NEW YORK — Edit 1 (www.edit1.tv) in NYC specializes in pre-visualization for global advertising agencies. Here, company president Michael Zimbard discusses custom asset libraries and what makes Edit 1’s new generation of characters stand out from the previs herd.
Post: Why exactly are character libraries so important for the previs process?
Michael Zimbard: “They’re essential because we need to turn around great looking spots under extremely tight timetables. For most of our commercial work, we're dealing with concepts that contain human characters across a broad range of ages and ethnicities. So when a job awards, we want to limit the character build time and get right into the storytelling. With a fully developed library in place you can hit the ground running creatively. This goes for all assets, including wardrobe, props, and sets as well. Building an entire pipeline like this from scratch allows us to customize it to our workflow and the needs of our projects.”
Post: How is your library different from others?
Zimbard: “Our development took a dual path: we wanted to deliver more visually appealing, ‘relatable’ animated characters that would in turn yield better test scores; plus give our 3D team the ability to work faster with higher quality final results. The redesign of the animation pipeline took over a year to develop and pools all of the knowledge we’ve gained from working on cinematics the past five years. We’re able to give our client a more polished look and allow our artists to work more efficiently.”
Post: Edit 1 recently started using an inertial motion capture system. Has that technology played a role in your new character animation library?
Zimbard: “Absolutely. When I took over the company in 2010, I felt one of our biggest weaknesses was 3D development. Since then, we've invested big to enhance every aspect of our 3D workflow. In addition to creating our own proprietary tools that make the spot creation process faster overall, we’ve also brought in the inertial motion capture technology you mentioned as well as a markerless facial capture system to push the quality of character movement and expression. So it’s the sum of all of these things we’ve been focused on — the new library, custom tools and animation technology — that’s elevating the quality of our work. And of course not to mention our incredible creative team that is always looking for ways to make our quality and process stand out from the pack.”
Post: This type of quality, with natural looking characters and movement, is particularly important when agencies are testing spots, right?
Zimbard: “Yes. When test audiences are watching spots, you don't want bad animation or an unappealing avatar affecting how they feel about a concept. The closer we can simulate the feeling of reality (and at the same time stay out of the creepy 'uncanny valley' that is a major pitfall of many CGI characters), the less distractions that exist for a focus group viewer. We want the core idea of a spot be the deciding factor in how a consumer responds, which in turn provides more accurate test scores.”
Q: Any examples of recent work in which you put your library to work?
Zimbard: “In January, we executed several spots for agency PKT and Proctor & Gamble for two new Scope campaigns. Without giving too much away, one of the spots features a spokesperson character that has a very unique style and look. Because of the way we designed the character topology and UV mapping in the new character pipeline, modifying a base character to have a completely different look becomes a much more interactive process for the client. They were able to evaluate multiple incarnations of the character before making a decision. In the past, we likely would not have had time to build out more than one option in 3D.
“Combining the ability to make these types of quick modifications, along with the overall higher quality of our new character library, gave the agency and client a great final result, and also a smooth process getting there. The test scores for both campaigns came in so high that the challenge became picking which direction they would produce for on-air.”
Post: What aspect of putting the new character animation library together was most challenging?
Zimbard: “There were months of R&D and internal discussion to come up with the best pipeline that would fit our needs. We wound up with an approach that’s similar to how videogame workflows are typically built, but with much higher model detail and texture resolution. While we wanted to establish an overall new ‘look’ for our characters, we still needed to build in the functionality to adapt to the requirements of a specific project. When it comes to rendering, some clients want a more realistic look, others want a more simplified flat shading or emulate 2D illustration in 3D. We didn't want to push any one overall style, but wanted to offer clients the flexibility to have different options. We're thrilled with where we netted out and have been very excited to roll out the new library for our agency and client partners.”