Yes Captain is a design led, motion graphics and animation studio based in the Southern Seas of Melbourne, Australia. They're renowned for crafting beautiful and emotive title design, television commercials, broadcast graphics, explainer videos, infographics and branded content for film, television and digital platforms.
They recently worked on an awesome TVC for Luna Park. If you haven't seen it yet you can check it out on their website.
We liked it so much that we spoke to the Captain of the ship, James Cowen, who shared the process with us.
We're loving the Luna Park TVC you made recently. Have you worked with Luna Park before? How did the project come your way?
Thanks so much. We collaborate regularly with the great team at Standard, a Melbourne production company. They’ve made live action TVCs for Luna Park in the past and brought us in when the client requested a 3D animated TVC.
You mention on your site that there was a short turnaround on this project? Exactly how long did you have? How many people worked on this project?
There were only 21 days from initial call up to deadline. Luna Park is such an iconic Australian brand we knew it would be worth a few late nights. We primarily work with a crew of talented freelancers but being weeks before Christmas, many of the best were already booked. We had just one modeller for four days, one animator/compositor for a week, plus myself.
With such a short timeline, did you dive straight into the software or was it important to get a storyboard and animatic approved first?
There was no concept or script in the initial meeting, just a campaign logo to work from, so it was important to get a strong narrative approved and get moving asap. We came up with a simple idea - Summer brings life to Luna Park. We quickly dived into Cinema 4D and After Effects to mock up some styleframes. It’s just so easy to explore ideas and shots in Cinema 4D. It’s a lot faster than using a pencil and paper for me, and produces a much clearer result. Animatics were essential, but more for us than the client. Cinema 4D’s hardware render allows quick export of shots. We kept moving back and forth between C4D and Premiere, allowing the edit to dictate the structure, how many shots we needed and an exact frame count for each shot so we only rendered what we needed.
You've achieved a highly stylised look for this spot and we notice you've used the Arnold Render Engine. What made you choose Arnold over Octane or V-Ray?
We prefer a Mac OSX workflow and run the latest Apple desktops in the studio. Unfortunately AMD Radeon graphics cards aren’t supported by Octane, although I believe Otoy have just solved that problem so a fix is on its way. For whatever reason, Apple don’t let you choose what graphics card you want in your machine, which is disappointing. So unless you have an old Mac Pro and want the door off with external cooling, there are little options for running Octane on Mac at present. So in the middle of last year we were looking at options given the exciting amount of new renderers available. We hit upon Arnold, which has been available to Hollywood studios for some time, but only just ported to Cinema4D. The beauty of it is it gives a similarly fast Interactive Preview Region as Octane, but it’s CPU based, which screams on our new Macs without the need for expensive graphics cards. It’s fantastic for quick art direction and design and super easy to learn. Unlike the myriad of daunting Vray options, Arnold has the simplest of settings. It’s a physically based, unbiased renderer. All you have to contend with is eliminating noise and balancing that with render times. Gone are the days of GI flicker, and more importantly the lighting it produces is simply gorgeous. The support for Arnold is also amazing with the developers already realising 13 updates in less than a year, adding improvements and bug fixes along the way. It’s only going to get stronger as the years roll on. It’s a very exciting tool.
Did the 3D renders need much of a colour grade? Or were you very happy with the result you got from Arnold?
There’s always a need to grade, but it didn’t need much. Arnold’s renders looked great with a simple physical sky as light source. From Arnold we rendered direct and indirect diffuse and specular passes which still gave us some control over the look in post. With the ever looming deadline we turned to cloud render farms to get all the shots complete. A shot that might take 8 hours on one local machine could be done inside 15 minutes in the cloud.
Did you use Cinema 4D for this project? Was the modelling done in the same 3D package as the animation? Or did you import all the models from your modeller and arrange them in the scene?
C4D all the way. Having used other packages over the years, I can’t speak highly enough about Cinema 4D. It’s stable, creative, easy to use and most of all - fun! We’ve worked with Edwina Joel, a talented Melbourne modeller, a number of times now and she works exclusively in C4D which makes life easier for us. We could certainly take models from another package but having things built natively in C4D is considerably easier and more flexible.
It's a fantastic technique you've got going on with the painted strokes throughout the grayscale scene to reveal Luna Park in full colour. Can you tell us a little more about how you achieved this effect?
We needed to come up with something flexible. Feeding animated textures from After Effects into Cinema 4D was going to be too slow and convoluted a process. In the end, we created a fake UV pass in C4D, which was essentially a 3 colour gradient projected from a camera onto all of the geometry of the scene. This pass allowed us to retexture in After Effects thanks to Re:MapUV from revisionfx. This meant we could have animated strokes inside After Effects, moving over all 3D surfaces and easily change timing, thickness, direction and colour with immediate feedback. We then layered up the painted strokes with a number of grading and blend mode tricks. The specular passes were laid on top and really made the strokes pop.
The splashes of 2D shapes and strokes add so much life to this spot and really compliment the 3D. Are these a mixture of frame by frame and After Effects animation? Were these comped in at the very end?
We prefer to create everything as bespoke items but with the tight timeframe we had to dive into our stock library for many of these elements, as well as utilise tools such as AE Sweets which generated a number of key 2D shapes for us. This tool gives us a lot of flexibility in being able to tweak shape, timing and colour to suit our design and palette. From the start of the production we knew we wanted these flourishes to add additional pace, flair and visual interest. They were added at the end of production and it was great to finally see them in the piece as they really added a lot of excitement and finish to the spot.
What's next for Yes Captain? Any exciting projects in your studio at the moment?
We’ve just started to land some international clients which is very exciting. We’re working with some app developers in the US to help tell their story, and on the back of our extensive LED signage work for the AFL, we’ve recently partnered with a global sports brand to deliver their LED sports graphics to four stadiums across Europe. We’re pretty thrilled with such exciting opportunities opening up, the horizon is looking bright at Yes Captain.
Beyond doing great work for great clients, what do you value most at Yes Captain?
Collaboration is everything at Yes Captain. We’re lucky to work with talent from around the world and it’s these great artists that come aboard that make our work so good.
Thanks James, how do we keep up with the adventures of Yes Captain and your crew?