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Pepsi Episode 3 – Japan

If you haven’t seen our latest Pepsi Ad for Japan, I encourage you to watch it now because it’s THOOPER KEWL!

It’s a take on the Japanese folk story of Momotaro (known as Peachboy) where a boy with various animal companions travels to an island to fight demons. This Pepsi Ad is the fourth installment (the series starts at zero) where the new demon seen (known as an Oni) is winged. I guess it’s mimicking the pheasant in the story? Who knows. All you need to know is it’s AWESOME.

I’m very fortunate to have had 4 shots on this ad. 2 of them are CG bird shots and 2 are simple Oni shots. The bulk of the animation was provided by our wonderful lead animator Chris.

The Oni shots were interesting in that the Oni is bigger than a multi-storey building, and so he had to move very slowly due to gravity having a greater effect on his mass (see 01:34). This was new for me as I’d never animated something that was meant to be so large, but our lead taught me to follow reference footage, extend the animation keys out over more time and then go back to tweak overlapping body parts.

The bird shots were tricky in that they had to be realistic movements of fast birds shot in slow motion. There also had to be about 25 of them customised to fly in random directions in one shot(see 00:25). This meant using a basic flight cycle for most of them and then varying their gliding and flapping motions over their flight paths. Then some of them were also perched on the walls and on ledges, so they had to have their own custom animations of them looking around or walking or taking off. All of these factors relied on one thing for pulling it off: study, study, study.

Reference footage like this:

-was a Godsend. It’s one example of the many Youtube videos I watched to get their movements working well. And although it may sound like a bit much for a 2 second shot –

Source: Meme-lol.

Source: Meme-lol.

The rest of the ad coming together can be put down to the rest of the incredible team at Alt.vfx.

And if you need more proof of how great our compositors, modellers and lighting artists are, just check out this shot:

Source: Youtube.

Source: Youtube.

Most of that mask in the middle is CG.


Click here to check out Episode Zero, Episode One and Episode Two.

Get it Girl

Sometimes Everyday I hear a song that makes me feel like dancing. So here are some sketches I did in my down time inspired by beautiful women dancing like rockstars in the Pharell video clip “Come Get it Bae”.

Take it easy on the clutch.

Take it easy on the clutch.

If you haven’t seen the video, take a look.

I will willingly take the blame when you inevitably start dancing too.

3 Weird Facts About Winged Creatures I Learnt Through Animation

Question: Have you ever ACTUALLY looked at bat feet or how a bird’s wings connect to their skeleton?

No? Well you’re in for a freaky ride. This is all stuff I’ve learnt while having to animate winged creatures at Alt. vfx. In no way am I an expert, these are just things that have come up over and over again through observation. To any biologists out there, feel free correct me if I’m not on the money.


Let’s start with birds. This:

One feathered dinosaur and one hairless ape. Source: Biology Corner

– is a bird skeleton compared to a human skeleton. So let’s play spot the difference! First, take a squizz at that wing and the human arm. In general the bone hierarchy lines up:

I would eat all three wings in deep-fried form. Source:

I would eat all three wings in deep-fried form. Source: ASU School of Life Sciences

BUT there is something that makes a big difference between the human skeleton and the bird skeleton that I bet you haven’t considered (because I know I didn’t). Anyone spot it? Anyone?

Well –


To be fair, bird scapulas (or “shoulder blades”) seem to vary from species to species, but for birds of flight, it seems  that the scapulas are weird in the sense that they’re not as flat or as wide as a human scapula.  They’re kind of small and spindly and more tucked into the spine then ours. And from what I’ve read, the point of it being different from ours is that it forms a canal for the tendon of a muscle to poke through to the wing and allow the bird to lift its wing up in flight.

Crazy right? There’s basically a hole for muscle to poke through. And so what it may imply is that realistically birds might have trouble doing this:

A lisp might also be out of the question as you need teeth. Source: Wallpaperist

A lisp also requires teeth. Source: Wallpaperist

Yup, SHRUGGING. All of those muscles attached to our flat scapula help us to lift our shoulders as a response when someone asks you if that segregated steak is ok to eat (which it is if you like food the cat licked). As birds don’t have the same shoulder blade structure, who knows if they could actually express this confused nonchalant-ness?


But a small scapula is not really the end of the world. From what I’ve observed, that gap created by their scapula gives them a range of motion in their wings that us humans can only envy, particularly with small birds. At their highest point when flapping, their wings can practically touch behind their back. If you tried to stretch your arms straight behind you, you could get your hands to touch but maybe only at a low point. Those damn scaps get in the way, limiting your flexibility. You could only get them up higher behind you if you dislocate your shoulders like some crazy street magician.

In short, bird scapulas are weird (but also kind of cool).

Handcuffs would not hold this guy. Source: All Type News.

Handcuffs would not hold this guy. Source: All Type News.


Let’s now kick it over to bat legs. They are CRAY-ZY.

I first noticed them when I worked on a bat for this Toyota commercial running in Japan:


Source: Youtube

Click here to view the full ad.

I did most of the layout and created the background bat cycle used in the simulation for the bat cave shot above.

What I was surprised by when working on this was the model for the bat. When I first saw it, I was like:

“Those feet are backwards. Their heels look like they’re facing the same way as the head!”

What direction ARE they facing? Source: FFFFOUND!

What direction ARE they facing? Source: FFFFOUND!

To be sure, I checked image after image, only to find that it’s really hard to tell if bat feet are coming or going from pictures alone. So after some convincing from a work colleague and a trip to the museum, I realised that I was completely wrong. BAT FEET ARE AS WEIRD AS BIRD SCAPULAS.

But the weirdness is not totally isolated to their feet either, it’s kind of in their whole leg structure. According to the Natural History Museum:

‘[Bat] legs are attached so that the knees bend the opposite way to those of humans: backwards and outwards instead of forwards.’

A trip to the Queensland Museum confirmed this on various bat skeletons. Not only that, but according to one of the friendly museum employees, bats have almost 180 degrees of inflection in the feet. Meaning they can practically FLIP THEIR FEET TO FACE EITHER WAY.

Backward knees AND extreme Mary Poppins feet? Where does the weirdness end?!


Probably here. Because the last little nugget of weirdness I’ve got for ya is this: bird collar bones (clavicles) fuse together to form a strut called a furcula.

And do you know what we commonly call the furcula?

Source: 2 Classnotes

Source: 2 Classnotes

That’s right, A WISHBONE. Every time you are eating that delicious chicken and then turning to your neighbour to see who can snap off the bigger part of the wishbone, know this: you are snapping a bird’s collar bone. AHHHHHH!!! Horrifying! I can practically feel my collar bones wincing in terror!

It’s probably not as bad as actually eating the bird, but still, you know……………….ow.

In short:

1. Bird scapula = weird.

2. Bat legs = weirder.

3. Breaking a wishbone = ………*shudders*

If anyone would like tips for animating a flying bird, check out this article. It has some gems of wisdom that don’t involve broken bones :).

Plane and Simple

Steel yourself for 2 seconds of AWESOME PAPER AIRPLANE. It’s going to change your life and hopefully mine when everyone realises all my animation skills are wrapped up in those precious few frames.Praise will flock in from every corner of the globe and I will ride on the back of this paper vessel into the future of awesome.

Ok, ok, so it’s just one simple arc of it travelling between 2 floating houses, but you know what? I’m still pretty proud to be apart of the team that helped pull the whole thing together. I can’t claim a lot to do with getting to the finished product (that credit goes to the rest of the amazeballs people I work with) but I can say I helped out with some layout, basic animation of the house and the little origami wonder that probably contains some message about how awesome ‘Game of Thrones’ is. I mean, what else WOULD it say?

The amazing VFX (and that paper airplane) can be viewed here in the new spot for Optus promoting Unlimited Broadband:

And in addition, the glowing reviews we received can be found HERE!

Source: Photobucket.

Source: Photobucket.

Yes it is cat. Yes it is.

Post-Production Terms

In the 3 months since officially becoming a junior animator at Alt.vfx (woo!), I’ve realised that I have also learnt something else: I can now sprechen ze language of advertising.

Yes, let's review the Cool "Hwip". Source: Precision Nutrition.

Yes, let’s review the “Hwip”. Source: Precision Nutrition.

Now this may not seem like a major thing for some cool whoozits out there, but imagine me in my all noob-ness wading into these kind of doozies: 1. “Hey, we’re having a WIP review at 1pm.” -OR- 2. “Can you just cache out me out an alembic?” – and having no idea what anyone is talking about. It’s like everyone is speaking Klingon while I only speak all things pertaining to cake. So I took note of some of the terms I’ve come to understand while working in post-production and turned them into a Venn Diagram, because let’s face it, WHO DOESN’T LOVE A GOOD OL’ VENN DIAGRAM?


Click to enlarge!

Here are some of the confusing terms I’ve learnt and how they can relate to each other across the animation department, the VFX department and TVC’s in general. Now putting them in Venn formation doesn’t necessarily make them easier to understand, it just shows how terms relate and what arenas they concern most. But never fear! Your translator is here. Prepare for a blabbering list of explanations: TVC = Television Commercial. They’re the things that break up a 90 minute movie and turn it into a four hour marathon. CAD = Commercials Advice. In Australia, they’re the service that classify the ads before the ad is broadcast. Here’s a gem that didn’t pass through CAD according to the video description:


I swear Spot the dog used to have more than 1 spot. Source: Unbound.

SPOT = Another term for advert. Some campaigns for the same product may have several spots cut to lengths ranging from 15sec to a few minutes. Also, it’s the name of an adorable dog. SUPERS =  Text that is superimposed over the main image eg. “The Small Print”. ARCHIVE = When the ad has been broadcast and the files are not currently required, the project files are taken off the server and stored on a tape. The project goes from being “live” to being “archived”. POS = Point of Sale. At Alt.vfx, sometimes we supply images from the ad to be placed in a store near the cash register . V/O = Voice over. FYI: Morgan Freeman voice over is the bees knees.

Make “frames” not “love”. Source: Dangerously Fit

FRAME HANDLES = Uber important! If a shot is 80 frames long in an edit, the animation and visual effects department may in fact be working with 100 frames (10 extra frames either side of the 80 frames) so that the final edit can be extended or slipped if required. These extra frames are called “frame handles”. GRADE = A nickname for colour-grading the image. When footage is initially retrieved from the camera, the colours look like my hair when wet (“flat”, dull and washed out). It is up to Compositors and Colour Graders to “nourish” and “revitalise” the colours to the correct hues that suit the mood of the ad. WIP = Work in Progress Client Approval = The client could be a director, an advertising agency or the media team of the company being advertised, but either way, they need to give the tick on different elements along the way. Massive Rig/Custom Rig = Alt has done a few ads requiring software called “Massive”. It specialises in creating digital crowds of whatever you need (in Alt’s case, deer and human armies). Any animation/motion-capture animation created for Massive needs to be exported for the simplified Massive rig. However, it is possible to modify the Massive rig to include extra controls. Modifying the rig is known as a Custom Rig. RX, RY, RZ and TX, TY, TZ = Rotate in the axis X,Y,Z and Translate in the axis X,Y,Z. I’ve carried these over from Animation Mentor because it’s so much easier to understand if you want a character to move in TZ space rather than saying: “move him forward” if the character’s “forward” direction actually means it moves left on camera.

Mmm, my kind of layout.

Mmm, my kind of layout.

LAYOUT = Laying out tracks and 3D elements required for a shot with little to no animation in a 3D scene ready for an animator to animate. TRACK = A 3D representation of the actual scene that was shot with a live camera. A track should include the camera’s movement and any object tracks. Object tracks are tracks created for any moving objects that will need to interact with 3D elements. For example, in the Honda ad, we were given an object track for the hands to attach a 3D wheel to. ALEMBIC FILE = A file type that animation is exported as so that it can be used in other software like Houdini or Soft Image. MEL/PYTHON = Scripting languages. MEL stands for “Maya Embedded Language”. If you speak MEL and Python, you can control more within some softwares and eventually rule the world! CACHE = In computing, a cache is a way of storing and accessing data. Within visual effects, a cache is an exported version of a 3D element that only stores the element’s 3D vertices and doesn’t export any skeletons or rig controls. This is a much lighter and less fussy way of importing animation into programs outside of Maya. COMP = Composite. Each layer within a shot will end up here and when it’s exported out, I like to say it’s Straight Outta Compin’. MATTE = An image element that will be layered with 1 or more other images. ROTO = Rotoscope. Within animation, roto means to trace over footage frame by frame. In VFX, it’s a similar concept, except that they are only concerned with the silhouette. If you have the roto of, say a person, you can use that silhouette as a matte to outline the person, cut them out and place the person on their own layer. This is super useful if you have to layer that person in front of or behind sections of the image. PLATES = Footage. I believe it’s a throwback term to how film was once processed using glass plates, but now in VFX we use the term to describe a background image or a foreground matte. Particularly within animation, you need a background plate of the live footage within your animation scene so that you can see how your animation lines up with the geography of the scene.   PHEW! That was a lot of explaining. It may not interest everyone, but for those out there who may be a little confused about studio terms that are thrown around like hot cakes, this might help you out! And speaking of hot cakes, I think I know what I’m having for breakfast tomorrow.


Source: Flowing Data.

fxguide Loved Our Work!

Two great pieces of news:

  1. It’s official. I’M IN THE BIZ!
  2. fxguide included one of the ads I worked on in a “Jaw-dropping effects” article.

Pretty much, if you wanted to translate the amazing feeling I’ve had into a song, it would be this:

To start at the top, I’ve recently been on trial as an animator at alt.vfx (the studio where I started out as a production assistant in client service over a year and a half ago). I KNOW, CRAZY COOL RIGHT!?! You can actually work your way up from the bottom like a couple of mailroom monsters.

Like Mike and Sully in 'Monster's University'! Source: flickr

Like Mike and Sully in ‘Monster’s University’! Source: flickr

In that trial time, I worked as one of the animators of some CG birds for the Woolworths supermarket spots in Australia:

– and also this slick ad for Honda HRV:

Pretty cool right? With the birds, I just adjusted some recycled animation, but with the Honda ad, I was responsible for the car-forming shots and a bit of layout. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot but the car-forming shot meant I had to sort out every piece of geo on the car (and I mean EVERY nut, screw and bolt) and create multiple revisions on how the car should form.

Then of course our cray-mazing lighters, compositors and editors put it together to look realistic.

What’s really cool is that fxguide then reviewed that work in this article:

VFX in TVCs: Jaw-dropping (and truck-dropping) effects

– which also includes reviews for television commercials from the studio Framestore, MPC and Method Studios.

That’s right guys: alt.vfx is up there with the best of them.

The same day that article was published (2 days ago) I was then officially offered a full-time role as a junior animator. So now I work at one of the best studios in Australia. Could the day get any better!?

Oh and I had a low-carb burger for lunch and it still tasted as good as a real burger. CAREER AND HEALTH FOR THE WIN!

So watch this space for updates on the next round of ads! It’s some cool stuff and I’m excited to share it with you!

Animating a career in VFX – Steph Tomoana

Holy schamoly it’s me! Talking about stuff!

I promise I’m not so boring in real life, I was just trying to keep my nerves under wraps.

Proof that I’m more animated than how I appear in the video:




This is was my face everyday during Animation Mentor. I love animation and vfx!

Griffith Careers and Employment Service

As a Griffith Film School graduate in the Bachelor of Animation (3D Animation and Character Animation) Stephanie Tomoana balances her time between her work as a professional at Alt.vfx and freelancing in graphic design, illustration and animation. Living by the Walt Disney quote, “the difference between winning and losing is not quitting,” Stephanie credits hard work and persistence as the key to developing a successful career.

Top Tips from Stephanie

  • Go for work experience, shadow the workers and learn from them and get inside information from the employer
  • Work on your portfolio
  • Build trust and network with potential employers

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