The much-loved Coca-Cola polar bears are a hard act to follow but Portland, Oregon-based hybrid animation laboratory/live-action production studio Bent Image Lab was up to the challenge for a series of spots for Klondike ice cream bars.
To promote its sister product, Slim-A-Bear, Bryer’s Good Humor recently launched the new adult-targeted campaign featuring Slim, an animated character who interacts with live actors. To make their mascot stand out from the crowd, a great effort was made to create a unique appearance as well as distinct and charming physical motions.
Bent Image Lab was charged with creating an animating a character that has both human characteristics and those of a loving dog, combined with the smallest hint of cartoon features.
According to director David Daniels, beyond all the technique and computer skills, the true challenge of any dimensional character like Slim is finding a kind of non-technological life force. "It works best when there is a magic to the process," he says. "I feel that Slim really talks with desire and thought. He acts with motivation beneath the surface. You can sense he’s driven, and you can see him think, just like any other actor. There is a spirit behind his eyes. We can watch the wheels spin and see what makes him tick."
Daniels collaborated closely with Barcelona-based comedy director Robin Willis, who helmed the live-action portions of the spots. Making the job more challenging for Bent Image was the decision on the part of both to shoot using a bungee-cam rig rather than locking the camera off.
"Other companies will lock off all the time, or seldom move the camera because it’s too expensive to track. I strongly feel that’s a pound-foolish approach that denies some of the realism. I insisted on the camera moving almost all the time. Software for this need has improved in the past few years, but it still took weeks of human effort to get it right."
Bent Image went to great lengths to make Slim’s actions appear natural, "We use body-reference footage, which means we shot ourselves acting out every bit of the animation," notes Daniels. "It is a two-fold process to get the animators to think about it in a physical way so they are not just intellectually trying to animate. They are able to see this live-action reference as they work. It doesn’t get used but there is a flicker of specific body motion that comes through and I believe you have to do it if you are trying to do semi-realistic body motion in CG. The idea is we are key-framing his spirit, not motion-capturing his body."
Slim’s fur presented another major challenge since Bent Image was going for such a realistic look. "Slim is not supposed to be an animated character," Daniels comments. "In a weird way, he is supposed to be more pedestrian. He is a talking bear but if he walked by no one would really notice because he mixes in the scene so well."
Two Klondike spots out of Campbell Mithun Minneapolis, "Runners" and "Slim-A-Ball," introduced Slim to the ice-cream market. A third spot, "Treadmills," will be finished this year and will air next summer.