hard to set up initially but now that we have it in place, it is a smooth part of the pipeline. Over the last year, we’ve switched to a much more alembic based shot scene so now we import our look-dev and our grooms to our shot scene, and that gives us a nice modular workflow.
Now it’s just nice to throw Yeti on everything (within reason). In these films, you can see that the man’s jogging bottoms or the woman’s night dress are covered in fur because it really adds the finer details. It helps to tell the scale of that miniature to the audience.
We have an on-premise render farm and we use all the workstations in the evening too. It isn’t always enough for the quality we’re after at short notice, so we sometimes use Cloud Rendering too.
YellowDog’s render technology has been on our radar for a few years but we really pushed it on this project.
It was the human face to the tech that really appealed to us to begin with. When our team submits renders to YellowDog, I often have a render wrangler on the other end telling me if there is something in my scene setup that’s going to cause problems. That’s nice because we only use YellowDog when we are in times of potential stress.
Any studio will tell you that you can plan and deliver all you want but sometimes, a client will just turn around and say: “Can you just render it again but can you do this in a different colour and can we change this material?” All the planning that you’ve done goes out the window when that happens. Having a technology and a team at YellowDog that can help to get the production over the line at the last minute can be invaluable.
It just works. Knowing there’s the power and accuracy of YellowDog’s multi-cloud platform and a team that makes it accessible is really all that matters to me. The file upload and scheduling system is great and it’s perfect for downloading rendered frames smoothly. It’s very simple. Simple is good when other aspects of the pipeline can be so complex.
There’s something very nerve-wracking about going to the cloud and putting that risk in the hands of someone else. Now, I feel confident because the technology is proven and the team have taken the time to visit us at the studio twice. I know that YellowDog really get what we are trying to achieve creatively as well as technologically.
Whether it is in our production process or our technology, we’re really enjoying pushing the possible and looking forward to our next projects with YellowDog.
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