These CG recreations of three iconic sci-fi movies will amaze you

Marc Smith from Framestore on creating spots with a sophisticated take on a trio of sci-fi blockbusters.

We have recently finished creating three spots for the Brilliant Machines campaign for GE. Each one offers a creative take on a top Hollywood blockbuster science fiction movie franchise, namely The Matrix, Back to the Future and Star Trek.

We found that a major aspect of the commercials' success was Cinema 4D, which we've been using for little over a year. Cinema 4D has now become a regular part of the commercials department production pipeline here at Framestore, and is used extensively for everything from style-frame creation, TV campaign production, brand idents, and feature film title sequences.

Using Cinema 4D in conjunction with After Effects CC enabled us to better provide our clients with updated compositions in near real-time before rendering, speeding up the sign-off process and streamlining our rendering. It gives us a comprehensive and nimble graphics-centric 3D toolset, and in turn lets us deliver a range of production options to fit our clients' briefs and budgets.

I often refer to the trust between agency and production company as the 'Holy Grail' in advertising. Having completed two spots for GE, we started the third (Star Trek) knowing that we had a client who trusted us to deliver. This confidence gave us breathing room to create freely, to question, and to contribute quickly and efficiently to meet the brief, deadline and budget.

01. Agent Smith

The first spot, Agent Smith, focused on GE's innovations in medical technology. It features Hugo Weaving, the original Agent Smith from The Matrix series. The commercial shows multiple instances of the actor in each scene; it required the use of body doubles, head replacement and rotoscoping. Our New York Flame artist David Forcada took the lead on compositing on the Agent Smith spot.

Elements plates of the 'raining' Matrix text effect were first created in After Effects by our design department, and were then used in conjunction with shot plates to assemble the Matrix world scenes. We paid particular attention to matching details such as the typefaces, colours and tone of the original feature film, which we are all big fans of.

02. Back to the Future

The turbine sequence, created by myself, Johnny Likens and Akira Thompson, represented a number of challenges, not least the very fast turnaround time. To create this section we had about a week to model, animate, render and composite finals. This single shot would see a camera fly through a GE turbine interior, out through a factory, and into an aerial view of New York. The 10-second sequence (built and rendered with a combination of Cinema 4D and After Effects) was initially constructed as a 15-second sequence in order to give flexibility within the final edit.

As is often the case, the offline timing shifted throughout the creative process, so there was a juggling act to balance the visuals and the storytelling narrative with the expanding and contracting time allowed. The final graded renders were passed into Flame where the speed-ramping pass was applied, in front of our agency partners, to accurately meet their brief.

03. Star Trek

The Star Trek spot was an extremely exciting brief, and one of the few challenges we faced was managing a group of creatives who all wanted to work on every component! While creating this commercial, we relished the opportunity to creatively problem solve the design brief, which was to illustrate a rather abstract storyline within a matter of seconds, across 12 quick shots.

In tackling this project, which also had a tight schedule, our design team (Johnny Likens, Akira Thompson and Chase Massingill) worked concurrently on a number of shots and using a variety of software (including Maya, C4D and After Effects). The end result was the successful integration of these platforms within one pipeline, and the flow of dialogue between our CG production team, our agency partners and clients.

Words: Marc Smith

Marc is a director and designer based in New York. Born in New Zealand, he is currently senior design director at the visual effects and animation studio Framestore. This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 181.