We recently had the opportunity to connect with Psyop’s Director, Lauren Indovina, and Head of Lighting and Lead Technical Director (NY), Jonah Friedman, about the creative process that went into making the 3M spot “Colors of the World.” Check out what they had to say…
Digital Canvas: Did Psyop come up with the concept, or was this idea something the client developed and asked you to bring to life? If it was Psyop that created the concept, were there multiple designs presented to the client and were they all vastly different from one another?
Lauren: The concept behind Post-it® “Colors of the World” was brought to Psyop by colleagues at Grey Advertising. Post-it® Brand was announcing a new line of products – a collection of Post-it® Note pads, each pack composed of five colors – and the objective from 3M was to recreate various cities around the world using the five colors from each pack.
Our first round of pitches explored how we could create an authentic world built entirely from Post-it® Notes and use only the five colors found in each pack. After a few rounds of great conversation with Grey, they challenged us with the task to avoid deconstructing the Post-it® Note. For 3M, it was important to retain the iconic square imagery. This left us with an exciting opportunity to bring to Grey and 3M a new look for their brand. We set out to construct convincing worlds from the five shades of colored squares without making a spot that felt blocky or pixelated, or childish.
Fusing together theater design, relief sculpture and mosaic backdrops with a gentle atmosphere and an animated light created an authentic look for Post-it® Brand — textural and sophisticated rather than hand made and child-like.
Designing the spot in CG gave the Psyop team a great deal of flexibility over the light and atmosphere of each shot, allowing us to invent a new look.
Digital Canvas: Where did you begin the production phase? What was your plan of attack when dealing with what seems to be hundreds of thousands of Post-it® Notes?
Jonah: Psyop wanted to stay true to scale so that Post-it® Notes were represented iconically. The first step was to develop a system that would build these vast landscapes of Post-it® Notes.
The constraint of staying true to scale is actually very liberating when approaching this project. It grounded the whole pitch and put everyone on the same page. That each city was to be built using only the colors from its respective Post-it® color palette was another helpful guideline. With these parameters, we established our process for creating the Post-it® Note sculptures before we had any systems in place.
We also decided that with the right tools, creating Post-it® Notes as geometry would actually be easier than creating textures to fake it. We used ICE to generate huge amounts of instanced geometry procedurally and Arnold to handle rendering.
Digital Canvas: How did you go about modeling the objects? Did you build each model as you would any other, and then apply the Post-it® Note layers on top?
Jonah: During layout and animation, blocking models were created by Psyop Modeler Eric Chou. These models were often blocky and only stand-ins but clearly represented the size of a Post-it® Note. On the surfaces that could be identified as grids of Post-it® Notes, such as most of the buildings, and the polygon surfaces were modeled such that one polygon would represent one (stack of) Post-it® Notes. This made the foundation of the spaces we’d then fill with Post-it® Notes.
We had two basic systems for creating Post-it® Notes: squares and curves. The square system was based on the polygon geometry Eric (Chou) had modeled in the layout phase. Simply speaking, you would give that system a piece of polygon geometry, and designate a direction as the front face. The system would then populate that front face with Post-it® Notes, and then stack the Post-it® backwards to the back face of the geometry. Add in a smattering of other tricks, like skewing the stacks, or twisting the stacks, as well as some purpose-made geometry, and this technique can be used to build structures as complex as the Church in Mykonos.
The curves technique was used for things such as water, skies and roads. We’d again make purpose-made geometry for the system to generate Post-it® Notes on, such as NURBS surfaces or curves. On these curves or surfaces we generated domino rows, or laying stacks.
Digital Canvas: How much of this spot is textures versus actual geometry (i.e. the sky)?
Jonah: Essentially everything is actual geometry, including the skies. I mean, why not?
Digital Canvas: I can only imagine the render times on this project must have been massive; what was your strategy for handling this? Also, what was the average poly count for one scene?
Jonah: Render times were actually quite reasonable. It’s hard to overstate just how good Arnold is at handling instancing.
Polygon count is a hard question to answer because of the extreme reliance on instancing. A million unique polygons is much different beast than a million of instanced polygons. We did keep track of Post-it® Note counts, though – 300,000 Post-it® Notes in a scene was a pretty normal figure, although one scene was about five times that.
Lauren: We knew that we had to be resourceful. An inherent component to a Post-it® Note that helped us avoid chaos is the notes ability to adhere to a surface. For 3M, it was important that the Post-it® Notes never came off the pads. This limited our animation. We had to find ways to imbue life into the project without a lot of help from our hero element. In this process, we began to imagine the camera as a voyeur, gracefully traversing our city scenes. Instead of fast camera moves, we gave ourselves the opportunity to study our scenes longer, feel and observe the color. A windy atmosphere gently lifts the corner of the Post-it® Note but never pulls them off the pads.
Additionally, we imagined that light would aid in adding a lot of energy and variation in the five colors of Post-it® Notes we were allowed per scene. We imagined our “installation” with animated lights, giving the world a sense of travel and light time lapse, which is unusual for a graphically designed spot.
Digital Canvas: Did you come up with the reference material for each scene, or did the client request specific locations to be recreated?
Lauren: The cities showcased in the ad are based on Post-it® Notes Colors of the World collection: Mykonos, Rio De Janeiro, Bangkok, and New York City. The images chosen to represent each city had to be iconic and were decided after a few great discussions between 3M, Grey, and Psyop.
Digital Canvas: What software did you use to create this commercial?
Jonah: Blocking modeling, layout, and camera animation were done in Maya. The second phase of modeling, turning everything into Post-it® Notes, was done in Softimage using custom made systems in Softimage’s ICE. Lighting and rendering was done with Softimage and Arnold, and compositing was in Nuke.
Digital Canvas: The lighting really gives each scene a great sense of depth, especially with all of the bends and curves in the paper. The color palette that was chosen is absolutely gorgeous, was this something that you designed before you even started, or are they brand colors from the product line?
Lauren: To give ourselves a little more gradation, richness and depth, we introduced animated lights which helped shade and light our cities.
Jonah: Our approach was to light these scenes as if they were art installations, not as if they were outdoor. There’s a fundamental difference there, and ultimately lighting an art installation has a lot more flexibility. A side effect of our technique for building these scenes was a certain straightforwardness to the lighting process. When the little corners of Post-it® Notes stick up a tiny bit you could expect light that got under them to behave in a certain way, and catch at the edges. We spent a lot of time making beautiful lighting instead of lighting that merely worked.
Lauren: The Post-it® Note Colors of the World product line are really stunning collections. For the sake of being true to the product, we decided from the beginning to limit ourselves to only shading our world using the five colors for each pack per shot. In this sense, Mykonos must always be blue and white, and Bangkok the five shades of pink, orange and yellow in the pack.
We also wanted to allude to a sense of connectivity of the cities using the relationships of color in each of the packs. For example, the transition of the blue Mykonos water is suggestive of the blue Rio landscape in the following scene. The pink and gold colors from Rio foreshadow the temple in Bangkok, and the golden stairs of Bangkok tie nicely to the geometrical stacks of buildings in NYC. In a sense, CG match cuts.
Digital Canvas: Creating a 3D city is hard enough, how did you go about matching the photo-real city with your Post-it® Note city?
Jonah: It just takes a bit of planning – build it to match from the start.
Lauren: Transitions from live action to CG are tricky. Since we were limited to the photograph of New York City rather than a tracked shot, we had to improvise a bit. The process needed a lot of technical problem solving, but creatively our goal was to give the impression of transformation from one world to the next, rather than having this perfectly tracked shot.