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Quiet Man Makes Animals Talk With a bit of Help from Softimage and Discreet's Inferno

(July 16, 2001)
The commercial opens on a lonely woman sitting on a park bench. When a tiny monkey in a colorful outfit hops onto her lap, she is amused and only too happy to offer a coin. But rather than accept her money, the diminutive primate hands her a wad of bills and, miraculously, speaks, "Irene, it's me, Roger."

Turns out, the monkey is the reincarnation of her dearly departed husband, who tells her she can share his weekly tips if she wears that red dress he liked so much. Such is the story of "Organ Grinder," a 30 second spot for Conseco Insurance and the most recent anthropomorphizing of the animal kingdom by the award-winning effects wizards at Quiet Man, in New York City.

"We've done dozens of projects involving animals," admitted Quiet Man founder and creative director Johnnie Semerad. "We've worked with monkeys, cows, bears, birds, you name it. We've created some very subtle, realistic spots and some extremely cartoonish effects. No matter what the job, the clients always leave happy."

Semerad isn't kidding. A recently compiled "greatest hits" reel of Quiet Man's animal spots includes the organ grinder monkey, along with naked penguins, dancing and spelling bears, an acrobatic goldfish, a deceitful parrot, an oxygen-deprived cat, and a pack of movie-quoting monkeys for HBO. And that's just the beginning.

"I think our animal work got going with the HBO spot," says Semerad, referring to a promo for the cable network that featured primate expert Dr. Jane Goodall, watching movies in her tent that were surreptitiously watched by a pack of monkeys. "Ever since that spot won the first Prime Time Emmy award for television commercials, people have been blaming me and Quiet Man for all the talking animal commercials on television."

All those people may just have a point. The spot reveals real monkeys, naked and unafraid in their natural habitat, doing practically perfect impressions of everyone from Marlon Brando and Peter Finch to Sylvester Stallone and John Belushi, in movies from "The Godfather" and "Network" to "Rocky" and "Animal House." Lest you think this is but another Mr. Ed takeoff, Semerad is quick to point out that these monkeys do a whole lot more than move their mouths.

"What makes our work special is that we try to give the animals real character," emphasizes Semerad. "Pretty much everything we do is dedicated to creating memorable characters. Their mouths don't just move, they move with the character of the voice-over. Now, giving a bird or cow a memorable character can be pretty challenging. It's always a challenge when you're trying to make something that obviously isn't real seem entirely realistic, and a lot of animals tend to be pretty deadpan in front of the camera. You have to go in and move their eyes and brows and facial structure to make things believable from a human perspective. You can't just make the mouth move up and down when it's supposed to."

Many of Quiet Man's animal spots have been created using Discreet Logic Inferno, a notable exception being the Pepsi Goldfish spot, (In addition, Quiet Man uses SoftImage 3-D).The Conseco "Organ Grinder" spot, for example, was handled entirely by Quiet Man's 3-D effects team under the direction of lead 3-D artist Dave Shirk.

"Typically, animals are not very expressive in front of the camera," says Shirk. "We usually have to add a lot to their performance. In the case of the Conseco spot, the agency insisted that they didn't want an over articulated, crystal clear mouth like you usually see. They wanted the monkey to remain a monkey."

So, how do you make sure a monkey talks like a monkey? With help from technical director Brad Gabe, the Quiet Man 3-D team set up a complex control rig over the virtual monkey's mouth to enhance Shirk's control over the animation. Defining a new musculature on the simian face using generalized skeletons, Gabe went on to build the musculature and to define ligatures under the skin surface.

It's a painstaking process to be sure, but one that yields spectacular results."Both our 2-D and 3-D groups are committed to using the right tool at the right time," says Semerad. "Sometimes people will come to us and say they want to do a completely computer-generated bird, for example, but we can take one look at the board and see it would be better to film a real bird and create a CGI head. In the end, it will look a lot more realistic and therefore a lot better than doing the whole thing in CG."

Whatever the combination Quiet Man's animal portfolio is proof positive that this is a company that does a whole lot more than talk.

Quiet Man is the winner of 2001 Cannes Grand Prix for Commercials and of a Gold Lion, The One Show Best of Show," and Best of Show at the Addy's for several Fox Sports network campaigns for agency Cliff Freeman & Partners.

Quiet Man, a creative problem solving visual effects company founded in 1995 by Flame artist Johnnie Semerad and executive producer Amy Taylor has attracted leading brands like Pepsi and Nike and won all of the industry's top awards, including: Clios, Emmys, One Show, Pencils, American Advertising Awards, Cannes Lions, a Grammy and AICP recognition. The Quiet Man philosophy-Do it with style. Keep it comfortable for everyone concerned and pay dividends.

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Related Keywords:3D Animation

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