Building An Elephant…
Vancouver, Canada June 15, 2008.
Artifex Studios  created a photorealistic 3D elephant  for Nissan.The carefree elephant hitching a ride on the back of a Nissan pickup truck was built and animated for Filmmates Productions (Mexico City) and Clemente Camara & Associates in collaboration with The Oranj Group out of New York City. The spot opens on a beautiful field, warm sunlight and an endless winding road. The new Nissan product carries a statuesque elephant. The elephant, moved by the view with the wind in its ears and the fantastic looking vehicle it rides on, slowly lifts its hind legs and opens its arms in a human-like gesture that seems to say “I’m the King of the World”. Although a live elephant was used for parts of the commercial, the realistic movement for the last sequence was completed in full CG utilizing a realistic 3D elephant modeled after the live action animal.
The Plates: Since there was a ‘stand-in’ elephant that needed to be painted out prior to moving forward with 3D, there was a great amount of prep work completed on the plates even before animation took place. First, the plates needed to be tracked in 3D since both the camera and truck moved throughout each shot. Camera solutions were exported to both Maya and Nuke. Maya was then used to create projection geometry, which was then exported to Nuke. In Nuke a combination of stills were painted onto the geometry and the exported camera data from the 3D tracking software was used to create a clean sequence without the stand- in elephant.
The Animation: The elephant model was achieved by creating a base mesh in Maya. ZBrush was used to create high-resolution detail such as wrinkles and folds. Existing photos were used as reference and colour maps were created by painting. With the combination of the colour and displacement map, a photoreal elephant was rendered using HDRI photography for lighting and subsurface scattering to help simulate skin. In addition, for the elephant’s close-up Maya Fur was utilized for an added touch of realism and detail. Rendering was achieved through Renderman.
Animating the elephant required a balance of realistic motion and pushing the limitations of an elephant’s actual range of motion to achieve the client’s objective, all the while maintaining a sense of believability. Artifex Studios Ltd. is located in Vancouver, BC and has been creating digital effects and 3D animation for film and television since 1997.