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ElementFX creates penguins in puddles for the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Facility's first live action shots in HD By John Virata

ElementFX recently created at well thought out commercial for BuderEngel Advertising and the Monterey Bay Aquarium that shows a young girl looking at rain puddles to see various sea life as she splashes. The digital facility used the commercial to mark the first time as a live action production company to shoot in high definition, using the Sony FP 23 HD digital camera. Marjolaine Tremblay, CEO/Animation Director, and Alexandre Ethier, CTO/VFX Supervisor, details how the facility created the shots and what the artists at the Utopia, California facility are working on next.

DMN: You shot with the Sony FP 23 HD digital camera. What aspects of the camera helped you to decide to use it?
Marjolaine Tremblay: Our DP, Svetlana Cvetko, chose the F23 because we wanted the highest level picture quality that HD offers, shooting in HDCamSR 4:4:4 at 1920x1080. The 4:4:4 color space, combined with how well the F23 handles highlights in exteriors give it an edge. We were also able to utilize the F23's HyperGamma settings, offering us a beautiful, colorful look quickly.

DMN: How long has elementFX been working with HD? How is it different than working in standard definition?
MT: It is our first time as a live action "production company" using HD, however we have been working with HD for quite some time.  That it be for filming VFX elements for features or commercials such as breaking glass, dust hits or that it be receiving HD digital files from our clients to create stunning VFX. We've been enjoying the HD format for several years now. The HD format allows for greater image quality and higher resolution.

DMN: How many minutes of video did you eliminate to get the shots that you wanted?
MT: We were very limited in our shoot schedule. We had only six hours to shoot with the twin girls and less than an hour to shoot the penguins at the Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibit. Planning was everything and having the best of crew was crucial to the success of this project especially being that it did rain the day of the shoot and the spot is to take place after the rain not during. So all in all, we maybe had three to four hours total to shoot. In other words, we didn't have to eliminate much, we had less than an hour of footage to work with for the girls and   about 15 minutes of footage of the penguins. Let's say penguins don't usually swim in such a small confined space as a puddle! We let the camera roll continuously at the beautiful Monterey Bay Splash Zone Exhibit hoping a penguin would swim by in the right spot and at the right speed and then one of them was nice enough to pose for us! 

DMN: What editing system was used to assemble Puddles?
MT: For this spot we used the latest version of Final Cut running on 3.2GHZ Quad-Core Intel Xeon Mac Pro editorial station.  The sweet machine as I like to call it! 

The stage

The Mac workstations

DMN: How did you layer the tide pool video into the rain puddle? Did you use the same technique for the penguin shot?
MT: The tide pools are all CG. We did the main tide pool as a digital painting that was projected onto 3D geometry and rendered via the 3D camera using Mental Ray. Then we added a CG school of fish that we modeled and then did a 3D animation simulation for the performance of the fish. We comped the fish over the tide pool and then the tide pool over the live action puddle.

AE: The Penguins were shot on a separate day at the Aquarium. We removed the puddle that was in the original plate and then we shot and replaced it with our CG tide pool by using Nuke. For the penguins we removed the original plate of the puddle and added our own tide pool with penguins in it. We went to the aquarium to shoot our own plates of the penguins and water so we could rotoscoped the penguins and comp them over the water. We did a water replacement from the penguin plate element using Nuke.

Alex and the penguin handler

DMN: When the child jumps into the puddle with the penguin in it, the seawater turns into rainwater. How was this achieved?
MT: Since we added the penguins digitally we had the original plate, we just blended back to the original rainwater.
AE: We also did the graphic treatment for the titles at the end of the spot, by generating the background elements in nuke and added god rays.

DMN: What is up next for elementFX?
MT: We are currently in production on a national commercial for IHOP and several VFX sequences on a couple really great feature projects. In addition, we are developing two episodic animated/CGI series. This spot for Monterey was our first full production project where we shot the live action and produced the VFX. We really enjoyed mixing the animation and live action and hope to do a lot more commercials whether they be all CG or a mix.

The penguins

Client: The Monterey Bay Aquarium, Mimi Hahn, Director of Marketing
Agency: BuderEngel -San Francisco.  Vince Engel-Creative Director/Owner, Dennis Minor, Director of Integrated Production, Nino Dedenroth, Copywriter, Ming Yu- Art Director
Amanda Brock- Account Executive.
Production Company: elementFX
Co-Directors: Marjolaine Tremblay  and Jim Barton
Visual Effects Supervisor:  Alex Ethier
Producer:  Suzanne Atherly
CG Artists: Gab Gennaro and Todd Gill   PA: Heather Yarbrough
Editor:  David Tanaka
DP: Svetlana Cvetko
Penguins DP: Eli Adler
Composer: Tom Disher, Disher Music and Sound


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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at
Related Keywords:digital facility, Sony FP 23 HD digital camera, visual effects, rotoscoping,


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