At the heart of Scent is a robot, trapped inside a human world, whose perception of reality is slightly different from that of the humans’, but is it any less real (or fake)? The enormously talented Peter Miser tapped on the creative genius of UVPhactory to creat this visually stimulating video. Creative director Alexandre Moors and Animator Ryan Bradley were both on the UVPhactory team that created Scent of a Robot.
Alexandre Moors, creative director on Scent of a Robot:
MVW: Alexandre, could you talk about working with the animation team? How did you incorporate the robot with the live action?
Alexandre Moors: I think one thing that helped was that we started shooting at least a month before we started modeling anything so in that way we were about to actually model a 3-D base on the location we found to do the shooting that made things much easier we had some 3-D animators that were actually on the set taking measurements of the space and so some of the spaces we were totally rebuilding in 3-D and the same thing for the color pallet it definitely helped to do it that way. The challenge was we kind of defined the style as we were working. We had some pretty clear views that we didn’t want to like a cartoon in 3-D and I think that came across pretty well. Even though a challenge was to integrate the cartoon look with the live action footage.
MVW: There were a couple of scenes, one for example was the one where he (Pete) goes into the kitchen and his little girl is sitting on the table and the girl turns into a robot. I thought the transition was amazing.
AM: Yes, that is a good example of how we recreated the whole kitchen in 3-D and also when I was trying to do the video, I didn’t want the look to go too crazy even though it’s jittering and junk everywhere, I was trying to keep it with flat colors as much as possible. Red and white make the transition possible even when moving from the robot character to the live action one; even though they don’t look alike they have the same color pallet so your eyes don’t jump from one to the other and you can assimilate one into the other… so that worked pretty well. Also for the robot, I was trying to render this kind of pixilated vision that a robot might have. Like at first, in the first 5 frames in each live action sequence it’s like highly pixilated and then it gets refined and gets the video look.
That also helps because if it were just like cutting from one to the other it would have been too much of a change. You first see the image, like, defined with 5-6 big squares of colors and then the definitions pick up making the transitions possible.
MVW: Have worked with live footage and animation before?
AM: I always mix the medium in my previous work so I’ve always worked with the blue screen or incorporating the cartoons based on live action footage and treated and drawn those. And also that’s probably 50% of our work since Ryan and I are both on UVPhactory we have really pushed the company to live action and special effects sales so that’s what we’ve been doing all year: shooting people or things on blue screen and then putting them in a street environment or visa-versa. So I guess these days it looks like it’s our expertise.
MVW: Could you talk about the production of the video?
AM: We had a lot of prep before we could start production, schedules, and things like that and that went on all summer but once the robot was designed, the whole office jumped into it and I was really impressed how much and how quickly we produced it. For me it was not so particular, I’m the crazy director but I’m experienced in doing live action and directing things for the company these days. Shooting a commercial or things like that but it was the first time for me to shoot and direct a 3-D shoot, which was pretty exciting. I usually put my camera, angle, and lens on a real set. But to be able to do it in 3-D was such a thrill and it kind of changed a little bit the way people work because they told me that they usually want a pretty well defined story board then they build the 3-D and since I’m more of live action it’s like let’s build the set first and then I’ll pick the camera and move. It allowed us to really pick some crazy moves I wouldn’t have thought of if I had to think about it before but the way we did it we built the whole office in 3-D the subway station and train and everything and all the characters were moving in. It was like a train set and all those guys moving so it wouldn’t be interesting if we shot it from the top or if we do a 360 or a spin off so it was a little bit more work for them and some thought we were going crazy but I think that’s also why the video looked good.
Ryan Bradley , Animator on Scent of a Robot :
MVW: As you developed the robot, how did you work with Alex ?
Ryan Bradley: Actually he worked with one of the other members of the company, Bashir, on illustrating the actual robot and how it should look like. They both sat down and started sketching out robots for a good couple of weeks. They both kept feeding off of each other and working on it and came up with the robot you saw. I had minimal input into that. I just saw a couple of them and said I don’t want to animate that or yeah I do want to animate that or that’s going to be impossible or that’s going to be cool…The live action and the directing was all Alex. I had little to do with the live action. The dancing was mine… my little baby. And then some of the motivations of just making the character move throughout the rest of it were just the story that everyone had developed. I would do something like say make the robot drunk like in the last scene, make him stumble around and I would do it the way I felt it would look good and I would show Alex and he was like okay maybe if you hit here instead and did this and maybe if he fell a little earlier, make sure he falls in this spot so it flows into the next scene and that is the sort of interaction we would generally have from scene to scene.
MVW: The actual dance sequence was pretty intensive. Where did you get the idea?
RB: We looked to Pete for some of it. We know that he had a good collection of Hip Hop videos so he brought in a couple of his favorite guys, we watched a couple of his videos there and we had actually bought one of those “How to” videos about Hip Hop dancing, which takes you through step by step and I was studying that for a while. I just did some of the moves and worked with the editor Damien Baskette. He developed and kind of edited together some of the different clips of videos that we really liked. If we liked the footwork here or the arm movements from the dancers, he edited a nice little sequence for reference for me and I would study it. We went through that and I animated the robot and improved upon it as best as I could, given how the robot could move and such because the robot can’t move like a human can so I had to do some leeway… that’s just the imaginative work part of it I guess.
MVW: What were the steps were taken to create the animated robot?
RB: The first step obviously was the sketches and from that part, one of the principals took the sketch and put it into 3-D which we used a program called Softimage XSI 4.0 and he modeled the robot to make it look like the sketch the best he could and then he passed it to another principal, Damijan Saccio, who actually put the bones in the robot, the bones give the robot the ability to move. Like the robot has an arm but then you put an arm bone in it so it can actually move. Then he set up what’s called the rig so I could animate it easily and then he gave that robot to me and to Jake Slutsky, another animator. I took the base robot and started animating it while Jake Slutsky took the robot and actually put the textures on it, made it white with the red stripe and made the visor look with the green glow inside of it and all that. And he did that separately while I animated it and then I took my animations and pasted it on the textured robot. We did all that in the Softimage program.
MVW: Well it came out great. How do you get a robot to have a robot look and hip hop moves?
RB: The animation actually took me longest, even longer than the dance scene is what I call the walk cycle, animation in the street. The robot will take one step and then you cycle that over and over again and make him walk from place to place. That took me so long to get the right balance of a smooth laid back hip hop guy with a rigid sort of robotic movement of the robot. If you watch him he looks like he has this really cool little walk but it’s also where he likes to coddle almost, kind of like pauses in between. It took me so long to get that but I was kind of happy about that the way it came out in the end.
UVPHACTORY utilized Adobe After Effects 6.5, Apple Final Cut Pro 4.5, Softimage|XSI 4.0, Adobe Photoshop CS and Adobe Illustrator CS during the course of this project.
The UVPHACTORY creative team responsible for the live action shoot and the remarkable animation included Principle/Co-Founder Scott Sindorf; Principle/Co-Founder Damijan Saccio; Creative Director Alexandre Moors, Senior Producer Brian Welsh, Director of Photography (Live-Action) Nick Tramantano, Senior Designer/3D Animator/Compositor Jake Slutsky, Lead Character Animatior Ryan Bradley, Designer/3D Animator/Compositor Bashir Hamid, Compositor/Designer Colin Hess, Editor Damien Baskette and Production Assistant Alexis Stein. UVPHACTORY directed the project.