How to give inanimate objects a personality

Ikea's T-shirt ad is a CG masterclass in adorable anthropomorphism. Discover how it was made.

Last week saw global animators descend on LA for Siggraph, and the best work from 2014-15 honoured in the Computer Animation Festival Awards.

One of the stand out pieces was Ikea's T-Shirts ad, directed by Dougal Wilson, which showcases some incredible cloth simulation techniques. This brilliant commercial somehow manages to get a range of emotional performances out of inanimate objects that have no consistency or form, while making them look realistic at the same time.

Check it out above, and then read our interview with MPC's VFX supervisor Tom Harding to learn how it was put together...

What's the concept behind this ad?

The ad for Ikea's storage solutions (wardrobes) features a flock of T-shirts making an epic journey south for the winter, similar to migrating birds. They end up in a swirling mass outside a suburban home making their way through a window into their home, an Ikea wardrobe.

Why do you think it won this award?

It's an unusual and innovative concept realised with a combination of beautiful cinematography and scenery and great VFX.

How did you achieve such detailed interaction between the T-shirts and the environments?

The ad was shot as a mixture of in-camera puppeteered T-shirts (which had rigs removed in post) and full CG T-shirts. It meant we had some in-camera interaction with the environment and a perfect reference for the CG T-shirts.

In-camera puppeteered T-shirts provided reference for the CG versions

A lot of shots are fully CG, particularly the flying scenes. To enhance the interaction in these we added things such as water simulations when they take off from the lake and noise simulations to add wind interaction.

We also did tests with real flapping T-shirts on a rig, which helped inform the animation in CG.

For more on how the ad was made, check out this Making Of video:

What did you learn from this project?

We knew we could make a photoreal T-shirt and embed it into the scene but what we had to learn was how would it fly, how would it flap like a bird and how we would animate that action.

It was a big R&D undertaking, with experiments on real T-shirts and drawing on references from nature.

What advice do you have for others entering awards?

It always helps to have a making of that really illustrates the process in a creative way and a well-thought out punchy synopsis.

How important are awards to you?

We're mainly motivated by a drive to produce original and creative work. However, awards are important to us in VFX because they recognise the hard work that is undertaken made by a substantial team of artists. Even being nominated means you are doing the right thing.

The ad was a big R&D undertaking for MPC

Does a certain type of work tend to get honoured in awards?

Different awards seem to favour different kinds work however there is often a stand out piece each year that seems to clean up in lots of categories.

From a VFX point of view there are definitely ads that you can tell involved a lot of hard work but seem to get overlooked, perhaps because the ad wasn't publicised or the idea behind it didn’t match up to the production values. It can be a bit gutting if it’s your work.

If you hadn't won this award, who'd you have liked to it have gone to?

We recently completed a full CG spot for McLaren called A Black Swan. This one really stood out for me, it’s visually striking with the CG swan and wind tunnel environment and an unexpected idea that's been brought to life in a memorable way.

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