The short movie “Best Friend”, created for animal rights organization PETA, also marked the launch of the first element in Mackevision’s character pipeline: Emotional Creatures. The premiere can be viewed on TV, in movie theaters and online. Star of the show is Lucky – a piglet who is little Mara’s best friend. Ridiculously cute, deceptively true to life – and 100% computer-animated.
A total of 22 Mackevision artists worked on the 13 VFX shots for the TV spot over a four-month period.
The challenge: not only did the piglet have to look cute, he also had to look deceptively real. Bringing a real, live animal to the shoot was out of the question. “It contravenes PETA’s guidelines to involve live animals in any way,” confirms Julian Körrenz, the project’s Compositing Lead, as he explains this unusual challenge.
The only things on set were the actors and the scenery – plus Rouven Dembrowski, the project’s VFX Set Supervisor. His job was to be the on-site contact person, point out possible implementation issues – and capture the lighting mood in HDRIs (High Dynamic Range Images) as well as shoot photographs so the environment could be reconstructed at a later stage using photogrammetry.
It’s important to accurately reproduce a scene’s lighting and ambience. But it’s even more important to precisely answer the question: How does a real pig behave? The search for “reference material” started on a farm and ended with in-depth analysis of countless YouTube videos.
The genre was decidedly monothematic: pigs. How do they move? How do they react? The more familiar a creature is, the more important it is to get the details right. And when it comes to pigs – well, everyone knows how they move.
The pig was finally brought to life by building up an “imitation version”. This means creating a skeleton, then the muscles, fascia, fat, skin and fur – layer by layer, right up to the finished animal. And all anatomically correct. For the movements to look real, for example, the muscles must be attached to the right bones. Just like the original.
But true realism also means: warts and all. “There’s no such thing as a perfect animal,” explains Körrenz. Every living being has its peculiarities – maybe a skin blemish, a liver spot, or a patch of unusual fur growth. But the biggest challenge of all was ensuring that while Lucky looked cute and lovable, he still looked totally natural. “We had to be very careful not to turn him into a comic-book character,” says Christian Zilliken. So the animal’s emotions are mainly conveyed through its eyes and by light reflections. “A smiling pig would be unrealistic.”
This project also represents the first element our character pipeline. “We can now offer our customers a truly exceptional portfolio,” confirms Körrenz. As well as creatures, products include digitally created scenery (matte paintings), crowd replication and simulations of tricky phenomena such as water.
Emanuel Fuchs (CG Lead), Christian Zilliken (VFX Supervisor), Julian Körrenz (Compositing Lead) and Francesco Faranna (VFX Producer) talk about anatomical studies, big, beguiling eyes and the need for total perfectionism.
Okay, may we admit something right at the start?
Francesco Faranna: (Laughs) Sure!
We fell just a little bit in love with Lucky.
Christian Zilliken: That’s what we like to hear!
But, to be absolutely frank, one thing did bother us.
Emanuel Fuchs: What was that?
That at the end of the movie, Lucky ends up as a plate of pork cutlets.
Fuchs: You’re right – that’s definitely not a happy ending.
Faranna: But that’s exactly what we wanted to achieve – to shock the audience into thinking about it.
Click the button below to read the full interview.
Client: PETA e.V.
Production: Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg GmbH
Service Production: Fahle Film UG
Producer: Veith Unger
Director: Nathalie Lamb
DoP: Christoph Schuman
Gaffer: Patrick Lang
Production Design: Jacqueline Lang
Production Design: Christina Mast
Costume: Astrid Hildebrand
Editing: Ann-Kathrin Matthes
Sound Design: Johanna Roth
VFX Producer: Francesco Faranna
VFX Supervisor: Christian Zilliken
Animation Supervisor: Bernd Nalbach
CG Lead: Emanuel Fuchs
Compositing Lead: Julian Körrenz
Compositing Lead: Jan Burda
Executive Producer: Heiko Burkardsmaier
VFX Coordination: Paul Maresch
VFX Coordination: Iggy Rau
Consultant Supervisor: Juri Stanossek
VFX Set Supervision: Rouven Dombrowski
VFX Editorial/Grading: Tobias Pfeiffer
VFX Editorial: Jörg Wohnsiedler
Pipeline Developer: Axel Mähler
Pipeline Developer: Henry Weickert
Matchmove: Frank Rosenkränzer
Character Designer: Christian Leitner
Lighting: Sebastian Plank
3D Generalist: Henrik Soeltzer
3D Generalist: Marco Wilz
Rigging: Jakub Krompolc
Hair, fur: Lukas Gotkowski
Hair, fur: Jaroslaw Handrysik
Animation: Maciek Wojtkiewicz
Animation: Dastin Hoffman
Animation: Dorian Knapp
Animation: Mariia Prokopenko
Character FX: Lisa Ecker
Compositing: Mauricio de Oliveira
Compositing: Gus Martinez
Compositing: Peter Lames
Compositing: Lukas Fabian
Compositing: Constantin von Zitzewitz
Compositing: AnhKhang Huynh