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The Story | Screen Shots | Behind the Scenes | Download the Video (6.78megs mpg)

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  1. In the Beginning...
  2. Picking and Writing a Story
  3. The Work
  4. The Reedit
  5. Technical Challenges
  6. Equipment Used
  7. Credits

 

In the Beginning...

It started with getting into a class called RAML(Rendering Animation and Modeling) sponsored by the Cal Poly Plan, the Art Department and the Architecture department. RAML is a class open only to Art and Architecture majors. To get into the class I had to go to the teacher and get special permission to get into the class because my major is Computer Science. Once in the class, pairs of teams were picked at random out of a hat. I was teamed up with Thea Rubio, a 6th year graduating architecture senior. Previously, Thea had taken a class that taught Form Z, which was the program we used to model the objects.

Before we were allowed to start a project, we were required to go through a tutorial. While the tutorial did expose us to many parts of the animation program Electric Image, the tutorial was extremely slow and was steeling valuable time away from our main project. I knew 10 weeks would be an extremely tight schedule for what we wanted to do. So, later that second week, my partner and I met on the weekend and decided what we would do. Having been involved in television(Roomies, BMS) and having taken 2 classes in computer graphics and animation from the computer science department, I came to the table with some experience. I knew that creating textures is both difficult to do realistically, and extremely time consuming. The objects we picked would have to be smooth. We walked around campus looking at objects that could be animated. We looked at bikes, candy, phones, vending machines, money, doors. We narrowed the field down to Skittles, vending machines, and phones. We took a break. Days later, while walking to my car at night from the gym, I saw a Pepsi Machine glowing in the dark. It was shinny, smooth, and fun to look at. It even had a mouth. It was perfect. In the next few days we story boarded.

Picking and Writing a Story

While viewing examples of previous RAML projects, I knowticed two things that almost all the previous projects lacked: realism and a story. Most of the projects were supernatural futuristic landscapes with a camera floating through the scene. While these landscapes made for interesting stills, they make boring animation's.

Animation is neat, but it is not why people watch TV. People watch to get involved with a story.

Instead of making the environment the main feature, like many of the previous projects had done, we made the actors the main feature. So we made the environment a darkened concrete hallway. With this environment we could put the objects into the spotlight, just like a stage. It made for a simple, but interesting environment because we could concentrate on the lighting and shadows of the environment to add to the realism. With less than 7 weeks to work on the project, speed and efficiency would be issues. Our stage was set.

Stories need some sort of conflict. Luckily, with Pepsi there is an obvious opponent: Coke. The Coke Vs Pepsi issue has been an especially big on the Cal Poly campus because Cal Poly sold out to Pepsi to allow Pepsi to be the exclusive beverage distributor on the Cal Poly campus. This was also technically more easy to do because we could duplicate our Pepsi model and make the Coke model, saving us a lot of time. With the color of Coke being red and the color of Pepsi being blue, it seemed obvious that they could have genders: Pepsi being male and Coke being female. We gave the situation even more depth by making the machines a couple. Couples have problems, which can set up conflict. The conflict that seemed to pop out first was Pepsi acting like a male chauvinistic pig because that is stereo typical of guys. Pepsi acting like a chauvinistic pig would make Coke mad. The conflict was seeded.

With the mouth of the Pepsi machine being so low to the ground, there was an opportunity for the Pepsi machine to potentially look up a woman's dress. The Coke machine would get mad, and a small fight would ensue. To animate a woman would be a great technical challenge. We threw around the idea of just animating the legs, but that would be very hard to do right in the amount of time. So I got a live woman to walk in the scene. Doing this was a great technical challenge because we lacked the proper resources. However, accomplishing this task added a greater sense of realism.

While seeing two vending machines banging into each other would be entertaining, it would be more fun to give them weapons. The obvious answer to this dilemma was to have them fire(or spit) cans at each other.

This fighting led to another issue, spousal abuse. The Pepsi machine, not properly controlling his anger, knocks out the Coke machine with a shot to the power cord, giving a chance for the Pepsi machine to show another emotion: remorse. Pepsi was a jerk, but he had feelings. But we still lacked a resolution.

After time has passed, a maintenance man finds the Coke machine unplugged and plugs the machine back in. The Coke machine makes the first step toward forgiveness and offers the Pepsi machine a drink from her machine. The Pepsi machine accepts the offer and gives a drink to the Coke machine. She(Coke) tries the Pepsi, but finds it disgusting and spits the can out. The Pepsi machine becomes enraged and fires a can at the Coke machine. Once again a fight ensues and then we end with a fade to black. The resolution of the story being that this couple just won't learn to stop their bad habits.

The Work

There are only 10 weeks in a quarter at Cal Poly and only one computer for our group. I wasn't allowed to be in the class until the 2nd week, leaving only 9 weeks to create a project, learn the software, and work on the project. We were required to follow a tutorial which took up three weeks of class, leaving only 6 weeks to work on the project. By the end of the second week of class, I knew it was going to be a very tight schedule. So we started weeks ahead of certain class milestone deadlines and created our own set of milestones of when measurements would be taken, models would be completed, scenes would be finished, and animation segments would be finished. During the quarter there were unforeseen problems with file corruption and crashing computers. This combined with delays in certain milestones (models incomplete or without enough segments, and alpha channeling the video taking two weeks to complete) caused some very late nights. Some people accuse me of being a slave driver at times because I have to push people. In addition I had to employ many shortcuts that were not talked about in class, and even frowned upon by the teacher. To save rendering time, I would make cans fire without rendering the background, then later in After Effects add the cans firing on top of a still background. While rendering an animation in Electric Image is faster than many other rendering machines, it still takes an obscene amount of time to render compared to rendering video in After Effects. So I would take every opportunity I could to piece a scene together in After Effects. By the middle of the quarter I could see I would miss my goal unless I really pushed my self. For the last 5 weeks of the quarter, I would work weekdays from 11am to 3am. On the weekends I would work from 11am to 7am. The only time I would leave the lab was to sleep, pick up food, attend class, or work on a BMS skit. During the last week I sometimes would not leave. The process was long and exhausting yet fun because I was working towards something I cared about.

The Reedit

After the quarter was over, we had a finished product, but I was not satisfied with it. Over the summer I worked for VERITAS Software in their Media Services department working on a radio program. Working there gave me an opportunity to have access to sound equipment. I used their sound equipment to completely redo all of the sounds: cans hitting the ground, walls, vending machines, the hum of the vending machines, footsteps, and human voices. I also played with the volumes of sounds. The volume of the machine hum would get louder on closer camera angles and a sound track was added to the intro to give a final touch. In addition to sounds, the show was cut marginally and some of the camera cuts were made smoother. I no longer had access to the animation program, only to the final video. I used Adobe After Effects with frame blending to slow down and speed up the flashing of the Coke machine as she dies and changed the order of some cuts.

Technical Challenges

Live Woman

Adding live action to an animated scene is difficult to do, especially without the right equipment. Using the program Adobe After Effects, one can "key out" and create an "alpha channel" based on one color or a group of colors in a video. After the alpha channel is created, the alpha channel can be replaced with other video or in our case an animated background. To properly create an alpha channel, one would want the actor to stand in front of a background that is of one color. This one color is usually a backlit bright green because bright green is usually not close in color to a person or a persons cloths so the person strongly stands out from the back ground. It was especially difficult in our case to create an alpha channel because we lacked the proper lighting and back ground. The best location I could find was the architecture departments photo lab. The problem with the photo lab was the lack of a large solid backlit color. There are two problems when the background is not large and not back lit. When the background is small, the actor has to stand closer to the background. Standing closer to the background makes the shadows stand out. Shadows are bad because it creates more colors in the background. If the background were backlit, then standing closer to the background wouldn't have been as much of an issue because the shadows would stand out. The backlit screen also eliminates another problem of the lights creating strong spots where the light is stronger in the middle and gradually fades off. These spots create more colors and make keying more difficult.

Once we had the video the real fun began, eliminating the back ground. With less than perfect conditions, it is still possible to get a good product, it just takes more work. To overcome the shadows and the light spots, trickery had to be employed.

After the footage was captured and imported into the program Adobe After Effects, I created multiple layers of the footage. On one of the layers I would make adjustments the the color balance, brightness and contrast trying to make a greater difference in color between the girl and the background. I would fine tune and make adjustments. I would then make an alpha channel on this layer and then use this layer's alpha channel to create a sort of alpha mask onto the other real untouched video layer. In addition, I went through the video frame by frame and created an 20 point mask around the actress adjusting it with every frame. Then to fine tune the image even more I would key out the certain pixel colors that still escaped.

Once the alpha was created, the next step was putting in the background. Since the vending machine models had been built upon the exact measurements of the real vending machines, lining up the movements of of the actor was simple. Once the model was lined up, I would darken the actor and reduce the colors except for the blues. As the actress got closer to the light of the machine, I would raise the colors making her brighter, but still retain the bluish tint. To add even more realism a shadow was created from the actress. I used key frames to make her body gray, translucent, tall, tilted, and applied a gauzian blur. As the model walked closer to the vending machines, the actresses shadow would get closer to regular size, less translucent, more upright and less blurry.

The Shooting Cans

To do the can motion by simply setting keyframes is very difficult and time consuming because we would have to create a realistic bounce, spin, and accelerations. Luckily a friend of the class, Mike Romey, had recently co-developed a plugin with a CSC student named Jan Lowers, to export 2D motion data out of a physics simulation program called Working Model. I set up a 2D model of my scene in Working Model involving an object representing a can, another object representing a vending machine, and another object representing the ground. This program allowed me to control gravity, the density of objects, static friction, mass and the initial velocity and direction of objects. After creating multiple simulation exports, I was able to take the motion data of the can, import it into my animation program Electric Image, and attach it to an "effector" on the can object. (An effector is an object the 3d can object would follow.) By being very careful and meticulous with measurements, the plugin was very successful.

 

Equipment Used

Hardware

Sony VX-700 video camera

Apple Macintosh G3 350 BW computer

  • 1 gig external Jazz Drive
  • 256 megs ram
  • 20 gig had drive

Sound Effects

  • Empty Water Cooler Jug
  • Empty Snapple cans
  • Mouth of Ben Miskie for air whooshing sounds
  • Mouth of Jonathan Sherlock for Coke Machine Power down

Software

Electric Image
  • Animation
  • texture mapping
  • modeling of environment

Form Z

  • Final models of Cans and Machines

Adobe PhotoShop

  • Can Labels
  • Texture map editing of concrete floor
  • machine faces
  • Image map editing of far wall glows

Adobe Illustrator

  • Outline of the soda can's to be imported into Form Z

Adobe After Effects

  • Alpha Channeling
  • final editing
  • special effects

Adobe Premier

  • line up sounds with action
  • exportation files into DV format

Credits

Animation: Ben Miskie

Modeling: Thea Rubio and Ben Miskie

Sound Foley: Ben Miskie

Girl Voice: Kathleen Schroder

Guy Voice: Ben Miskie

Live Girl: Denise Trione

Story: Ben Miskie

Additional Thanks:

  • VERITAS Software
  • Mike Romey
  • Ian Chase
  • Ellen Fields
  • Craig Young
  • Cal Poly Plan
 

e Video (First 7 seconds)

 

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