When Animation Gets Close to Reality
Is this real or a virtual computer-generated model? This is the question we ask sometimes when we can’t tell apart a real scene from a virtual one. Today’s, 3D modeling is so powerful and makes us gullible people. Small details, light-effects, material-rendering and all the new technology techniques involved in creating 3D models and animation make the audience feel uncertain about the reality of what they watch; it also makes them curious to go down the path to get to the bottom of how they are created.
This is very true when it comes to fake news or short videos made by special-effect experts to make a fuss about something that doesn’t exist. On the other hand, who creates these footages try to make them less apparent to viewers to realize that they are computer-generated pictures. Also, on the positive side, there are lots of benefits in making real-looking objects and videos as opposed to holding a camera in hand and film real situations.
This phenomenon could definitely be a big step forward in making advertisements as it cuts back on expenses and gives advertisers much liberty to create what they have in mind by just a few clicks to get unleashed from all the technical camera options and settings, lighting, setting up the location, all the technician people around plus many other more strings attached in recording short footage.
Beneficial, in this scenario, would be to create a virtual camera and drag it around the object(s)/model(s) to see the scene from different angles, something, that in some cases, would be impossible to do with real cameras, rails, filters, lenses and tools. Lighting source(s)also could be created by one or a dozen to have better, dramatic and more appealing effects and moreover, same as the virtual camera, light sources are available in different types such as spot-light, go-down, etc., also draggable to find their proper location in the scene.
The entire mentioned scenario requires only one person who knows the related software and how to render pictures. Advertisers would take this advantage as the easiest solution for their needs to bring the best result to do their jobs with less amount of executive effort. This works perfectly in creating ads, it’s cheap, available, easy, and cost-effective and, last but not least, the way they can advertise products and explain in detail, mix with reality and even convert the so-called real-looking objects into a bunch of information or morph it into another real-looking object, makes such illusions convincing for viewers.
For instance, the convention between something that looks real, which creates a real picture of the object in mind, into something else creates the illusion, a wow-factor scene, catches attention and will be interesting to watch. A pack of potato chips that spins and in a blink of an eye turns into another pack of the very same potato chips with a different flavor and yet another spin to get morphed into the next flavor to introduce all three tastes of the product sounds similar when we watch TV ads. This trick of creating real-looking objects and making them look real in the videos repeats so many times in the commercials.
Sensodyne TV commercial uses the technique mentioned above by using 3D real-looking toothpaste and a toothbrush. The beginning of the commercial shows a piece of animation while the dentist is narrating on the relevant part to explain how the toothpaste works on teeth and fixes the sensitive parts. The figure below shows the toothbrush ingredients scattering on the mouth to cover the little small tiny holes, not visible to human eyes, to cure sensitive teeth.
Next, would be to merge contents into one another to make the animation transitions go smoothly toward the end and steer viewers’ mind to the last shot of the footage as a conclusion and that would be the way a text line turns into a toothpaste box by a simple rotation movement.
The toothpaste box looks very realistic which makes viewers think of it as a real object, then for a finale, a virtual toothbrush adds in to make the scene complete. It is interesting that none of the latter is filmed and instead all is computer-generated objects that mix virtuality with reality.
Another interesting example is one of the earliest ads from Citroën; C4 Coupe TV advertising, «Launched in November 2004, the campaign by advertising agency Euro RSCG London promoted the new car as “alive with technology » that used the idea of transforming a car into a dancing robot/transformer and made «the ad won a Bronze Film Lion at Cannes International Advertising Festival 2005 and is now being flattered with imitation in a range of spoof commercials».
Commercial opens with a car parked in an open space and the precise 3D model rendering along with perfect montage on a real scene, even today is almost impossible to recognize the computer-generated car as virtual. As the commercial plays from the beginning, it tries to steer our attention toward a real scene filmed by the camera like a fragment of a movie.
The interesting part of the show initiates when the real-looking car turns into a standing robot. The mix of reality with virtuality done in the video is very niche and seamless that makes everybody accept the fact that the first couple of seconds of the ad fooled viewers completely.
Once the car opens into a robot, to create the core concept, the most exciting moment of the ad begins by a piece of excellent music that «…was first released by Les Rythmes Digitales in 1997, produced by LRD’s Jacques Lu Cont, aka Stuart Price»to bring joy, excitement and the shock out of the surprise that it creates for the viewers and the silence it ends up with by a reverse spinning action and lands where it was before to get back to the same status the show begun with.
To make such ads, every little single items and detail should be created: the way the vehicle opens up into a robot, the way it dances using motion-capture technique and so many other technology and tricks used in creating this animation makes the whole commercial a perfect example of using animation to respectively catch attention and bring creativity and innovation. The fact that robots, cool music and dancing have nothing to do with buying a sports car makes animation, in the general sense, even more than a selling tool to glue all these irrelevant items together and to make one meaningful concept out of it.
This technique is also very popular in making movies that, at some certain point, deal with advertising too.
The very famous and successful two examples of using this technique in the movies would be Jurassic Park and the Spiderman movies. In the first movie, animation is the foundation of the movie. Almost all the animals and creatures in the movie are created in the animation world.
In this case, viewers know that the whole creatures are made by computer software but one step forward for the moviemakers, to make things look more interesting, would be to make the scenes look even more realistic by getting them merged into real objects like the very famous scene of the movie with the people in the car and the giant dinosaur that hits the car and makes damages.
Our mind can’t quite handle such scenes perfectly to separate virtuality from reality, so as the result our brain mixes those two into one to convince ourselves that what we see is real to ultimately make more excitement from the movie.
To make the 3D-model-dinosaur hit and damage the real car in a very realistic way, makers need to film the real car and the people along with a mini-explosion that makes the car look like it gets hit by something which in fact would be the animation model that later will be added to the scene to create the final action. The final impression of the viewers would be their awareness of unreal and the use of virtual special effects, but how?
The next example would be the Spiderman movie when the real movie character with the costume gets switched with the 3D model. In fact, the 3D model of the actor acts like a body double. The virtual one does what the real character won’t be capable of doing, like flying through skyscrapers, throwing webs here and there, walking on the walls; such actions can be possible only by animation.
The virtual character must show up in very fast motion scenes, and more often than not would take less than a couple of seconds of screen time, so human eyes can’t tell them apart to recognize the real actor from the un-real one. The real actor’s action starts with the last action of the virtual one like when he lands on the ground after a long high jump or literally when he ends up doing what the real actor can’t do. This way they can combine these two scenes into one to make better illusions.
Both examples above are still being used in TV commercials, examples that utilize fully or partially animation involved in the making as the foundation of the final product. Animation that makes virtual looks real. The closer animation gets to reality the more illusions it creates to make ads look real.
ROOZBEH KEYVAN, MA, MCSE (11.02.2021)
This article has been written for educational purposes. So, all the pictures in the article may be subject to copyright. The author (Roozbeh Keyvan) takes no responsibility for using the pictures for any commercial purposes.
 Duncan Macleod. “Dancing Citroen Carbot” Inspiration Room, August 20, 2005, https://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2005/citroen-transformer-dancing (accessed 06/30/2020)
 Julia Pearlman. “Citroen’s dancing robot takes to UK clubs for the latest dance craze” Campaign, September 16, 2005, https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/citroens-dancing-robot-takes-uk-clubs-latest-dance-craze/517219 (accessed 06/30/2020)
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