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Oktobor making ads for sick Americans

Award winning visual effects and animation studio Oktobor today gave details of the amazing new TVCs it recently completed for the University of Florida Health System, UF & Shands.

Shands at the University of Florida is a hospital that specializes in care for critically ill patients. It continually receives recognition as one of the best hospitals in the nation by U.S. News and World Report because of its dedication to patient care, education and research.

A good percentage of Oktobor’s work comes from outside of the New Zealand market, something that, according to VFX producer on the ads Steen Bech, is a good thing for the company’s creative output. Bech said, “Our international work helps keep us fresh and at the top of our game. UF & Shands, as the project became known, was a good example of this and quite a unique set of TVCs. They began with Tracey Rowe from Robber’s Dog initially approaching us and asking how we would tackle the one page script and reference photograph.”

In the end Rowe produced five different scripts for the Oktobor team to quote on, each quite different – Explorers, Anthem Rising, Teachers, Birth of Idea and Attractions.

Bech continued, “The first and probably the most unusual was Explorers. We were initially given a lithographic image of a traveller on a shoreline and the script that involved exploration and travel through time. It was quite a lot to get our heads around.”

Lead 3D artist on the project Gary Sullivan set about researching the five spots. He said, “We had to look at all the resources available that were specific to South Western Florida as there were countless references to this part of the world and its history so we had to be as accurate and relevant as possible with our imagery. As a result we include period buildings, the story of Juan Ponce de Le?n – the first Spanish explorer to arrive in Florida and a town called Crawford which features on the side of one of the buildings in the Explorers spot.”

Explorers also featured a movement through time related to the town of Jacksonville. Bech continued, “If you look carefully, and we were assured that the American viewers of the ads would do just that, you will see that all the time changes shown for Jacksonville are true to their specific periods. This was very important to the client.”

Bech and the team did a pre-vis of a section of the Explorers spot so that Rowe could see how the live action would look and so she could present it to the client.

According to Bech, the live action presented major challenges of its own. He explained, “We had some crazy limitations beginning with the fact that all the talent had to be actual doctors and the spots had to be shot in a real hospital working around the day to day operations. It was really hectic but we got the job done.”

The Explorers spot depicted a travelling through time sequence. As the reference shot was a lithographic one and open to many interpretations, a look had to be agreed.

Bech continued, “We had to settle on an achievable style and found a late 1800s lithographic look with a pencil shading that was softer. The client liked this immediately and signed off so we could then develop the entire sequence.”

The spot moved ahead quickly with Illustrator Anton Petrov doing style tests using the period research the team had obtained whilst Tracey Rowe shot the top and tail plates. A rough animatic was done of the whole commercial using basic shapes. Then each single frame would be taken to Petrov who would draw a beautiful lithographic image which, once complete, would be projected into the spot.

Sullivan added, “There was a lot going on in these spots, especially Explorers so we had to add in transitions to move as seamlessly as possible between time periods. In reality we had to go from the St. Augustine shoreline of the 19th century in the opening shot to the current UF & Shands building in 2009, or in other words a couple of hundred years, in 20 seconds.”

The team used a series of clever transitions to move between time periods including a floating leaf, smoke billowing from a train and slow camera movement to cover distance. A major fire at the turn of the century was also represented with smoke covering the city.

The ads were rendered in Mental Ray and were all in HD which also meant an intense level of detail in each shot.

Bech added, “Anton had to draw 7K images for the team to project and then Nigel Mortimer degraded the images in Flame to get a paper like texture, chromatic abhorrations and a level of grain.”

The second ad in the series of five was Anthem Rising which took a completely different direction. Bech explained, “Anthem Rising was very particle heavy. The style frame we started with looked a lot like the end result. The basic premise was a series of particles, which you eventually see are photographs of faces, making up a building. In truth the building doesn’t actually exist and we had to go off a building plan, so it is still technically accurate.”

On Anthem Rising Rhys Dippie, the Technical Director for 3D and also the lead for particle effects, rendering and lighting started the spot with a loose R&D on half a million particles. This time director Tracey Rowe and Flame artist Nigel Mortimer shot 2D helicopter footage that was then tracked to get a 3D tracked camera.

Bech continued, “We built a full CG version of the building that included a full 3D tree extension. The camera then comes over the tree line where we also built all the trees, borders, clearings, walkways and pathways. Rhys played with the particle system to get the photos moving in the right way and we ran each possibility past the agency to get the one that everyone thought was perfect. In the end the agency liked the effect so much that they kept adding more and more photos which increased the render time but created an amazing effect.”

Key to the look of the Anthem Rising spot was the lighting and work completed in Flame. Bech concluded, “We did 2D light effects in Flame adding fog rays inside the building. We also tightened the 3D with the live action creating an effect that was obviously unreal but not beyond the realms of possibility – it was magical but not hyper real.”

The five UF & Shands TVCs are currently being aired across the state of Florida in the USA.

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