Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Compaq bird

Sod the "I haven't posted in ages, here's a bunch of miscellany" style post, let's have a good look at something cool!

So recently I was looking on Youtube for a car commerical I once saw that used Aphex Twin's  Gwely Mernans to good effect (it had the car being chased by a wave coming up from the road). I never did find that particular ad, but the "aphex twin commercial" search term did turn up this little gem by Studio AKA.

This ad features some of the boldest transitions and camera moves I've ever seen, and is a great example of how much you can get away with in animation.

The whole thing has a really frantic pace to it. It's the sort of that that gets jarring when it's used in a 10-minute or longer cartoon, but for a 50-second commercial spot it's perfect. The entire thing is animated on ones, with a constant boil, but it's a necessary thing for the pacing to work, rather than simply being a case of "expensive rather than good" animation.

The bird character's design is extremely simple, but he's still immensely appealing, just because of his super jaunty 8-frame walk cycle (4 frames per step).
The consistency of this frenetic 4-frame rythm is nicely counterbalanced by contrasts in the timing of the camera moves throughout.

As we move away from his field and see the rubbish bin the view moves relatively slowly and smoothly.

Then he does a little 3-frame take...
and we start accelerating more rapidly in towards the bin...
 and when he gets to it, he suddenly leaps inside in the space of about 9 frames.
After he rifles through the bin, we whip round quickly again...

before we get a slower move following his movement through the pipe.
There's a constant rythm of slow vs fast (well, fast vs not-so-fast), which breaks up and frames the smaller rythm of the bird's walk. So despite the fact that it's consistently high speed, there's still variation within that speed; it's not like a rubbish Flash cartoon where every single motion happens in the space of 5 frames to disguise the symbol changes (and I speak from experience on this).

The quicker camera moves are, as I said, really bold, almost downright abusive. They're the sort of thing that works even if you don't consciously register it.

How long does it take a bird to leave a building?
Five frames.

Enter another one?
5 frames. And look at how utterly nonsensical those middle frames are! Yet, in motion, it looks totally smooth!

And these two camera moves are still handled very differently. The first one comes very abruptly and suddenly, but the second has a significant, gradual ease in, and while it doesn't ease out, the way the revolving door slows down gives the illusion that it does.

There's also a variety in framing distances and angles. Before the first of those two transitions, we have a static mid shot.
In between, an extreme long shot.
And after the second, something in-between...
which does a very stylish transition into a close-up (note how those stairs don't actually make sense).

This variety in framing is interesting in and of itself, but it also facilitates the variety in timing. The extreme long shot lets the camera pan very slowly, while this turning move into a close-up makes for a very pleasing ease in and out.
Also, even though there's lots of (very clever) cheating going on, it's not just a way to compensate for lack of skill on the part of the animators. Stuff like that move up the stairs, or the slow moves towards the bin and the plant pot are just flat-out hard to do.

Another "screenshotting every frame" move, because I still don't think you've scrolled enough yet.
A really subtle ease into a violent whip pan. And the bird doesn't even miss a beat in his walk cycle.

My favourite transition actually comes fairly early on, when he enters the bathroom. I watched it a few times, knowing something weird was going on, but when I went through it frame-by-frame to figure it out my mind was utterly blown.

The first frame.

 The last frame.
How do we get the window from in front of the bath to behind it within the space of 5 frames?
By VIOLATING THE LAWS OF PHYSICS AND OF CINEMA. No elaborate spin around, the window literally just slides backwards to where it needs to be. It's both a horrendous cheat and completely genius problem-solving; at the same time an utter violation and a brilliant circumvention of the 180 degree rule. And you never even see it unless you're looking for it.

The shot that follows is also probably my favourite single shot in the whole spot. It's such a lovely angle, and getting to see the bird's walk bob from side-to-side is a real treat.
And seeing something walking along under a carpet is always fun.
A clever abuse of perspective comes in the latter part, with this very straight side-on shot.
He spies a building-top in the distance...
and then treats it as if it's sitting on the same plane as he is.
Then he does the same thing with the building in the foreground that he's walking on.
It's also worth noting the exaggerated ways he jitters and wiggles about, usually as a way to telegraph an impending camera move.

What's so great about all this complete nonsense is that it couldn't be done any other way. You couldn't do this shit in 3D or live-action. It's a spontaneous, fluid joy that can only be brought about by sequences of drawings.

After this, something very clever begins to happen: changes are made to the fundamental rules that we've grown accustomed to, which is a way to signal that we're getting to the end.

The bird moves into a drain...
and, simultaneously, the colours invert, and we see something that's not been hand animated: the rings that imply the pipe (I am 99% sure they exist as actual 3D, judging by the way the linework gets thicker as they move towards the camera). The fact that this is timed with the voice-over fits perfectly, another example of how this whole ad is very cleverly paced, when it would've been so easy to do it badly. Now that I think about it, a similar device was actually used at the very beginning, when the bird does that 3-frame take before angling towards the rubbish bin in the distance: it signals the first time we start moving in three dimensions.

When the bird enters the water, we get an even more fundamental change: his walk cycle slows down, and even becomes inconsistent.  He manages one step of 4 frames...
then slows down to 6...
before settling on 8.
 This change of the one fundamental rythm that's underlaid the whole animation is a sure sign that something significant is about to happen. And, after three steps of that 8 frame walk, happen something does.
And then comes the first full cut we've had in the whole thing.
Followed by the most abrupt cut of all.
I really hope this is how the end card actually went out on television. It shows a hilarious disregard for the safe frame.

And, to come back to how I even found this crazy thing in the first place, the music fits all this perfectly. Donkey Rhubarb is from that sort of earlyish period in Richard D. James's work where he was putting out alot of structurally simple dance music, emphasising not so much melody, harmony or rythm as pure timbre. The wirey, steel-drum-like instrument that underlies the whole track is immediately distinctive and appealing, and matches the spare, angular designs. The clattering rate at which it plays is appropriate for the mental pace of the animation. The vibraphone-like lead that comes in at 00:15 implies expansive space with its long, reverbing decay, and perfectly accentuates the long journey our protagonist the bird is taking. When he finds the worm, the contrast of the classical piece that totally interrupts the proceedings is brilliant, as is the second interruption of the cymbal crash when the end card comes up.

All that talk of bold camera moves reminds me of a little episode from my 3rd year of uni, when me and a couple of other animators ended up, along with some graphic design students, being stuck with having to make a stupid viral film for Channel 4 at a time when we really didn't have any time.

(actually, now that I look at the credits, I remember that there was actually only one other animator! She doesn't seem to have a site of her own, but she has a director's page on Sherbet's website)

This whole project was a big mess of basically everybody just moving things about as quickly as we could in a mad dash to get the whole thing done. Some parts didn't need everybody, and at the bit where the paperclips unfold and stab the paint tubes (1:06) I end up moving the paint tubes, and directing a couple of the graphic designers animating the paperclips. They had a very hard time believing in how much I was telling them to move the paperclips for each frame. I had to do alot of insisting, and in the end it could actually still be faster than it was. But this isn't to discredit them at all: it's the sort of thing you simply can't know unless you've actually got the experience. That was, of course, a very small case: I consider myself neither experienced nor confident. The sort of confidence you'd need to do the camera moves in this commercial can only have come from years of experience. I bet the guys who directed this have been at this animation thing for ages.

So Jonno, where's your token creative effort for this post? I was going to do a drawing of Cirno from the Touhou games, because I've been rather obsessed with the music from those games lately. But then I remembered that she already has a literally infinite amount of fanart, I've still not figured out how to interpret anime characters to make them interesting, I hate drawing characters in isolation anyway, and it's also a scary business to actually get that far into the pink bishoujo ghetto that is Touhou's character designs, and just got cold feet and couldn't do anything. But then there was a "draw an anime character you like as a reaction image" thread on /a/, and I remembered that I've been watching and enjoying His and Her Circumstances lately, so I figured I'd just do that instead.
I'M SORRY IT'S STUPID OKAY. And I didn't keep the original. Might add it in later if I find it.

I'll probably write something about this series once I've watched it all and read at least some of the manga. Then I've only got to watch Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, and I'll have seen everything important that Gainax has done. After that, I'll have to decide whether I really want to watch shit like Hanamaru Kindergarten and (ugh) He Is My Master just because Gainax did it.

I think this post might have the most images in a vertical line ever. Sorry. I almost wanted to just screencap every frame of the thing. At least it's better than me whining about how much of a loser I am, right? ;_;


Joe Sparrow said...

one of my favourite ads in the history of ever. has so much consideration but still manages to look loose and relaxed, I could never do something like that.

Ted said...

Just found this post the same way you found the Compaq commercial. Gotta say "Aphex Twin commercial" is a pandoras-box search term.

Anyway I compiled all the screencaps you added into a gif, which makes the commercial even faster: