Image courtesy of The Mill

Audi's 'Birth' by The Mill

Last modification: 22 Feb, 2018
7 mins

With production stakes rising ever higher in advertising, VFX studios have a huge task in winning their client’s approval. The Mill’s Mike Chapman, CG Lead on this Gold-winning spot for Animation, Film Craft and Design at Cannes, admits that when digitally creating a birthing car, it takes bravery and trust – before artistry or software – to spawn something of such dramatic impact.


Pardon the pun, but how exactly was the idea of a car giving birth conceived?

It was quite a long time in the making, actually. It was an idea that BBH had a couple of years ago. One of our in-house directors, Andrew Proctor, who’s also a CG artist, did a pre-vis for it and everyone got really excited. At the time, he didn’t quite have the right product from Audi to attach the idea to but fast-forward about eighteen months to the release of the RS 3 Sportback which uses the same DNA as the R8, and finally the concept got traction.

How do you prepare for a project like this? Did you watch birthing videos?

We drew from a lot of different references, looking for strong pieces with a balance of mechanic versus organic. We tried to draw from as wide of a gamut as possible, looking at birth, the amniotic sacs and things like that. We wanted to ensure that it wasn’t too grotesque, so it was a constant balancing act throughout the whole thing.

Even knowing the spot is called, Birth, it’s startling to see that amniotic sac (laughs).

(Laughs) What we ended up with was a long way from the references we’d looked at. Things were a lot more…waxy. A studio that designs cars will quite often model them first from clay to get the form and so on, and that sort of surface was what we were looking at. We managed to develop a thin, wet, waxy coating that feels biological, but at the same time could be a material used to lubricate cars in a factory.

You mentioned that CG is a time consuming process but is a fully-CG spot more difficult to assemble overall?

CG allows a lot of flexibility because you can stick a camera anywhere. The great thing about working with Andrew, who has a CG background, is that he has an appreciation of what it takes. He gave us time and space to put our heads down and get it done, and he knew when to step in and make comments. CG has that curve where everything comes together at the end, and if you don’t have strong concept work and people don’t have confidence in what you’re doing, you can get halfway through and then have to change it because somebody can’t envision where it’s going. When you work with someone who is familiar with the medium, who can recognize that it’s going in the right direction, it’s really important. That’s what I enjoyed about the project – and I think the agency did as well. We’d chat openly with them about the process and where we were going to next. People felt they could comment without huge ramifications.

Audi 'Birth' by The Mill

Bravery certainly would be a requisite when creating something that’s never been seen before.

It’s key to have confidence in the idea or else you’re going to ultimately end up with something that has a lot less impact, something a lot safer.

Did the finished product turn out as you hoped?

Yeah. The concept was strong right from the start and though it did expand and change, I can’t see any shots I’m disappointed with. It’s easy to lose perspective and end up seeing only the things you would have liked to improve. I guess it’s why I do what I do, that drive to always want to make things better. It wasn’t just about rushing to get it over the finish line, there was time to finesse little things, like wish list stuff. That came down to proper management and the people involved giving us time and trust to be artists and to bring home some really strong imagery.

Do you ever surprise yourself with what you’re able to pull off?

There’s always more to learn. A 3D package has so many assets to it, it’s difficult to know it all. I feel like I know my strengths and weaknesses. It’s a medium that I feel very comfortable expressing myself with and I can get the visuals I want. There are other mediums, like painting, where I’d be much less comfortable.

On a more personal note, have you witnessed a live birth?

No, I haven’t had firsthand experience. It’ll be interesting if and when it does happen. I’ll be thinking about what I might have done differently (laughs).

Finally, if your car could give birth, what would you hope it to have?

Oooh, I couldn’t just say an Audi, could I (laughs)? The new R8 is pretty cool, I wouldn’t mind one of those!

The Mill
utilised the mother of all 3D animation software, Maya, in order to deliver this progressive, Cannes-winning project. Based in London, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, The Mill collaborates on award winning moving image, design and digital projects for the advertising, games and music industry.

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