Redenbacher Pops Back Via CGI
January 22, 2007
By Kamau High
Orville is reborn.
NEW YORK Orville Redenbacher, the (long-deceased) familiar face of gourmet popcorn, reintroduced himself to America during last week's Golden Globe Awards broadcast with his familiar greeting, "Hello, I'm Orville Redenbacher." Only this time, he did it while brandishing an MP3 player. "These MP3 players get lighter everyday!" he says in the spot as he proceeds to do his classic popping comparison test, this time using a microwave instead of a standard popper.
What makes this spot different isn't that a dead icon returned to pitch a product. TV viewers saw Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney with a singing Elton John in a 1991 Diet Coke ad, and Fred Astaire dancing with a Dirt Devil in 1997. But this spot, created by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, features an entirely re-created character's head, not the insertion of old footage into a new spot.
"We've done digital humans before, but usually when we do that kind of work it's in stunts or action scenes. We've never done it for a commercial," said Ed Ulbrich, president of the commercials division of Digital Domain in Venice, Calif. "We created a photorealistic human not just to appear on screen, but to deliver lines in close-up."
ConAgra Foods has been reacquainting consumers with Redenbacher since November 2005, when it began rerunning a classic commercial from the 1970s featuring the founder and former brand spokesman. A second spot ran months later. They used original footage updated with a product shot of the brand's microwave popcorn and a new tagline, "Celebrating 40 years of making the perfect popcorn."
Bill Wright, vp and creative director, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, said during a Webcast about the spot last Tuesday, "We thought, 'How can we get [Redenbacher] back pitching this popcorn like we all remember watching him doing on TV when we were growing up?'"
The new 30-second spot, directed by David Fincher (whose next film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, with Brad Pitt, will use the technology), is the first of three in the campaign (there is a :30 and one :15 to come).
To create it, a clay sculpture was made of Redenbacher's head from existing footage that was then scanned into a computer to make a 3-D model. (A software-generated skeleton and muscle system was rigged to make it appear more natural.)
Also, an actor was filmed in a blue ski mask, and his head was then erased and replaced with the model, with movements matched to the actions of the actor whose body was filmed. The results were composited.
The work took about eight months to complete. Ulbrich said they used "nearly all of Digital Domain's resources to render some of these scenes. We had about 40 artists on this. At times these 22 seconds of animation used as much work as a major film."
In the spot, Redenbacher, who was 88 when he died, appears to be in his mid-60s, said Gary Redenbacher, Orville's grandson, during the same Webcast. "A lot of the archival footage is from" that time, he said.
Close-up shots of digitized humans speaking have been seen in films such as The Polar Express and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. While these characters have met with mixed reviews, Ulbrich thinks there may be more opportunities for digitally created actors in commercials: "With digital spokespeople ... you never have to worry if someone is available."
Per sources, the spot shown during the Golden Globe Awards cost less than $2 million to make plus $350,000-400,000 for the media buy. Print will run in February issues of national magazines.
Some in the industry have called the TV spot "creepy," citing a flatness to the character that feels inhuman. And not everyone believes the technology is ready for the spotlight. Kevin Townsend, managing partner, Science+Fiction and former president and gm for commercial production for ILM from 1993 to 1999, said, "The technology has caught up to where we can create photorealistic characters. The question is, do we have the talent to animate them?"