Elephant in the room

How UPP Advertising built a hyper-realistic creature for a good cause


Many of us zone out on our commutes, wiling away the minutes with our smartphones and magazines—but surely anyone would notice a monkey swinging through the window, or a flock of ducks disembarking at the station. You’d also be hard-pressed to avoid spotting an enormous, beautiful elephant tromping alongside the train cars.

In the TV advert, Adopt Marie, a zoo’s worth of vibrant animals flood out of an arriving train and into the arms to eager caretakers. But when a clearly distraught woman and her two young children emerge from the train car, nobody pays attention to them; nobody bothers to help. This scene drives home a message from the Czech non-profit charity, Women for Women: Shouldn’t we embrace and care for our fellow human beings as we do animals?

Universal Production Partners Advertising department (UPP Advertising) was recruited for post-production on the TV short, with one extra-large mission—devising and executing a lifelike CG elephant that could coexist alongside living, breathing animals that had been filmed on-site. For this and other projects, Cospective’s web-based Frankie video review platform has been a crucial tool to help UPP Advertising stay in sync with clients and collaborators alike.



Adopt Marie

Executing such a realistic creature started with technically precise previs, discussed in-person with the directors of Adopt Marie – a dynamic duo known in the industry as ‘Wabisabi’, made up of Gašper Šnuderl and Stephen Zálešák. Using these discussions as a springboard, UPP Advertising began to create a photorealistic CG elephant from scratch. The elephant’s speed of movement, size and other characteristics needed to be adapted to avoid pillars, trains and the reality of the location. That is why a full-size elephant head placeholder was necessary on-set, along with complex previz and a motion control camera set-up.



As UPP Advertising moved into post-production, it was no longer feasible to meet with Wabisabi in-person to approve creative assets, which continued to evolve everyday. Work in progress had to be shared with Wabisabi remotely as shots moved through the pipeline—from visual effects to compositing and final renders. UPP Advertising turned to the web-based video review tool, Frankie, to streamline communication over these developing visual assets.

Using Frankie, the creative team at UPP Advertising could watch shots together with Wabisabi in real-time—from just about any device, anywhere in the world. “Our field of work is very creative and subjective,” explains VFX supervisor and head of the 3D advertising department at UPP, Mario Dubec. “There’s no precise, mathematical formula for describing the tone of an image. Directors and clients alike need to see exactly what you’re talking about, zoom into the same area, and mark up an asset—as if you’re sitting in the same room.”

Regular review sessions were necessary throughout production on Adopt Marie to ensure every single part of the elephant, every muscle movement and texture, remained consistent. The execution process involved standard animal workflow modelled according to anatomical references—including a reference skeleton, setting up muscles, fine-tuning the textures and shading to achieve the realistic look. All the details were animated and skin was simulated to make sure that the elephant’s movements appeared believable, even alongside the animals that were filmed in live action. Every nuance had to be regularly reviewed in pursuit of a photoreal final result.

For UPP Advertising, the chance to work on a 3D animal and help raise awareness of such a great cause made for the ideal project. “Our team is very invested in animals—not only in real life, but also because we love the challenge of developing them in 3D,” says Dubec. “Also, many of us have children and can relate to the problems of providing for a loved one. Adopt Marie was a nice intersection of our professional ambitions and personal values.”



Reaching out to Russia

For other projects, especially those in which the clients or collaborators aren’t local, Frankie plays a role throughout the entire process. UPP Advertising often taps into Frankie very early on, using the platform during bidding and previs, as well as marking and making notes during conference calls once they have storyboards in-hand. It helps the team to clarify the scope of work before really digging in to bring a client’s vision to life.

One particular project was a commercial for Russian chocolate brand Korkunov, in which a naval officer is seen sprinting away from his ship—across the treacherous, frozen terrain—to deliver a gift of chocolate to his love on the shore. UPP Advertising handled full environment CG as well as the ship and ice, expanding upon basic background plates to really set the mood of the spot. Frankie was essential to help collectively work out the layout and tone.

“Our clients were based in Russia and the director in South Africa, so it was not possible to develop the project without Frankie,” says Dubec. “Only Frankie allowed us to go revision-by-revision and share everything with clients and the agency.”


Frankie’s the perfect fit

When the UPP Advertising team clarifies details for any given project, they annotate and make notes directly on a scene in Frankie, which can be easily shared with the client for final approval. The web-based Frankie toolset provides flexibility and accessibility for UPP’s advertising clients – a reactive industry where projects can change from day-to-day and short form campaigns quickly move through the studio pipeline.

Ultimately, Frankie serves a key role for UPP Advertising, fueling remote collaboration with clients, agencies, and creative partners near and far—and closing any physical gap with ease.

“Most of our clients are from outside of the Czech Republic—or even if the production is from Czech Republic, the clients and directors may be from overseas. Frankie, for us, is our main meeting point,” Dubec affirms. “We have only had positive experiences with Frankie. That’s why we keep using it.”