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Making Commercials: Making Digital Connections

Animating how build-it-yourself apps can connect businesses to customers and customers to businesses.

By Michael Fickes

Producer Drew Neujahr from Roger (on the left) Roger Owner and Creative Director, Terrence Lee, at the computer.
Producer Drew Neujahr from Roger (on the left) Roger Owner and Creative Director, Terrence Lee, at the computer.

Aiming to expand its customer base to individuals and small businesses, app-maker Mobile Roadie has developed a suite of tools that enables anyone to build an app – without knowing anything about computer code.

To advertise the new business model, the Los Angeles-based company asked mixed-media production studio Roger, also of LA, to create and produce an online video showcasing how the build-it-yourself app tools work. Roger responded with “Anthem,” a 60-second spot that earned a 2012 Silver Telly, which honors the best in TV and film production.

“The idea is to give Joe’s Coffee Shop and other small businesses a way to connect with customers,” says Terrence Lee, Roger’s owner and creative director. “We wanted the spot to illustrate how that works.”

The piece combines vignettes of real people with 3D animated objects and 2D scenes. Vignettes play out on the street, in stores, on a beach, at a home and at an entertainment event. As the characters use their apps to buy and sell, animated rectangular 3D panels emanate from the phones and tablets symbolizing the cyberspace transactions and connections.

In addition, the commercial uses scenes with 2D animated green and white maps showing outlines of continents to illustrate the routes taken by data flowing around the world.

Each scene ends with a distinctive camera move that creates a transition to the next scene. In the first scene, for instance, a woman walks out of a New York City apartment building using her mobile phone. Panels of transaction symbols grow out of her phone. As the camera looks over her shoulder, she taps an icon to purchase a T-shirt. The icon takes off, moving deeper into the screen, and the 3D camera pushes into the screen and into the 2D animation, following the icon along a map from the starting place in New York all the way to San Francisco. When the icon arrives at its destination, the camera pulls back and out of a screen, this time a tablet screen being used by the owner of a T-shirt shop. The animated transactional panels floating in the air beside the tablet suggest that he is selling lots of T-shirts.

Jon Hyde of Boxer Films shot the live footage using a Canon 7D with Digital SLR. Lee from Roger worked with Hyde to lay the groundwork for the animation. After the shoot, Lee’s production team used PF Track from The Pixel Farm in the U.K. to figure out where to position the 3D panels in each scene. PF Track analyzes scenes and finds patterns, says Lee. It calculates distances between objects and tracks how objects move in relation to each other. It ultimately enabled the animation team to composite the 3D images into the scenes, orient them properly and tie them to the various phone and tablet screens.

Next, the production team generated a 3D camera with Cinema 4D, a modeling, animation and rendering application from Germany-based MAXON Computer GmbH.

“We animated the glass panels in Cinema 4D and exported them to After Effects where we stylized the raw renderings and added reflections of the users’ faces to the 3D panels,” says Lee. “Sometimes we had to paint out reflections of the production crew in the tablet and phone screens. The biggest challenge involved making the animated panels appear to be attached to the devices. When a device turned in a user’s hands, the animations, which exist on the same plane as the flat tablet or phone, had to turn just that much.”

After Effects also handled the compositing and color correction for the project. A voiceover on top of an original music track explains the goings on in the commercial: “We live in a mobile world with unlimited reach and potential, where everyone is connected and every interaction counts.”

Mobile Roadie has a vision of this emerging mobile world, and “Anthem” brings that vision to life.

November 14, 2012