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Making Commercials: Where No Minion Has Gone Before

Mr. Sulu meets the Minions in a sharp new commercial for Sharp’s 3D TV.

By Michael Fickes

Sharp spokesman George Takei
Sharp spokesman George Takei discusses a shot with Twist director Chris Stocksmith.
Photo by: Andy Lilien

To introduce its new 3D television, Sharp Electronics Corporation asked its advertising agencies for a commercial illustrating the breakthrough technology.

In other words, the assignment was to persuade viewers watching conventional 2D television that a 3D television image is spectacular.

Tough job.

Sharp’s agencies, mcgarrybowen/New York (www.mcgarrybowen.com) and Dentsu Kansai, Osaka/Japan (www.dentsu.com) came up with a fun idea that shows 3D Minions from the recently-released, 3D-animated feature Despicable Me spilling out of the television into the real world.

Sharp's 3D AQUOS Quattron TV
Minions mill around on the screen of
Sharp’s 3D AQUOS Quattron TV.

The agencies licensed the Minions from Universal Studios and arranged for the Paris offices of Mac Guff, which had animated the movie, to post the commercial with help from Mac Guff in Los Angeles.

Director Chris Stocksmith from Twist, a production house based in Minneapolis and New York City (www.twistfilm.com), managed the live-action shoot, which had a shot list created to facilitate the animation.

The commercial opens with George Takei, known to Star Trek fans as Mr. Sulu, in a white lab coat on a white set in front of Sharp’s 3D AQUOS Quattron TV set. Takei had established himself in earlier commercials for the 2D AQUOS Quattron as Sharp’s scientist spokesman.

Takei explains one of the keys to both the 2D and 3D AQUOS Quattron technology: A fourth color, yellow, complements the conventional red, green and blue color system in this set. As Takei talks, he holds up a rectangular card showing examples of the red, green, blue and now yellow colors. Then he flips the board over to reveal an illustration of yellow bananas.

Meanwhile, on the 3D screen beside Takei, three Minions have been milling around.

Turns out, Minions love bananas, and Takei’s picture of bananas rivets their attention. More Minions show up and begin to slam into the television screen from inside, trying to get the bananas.

Takei dons 3D glasses and looks at the screen. The glasses release the Minions, and a half-dozen or so tumble onto the floor. Looking stunned, Takei hollers “Whoa!” then pauses a beat and follows up with his signature “Oh, my!” that he had voiced in an earlier 2D commercial. That commercial and the line quickly went viral.

As the last Minion dives out, Takei knocks it across the set with a flick of his finger. The others surround him, their eyes glued to the bananas.

The spot goes to the tagline: “You have to see it to believe it,” a reminder that viewers can’t appreciate the images unless they watch in 3D. (See the spot at http://twistfilm.com/quicktimes/Sharp_The_Spill.mov).


Takei with photo of bananas
The notion of bananas excites the Minions trapped in the TV.
The Minions break out of the screen.
The Minions break out of the screen when Takei dons 3D glasses.
Minion flies towards viewers
A flick of Takei’s finger propels a Minion toward viewers.

Shooting Sulu
After looking at the agency storyboard, Twist’s Stocksmith realized that he would have to control the shoot precisely to give the animation artists from Mac Guff the angles and lighting they would need to stage the Minions.

For the real-world shoot, Stocksmith and DP Andy Lilien selected an Aaton Penelope 35mm switchable 2-perf/3-perf camera. “It’s quiet and has a very sharp video tap,” he says. “We covered the story with a variety of wide, medium and close-up shots to give the editor room to play.”

The high-quality video tap was key to ensuring that the set ups were precisely right.

Simon Holden, a freelance VFX artist worked the shoot through Mac Guff/Los Angeles for Mac Guff/Paris, advising on lighting, shadows and camera angles. For instance, he recommended shots of the television with it turned on – to provide reference of where the animated picture should fit on the screen. Additional reference shots showed the television from different angles under different lighting conditions.

As always, accumulated details make CGI seem comfortable and real to viewers. To capture a highlight around the edge of the screen, for instance, Stocksmith shot a scene with Takei and then without, a shot that permitted the lighting to highlight the edge of the screen. “In post, we stripped the highlight into the scene with George,” Holden says. “We did a lot of these shots. Whenever a object reflected light, we shot a clean version of the background so shadows and reflections could be added later and matched up with the Minions.”

By placing a gray sphere in several scenes, the team collected reference shots for shadows and reflections that would become important when the Minions burst out of the television. “That was the tricky part,” says Arnauld Boulard, the executive producer for the spot with Mac Guff/Paris. “There is one lighting scheme and one camera for the Minions inside the television set and another lighting scheme and another camera outside. We needed a lot of reference to ensure a seamless transition.”

Transporting Minions From Their World To Ours
Mac Guff/Paris used Autodesk Maya as its 3D animation tool, proprietary software called MGLR for rendering and Nuke from The Foundry for compositing. When the project arrived in Los Angeles, Holden responded to requests from the agencies and client to tweak scenes with Autodesk Flame. These tools enabled the Minions to transport from their home world to earth.

For the first half of the spot, the virtual CGI camera shows the Minions head-on inside the television, which, in turn, was shot head-on with the Penelope. As several Minions prepare to leap out of the television, both the virtual camera and the Penelope angle to one side. The Minions burst through, from a darker lighting scheme inside the television to the brightly-lit set.

“We couldn’t do it in one pass with the virtual camera,” Holden says. “We took one pass with one camera inside the set and one pass with the other camera outside. Then we had to find the best transition point from the first camera to the second.”

“We made the transition from one camera to the other in Nuke during compositing,” Boulard explains.

Once a number of Minions have arrived, the commercial cuts back to the original straight-on shots of the virtual Minions inside the television and Takei on the set. At this point, however, the Minions in our world have been re-rendered and composited onto the set with Takei.

The Minions are here.

December 6, 2012