Every so often I get the chance to work on fun, creative visual effects projects. I was approached by Realise Studio in London to help them with a character design for a commercial – an Ogre. The script had potential – a father has been transformed into an ogre by the pressure of his day-to-day life, a much-needed family holiday transforms him back to himself. Short and sweet. The proposed methodology combined prosthetics with selected digital-face replacement, as good strategy to reduce the amount of work in post-production (as opposed to creating a fully computer-generated face for the entire commercial as in the Audrey Hepburn piece).
The first step in the process was developing the look for the ogre. It had to be grounded in reality and based closely on the actor cast for the role. For me the design process always starts in a sketchbook. I sketched a few ideas before diving into ZBrush. The deadlines for this project were very tight – we had only five days to get the body, face, hands & feet designed and approved by the client. It is projects like this where it is critical to be able to work quickly. We got the designs approved and they were handed over to the prosthetics team, who were also working under a super-compressed timeframe to get the parts sculpted, cast, dried and shipped to Crete for the shoot.
DESIGNING THE FACE
initial design based on actor’s proportions
The initial design was closely based on the actor’s proportions and likeness – a tall, angular face with a broad forehead. Of course I had to make room for all the ogrish delights you would expect – protruding lower teeth, stumpy horns, knobbly nose. I really liked this initial design (above), but it was quite obviously too gaunt and serious for a lovable, family-guy ogre. So over a quick couple iterations he was fattened up and made more huggable, essentially a little more Shrek.
Handing over the designs to the prosthetics team is always tough for me. Invariably changes get made to the design – either for practical reasons or simply because some forms are misunderstood or misinterpreted. In this case it was a little of both – the final ogre mostly matched my design but it was missing some of the subtlety and softness that I put into the character.
BODY DESIGNThe body design was developed at the same time as the face. The “ogre body” had to fit the proportions of the actor so I sculpted around a reference scan of the actor and was constantly referencing his proportions. The body design went through some VERY awkward early stages (nothing nice or clever to show from that), but after a couple iterations I started to really like the weight and gesture of the design. The ogre was strong but not overtly muscular, and hunched from bearing the “weight of the world” on his shoulders.
Again, once the design was approved we passed this to the prosthetics team working in LA. As you might be expect, I am quite tough on people when it comes to preserving the fidelity of my designs, especially when it comes to anatomy. As with the face, we were working to extremely tight deadline so we had VERY limited time for feedback on the transition from my digital designs into prosthetics. But I gave as much feedback as we had time for and progressed all the clay sculpts as far as possible before having to hit the “cast now” button.
Feedback from me to the prosthetics team
THE FINAL OGRE
After a few months of laborious post production at Realise Studio, the Ogre commercial aired over the Christmas holiday. Overall the piece is fun and there are parts that I think work really well, others not as well. But I am definitely too close to the project and can’t see it as a whole, so watch and decide for yourself:
- You can find the full 120″ commercial here.
- More on the visual effects side of the process at fxguide.com.
- … and funny commentary in the Guardian’s culture section.