In our Behind the Moving Image series, we share the latest and greatest behind the scenes look at how our VFX geniuses bring to life some of our most iconic work.

First up, Kiril Mirkov, VFX Supervisor debunks a host of photoreal cat cowboys and cowgirls for kitty litter brand Arm & Hammer

When Arm & Hammer wanted to showcase its AbsorbX kitty litter made from desert dry minerals, they needed a spot that demonstrated its benefits in a fun and memorable way and highlighted the product’s origins – the desert. The spot, directed by MPC’s Michael Gregory, features a host of cats congregating in a desert saloon and has been nominated for two VES Awards for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial’ and Outstanding Compositing in a Commercial.

In a cowboy world of talking cat heads on human bodies the key challenge for the animation team was to ensure that the character performance still had a high level of believe-ability and realism to allow the audience to accept the world presented to them and enjoy the humour.

Our teams crafted four entirely different, photoreal cat cowboys and cowgirls through grooming, rigging and most importantly quality modelling. Creating the base cat model with a smart edge flow allowed us to maintain the same topology for all four cats, making it easier to transfer dozens of flex and blend shapes created in the process across all the other models. Beside our main CG heroes, several real cats’ heads were replaced to complete the scenery. In-camera cat masks were used on-set and replaced in CG. To ensure we blended the CG to the actor’s head, we placed fur patches around the necks matching the colour of their furry character.

VFX BREAKDOWN:

Have a watch of this wonderful featurette which shows a snippet of how the cowboys and cowgirls were created. If you missed it, check out our Arm & Hammer interviews here.

CHARACTER ANIMATION BREAKDOWN:

A key element of the process involved creating believable lip-sync that was clear and readable while also maintaining an animalistic quality. This was achieved by sacrificing certain mouth shapes and syllables such as Oo, Ff and Ww. These phonemes are classic key markers that allow a piece of animation to feel in sync, however on a cat the translation made the performance feel too human. To work around this, we focused on the jaw movement and accenting phonemes such as Rr and Ee as they helped deliver a convincing feline and expressive performance.

The dialogue was recorded separately to the on-set performance, so it was crucial to bring the body performance and voice performance together through the animation. To help combine the two we added subtle inflections with the head, eyes and brows. A small nod of the head or flash with the eyes could really bring the character performance to life and these details, while small, were vital to the success of the project.

As well as delivering the animation for the final film a detailed previsualisation that was animated in Maya and exported into unreal engine was produced. This helped to lock down the story telling before the shoot and was particularly vital as due to the travel restrictions key people could not be present on set

MPC remotely handled the animation and VFX, led by Animation Lead David Bryan, 2D Lead Vanessa Duquesnay and VFX Supervisor Kiril Mirkov. MPC’s Ricky Gausis graded the campaign, enhancing the western feel to the footage and the set.

To learn more about the project contact press@moving-picture.com