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Making Commercials: Testing, Testing – Launch

Launch’s 3D-animated test commercials visualize the action, refine the story and provide production insights.

By Michael Fickes

making commercials - launch
[Above Top]
The full-up Fanta frame closely resembled Launch’s 3D test animation.
Launch’s 3D-animated test commercial for Fanta was a precursor of the final spot.

Quick quiz: Which of the two illustrations pictured is a frame from the new Fanta commercial, “Chase,” and which is a frame from its test commercial?

While the detail of the brick wall in one illustration might fool you into picking it as the full-up spot, the actual commercial frame depicts the black-haired boy standing in front of a wooden wall.

“Chase” tells the story of the youngster who out-skateboards a throng of skateboarding kids who want some of his Fanta. Ogilvy NY (www.ogilvy.com) produced the commercial for the Coca-Cola Company brand. PSYOP NY (www.psyop.tv) handled the animation.

The remarkably detailed 3D-animated test commercial for “Chase” was created by New York City-based Launch (www.321launch.com).

Unlike storyboards and animatics, 3D-animated test commercials are actual precursors of final commercials.

“These test commercials are an evolving specialty driven by advertisers that want more certainty about their ad spending,” says Joseph P. Weil, president of Launch.

By studying and responding to consumer reactions to 3D-animated test commercials, Launch can adjust the script, visuals, edit or all three. As a result, it can communicate more complex and subtle marketing messages.

Research firms use test spots in focus groups and newer online settings. In online link surveys, for instance, respondents log onto a website, watch a test commercial and answer some questions. Then they watch the commercial again and answer more questions. Respondents fall into different demographic groups, including the target group, whose answers receive special consideration.

“When a commercial created with the help of animated test spots airs, you see the most successful of at least two test spots,” Weil says.
The Launch client roster suggests that some of the biggest advertisers in the world have signed on to this kind of commercial development: Anheuser-Busch InBev, Coca Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Unilever.

While Launch offers a variety of test commercial executions from conventional animatics to 2D and 3D animation, Weil says that 90 percent of the firm’s assignments today involve 3D animation.

Making Fanta Fantastic

“We work closely with agencies and often production houses to develop these pieces,” Weil says.

For the Fanta test commercial, PSYOP NY, which developed the character designs for previous Fanta spots, provided Launch with source drawings.

“We worked with the agency and PSYOP to tighten the story and make it clear,” continues Weil. “We worked out a strong storytelling template and made a couple of spots.”

Starting with the source drawings, Launch artists built model wireframes then rigged and animated the characters to tell the story four different ways. They then rendered the spots adding the final lighting and texturing.

In short, Launch did everything an animation house would do to make a finished 3D-animated commercial, and they did it quickly. “We’ve written proprietary software that enables us to make high-end 3D animation on the schedule of a test commercial, which can be three days to two weeks,” Weil says.

Depending on the project, Launch might use its proprietary tools along with Autodesk Maya and MotionBuilder and NVIDIA Mental Ray.

Fanta’s campaign features cartoon characters, but for test spots requiring realistic human animation – also done at warp speed – Launch’s offices contain a motion-capture studio. “We use it to capture source motions,” Weil explains. “Our infrared cameras record motion from 360 degrees so you can see movements from any angle.”

Finished spots are crafted with the collaboration of the agency, Launch, market researchers and the production house. The agency and director benefit from Launch’s participation by knowing more about how the story works than with a typical storyboarded spot. Equally important, they know where the production challenges are and how best to deal with them.

“When things work best,” says Weil, “production problems have [already] been solved, and the production house can focus on doing great work.”

November 29, 2012