Find out how Mothership’s director David Rosenbaum delivered an advert as seamless as the shoe itself as he discusses the ‘Biomorph’ TVC for Nike’s new Flyknit technology. Watch the making of video here too…
We caught sight of the new Nike advert a few weeks back and were blown away by the concept and CG. The spot shows a shoe that seamlessly fits to a runner’s foot like a second skin. Employing some subtle special effects – which were handled by Mothership’s sister company Digital Domain – the spot extends a single moment of a run: a bare foot hits the ground and the threads of the Flyknit shoe begin the grow, wrapping around the foot of the athlete.
“We were approached by Nike to create a launch film for their new Flyknit technology. They gave us a document with a rough idea and brief history of how the product came about, and we developed the spot and presented a concept that they ultimately loved,” says director, David Rosenbaum.
“I was inspired by the concept of body schema — a term used across disciplines to describe the way that tools work with, and become extensions of the body,” says Rosenbaum. “That really resonated with the way their Flyknit technology is designed—becoming an extension of the runner’s foot, seamless and lightweight.”
“Mothership, the sister company and live-action production arm of Digital Domain, handled the live-action shoot and editorial before passing it off to the visual effects wizards at Digital Domain,” says Rosenbaum.
“As far as production, we storyboarded the spot to make sure we knew exactly what we wanted to capture during the shoot, says Rosenbaum. “From this we knew which shots would be entirely live-action, the shots that would have visual effects added, and which ones would be entirely CG. That served as our skeleton for both the shoot and the edit. Once an edit was approved, we handed the shots off to visual effects to be tracked and animated. From there it was lighting, rendering, comping and off to never-neverland.”
“We utilised a variety of off-the-shelf and proprietary tools, such as Maya and Houdini for animation, V-Ray for rendering, and Nuke and Flame for compositing,” says VFX supervisor, Aladino Debert.
While the pipeline was of great importance, Debert stresses that it is the talent that really sets an outfit’s work apart: “There’s nothing more important than the artists. With few exceptions, the software in general is available to anyone, so the difference is in the talent of the artists using it.”
The knitting challenge
From the get-go Mothership knew the knitting simulation would be the most challenging aspect of the Nike spot. “We had done a proof of concept for our pitch where we had the bones, muscles, veins and nerves growing, so we felt confident that part of the spot was taken care of,” says Debert.
“On the other hand, given the fact that we had to show extreme close-up shots of the process of knitting, doing it fully in CG was the only way to go. The fact that we were able to convey the message of both the growing and knitting without making it look gory or too weird, in my opinion, is the actual success of the spot from a technical standpoint.”
“We developed four distinct methodologies to have the fibres grow until we arrived at the right one. The first three had issues, some behavioural, some artistic. It’s a testament to the talent of our effects artists that they kept pushing and pushing until we found the right methodology,” says Debert.
“All shots of fibres growing were done in Maya, and that is our premier animation package, so it’s part of our knowledge base. Depending on the intricacies of the job, we always have to search for methods of solving new problems. Besides that, Houdini is fantastic for procedural animation, in this case the animated Boolean growth patterns on the bones and other anatomically correct parts of the foot.”