June 17, 2005


SANTA MONICA - Some people will go to any lengths to avoid sharing Emerald Nuts. In "Exaggerating Dad," (:30) a father finds himself confronting a unicorn, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny compliments of visual effects from The Syndicate when he makes excuses why his young daughter shouldn't sample his Emerald Nuts. The Syndicate and Omaha were involved in all facets of the quirky comedy spot from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.

"Exaggerating Dad" opens with a father and his daughter sitting on a sofa in their living room. He's munching Emerald Nuts and she asks for some. Jealously guarding his snack, the father says, "Honey, if you eat an Emerald Nut unicorns will disappear forever." Suddenly the camera swings around to see a beautiful white unicorn standing in the living room doorway. "That's not true, Jim," the unicorn scolds. The camera spins again to reveal Santa sitting opposite the sofa. "Yeah, and saying I'd never come because she ate your Emerald cashews? Jim, come on," he admonishes. Dad looks sheepish and glances at the Easter Bunny now ensconced next to him on the couch. "What about, 'If you touch those Emerald Nuts the Easter Bunny gets whacked'?" the rabbit shrugs. Dad gives in and prepares to share the nuts with his daughter as a super appears with the copy line, "They're kind of hard to share."

Before the film shoot, by the directing team of Speck and Gordon, Omaha Pictures, Santa Monica, got underway, the producers came to TS for a pre-viz showing possible enhancements for the Easter Bunny's face. "They were planning to use a puppeted Easter Bunny body but wanted to shoot a person in a bunny head to allow for greater head and mouth movements, and composite the head onto the body," Mann explains. "The face needed eye and facial enhancements, however, so we did some tests to show what we could do."

"The goal was to get as much animation as possible in the head," adds VFX supervisor Kevin Prendiville. "We were happy to see the puppet's ears move and nose and whiskers twitch so the biggest thing for us to address was the eye position. The pre-viz I did on Flame was a proof of concept for the directors to see."

Both Mann and Prendiville were on set during the long, one-day shoot. Prendiville lined up the puppeted Easter Bunny, without a head, for the shot with the father and daughter. Later, for the greenscreen shoot of an actress wearing the rabbit head, he made sure the head angle matched that of the bunny on the couch. "It was critical to get the eye lines and the attitude of the head correct," Prendiville says.

Back at TS, he used Discreet Flame to track the rabbit head onto the puppet body and further manipulate the head's facial features. "Getting the lip sync to match the overdubbed lines and fit the pacing of the spot was important," Prendiville notes. He opened the mouth to better voice vowels and pop consonants and added a little more eye movement and enhancement. "It's all very subtle," he emphasizes. "The directors were very sensitive about not going over the top with anything. All the dialogue and movement in the spot is constrained. Nothing is overstated."

For Santa Claus, the directors had a take of the actor in his red suit, which they liked, but his line was covered by the fluffy white mustache obscuring his mouth. The dialogue was also changed after the shoot. So Prendiville was charged with taking a visible mouth from another Santa take, stabilizing and tracking it onto the actor then manipulating the mouth so it matched the new dialogue. Prendiville also created several subtle split screens of the father and daughter, combining the best takes of each actor to craft optimum shots.

The unicorn was an actual horse filmed in the living room set. Its mouth manipulation, nostril flares, cheek puffs and eye movement were animated. Prendiville was responsible for compositing footage into the living room TV set, which appears in the shot. Prendiville conformed and finished the completed spot on Flame.