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Celebrities and sports stars are ten-a-penny during Super Bowl ad breaks, but only one spot this year could claim to have most of its cast created in code.

For Frito-Lay's Push It, Untold Studios were tasked with creating seven photorealistic creatures that not only had to behave 'in character' (i.e. sloths slothing, crocs creeping), but also react to the spicy tang of the crispy snacks.

We caught up with Stefan Copiz and Eamonn Dixon, the creative team from agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and Ben Cronin and Tom Raynor, Creative Director and VFX Supervisor from Untold Studios, to find out how they pushed the creature creation boundaries.

Frito-Lay – Push It Flamin' Hot

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Goodby Silverstein & Partners

Where did the genesis of the idea come from? Is there a Super Bowl formula that can be applied (animals + fun song + zany = top spot)?

Stefan Copiz & Eamonn Dixon: As with all the work we do across the Frito-Lay brands, the insight for this idea came from the product and our core audience. From our research it became clear that Flamin’ Hot lovers see it as both a spicy flavor and an attitude. And when you first try it, it unleashes a part of you that you may not have known existed. 

In this case, we wondered who or what would be the most surprising character to transform and give that rebellious edge. For the Super Bowl you’re always looking for the most surprising and entertaining execution –– so an orchestra of singing animals eating spicy snacks made perfect sense. 

Was Push It the dream track from the beginning? The Budweiser frogs-esque lead into the song makes it feel pretty intrinsic.

While we discussed other songs throughout the process, the diegetic way that Push It builds through iconic breathing sounds worked perfectly with the experience of eating Flamin’ Hot. 

What did you feel was key to nailing the production? How did you ensure it went in the right direction?

For us, the key to everything is that the animals felt as real as possible. The more real they appear to be, the funnier and more unexpected the comedy becomes. 

In truth, Untold surpassed all of our expectations in that regard – we were baffled by their attention to detail at every turn. Every hair, tooth and feather was carefully considered to make them feel as authentic as possible.

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Creature Turntable: Deer

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Creature Turntable: Bear

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Creature Turntable: Buffalo Look

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Creature Turntable: Buffalo Herd

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Creature Turntable: Buffalo

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Creature Turntable: Sloth

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Creature Turntable: Fox

Above: Turntable looks at each animal.


Obviously the spot is pretty post-heavy - was there much that changed in that process from concept to completion?

The story arc didn’t change much, actually. But, we did manage to make all the comedy beats better in the VFX process. Especially as the various characters and personalities of the animals developed.

Is it nerve-wracking working on a Big Game spot? Do you ever think of how many eyeballs will be on it on the night?

It’s best to not think about that too much or you might lose your mind. But, it does mean that every aspect of the production is heightened and no stone is left unturned. In the end, it’s good to get pushed by all the expectations of a big Super Bowl audience. We welcome it.

Untold Studios

When were you brought in to work on this project? What was the initial brief?

Ben Cronin: Director Tom Kuntz sent us the script in October and I remember saying “we’ve got to get this job!”. The script was pretty self-explanatory really. We were aligned with Tom that this needed fully CG animals for the performance he wanted. 

Less can be more, and the tone of the humour is vital.

From that point it was really just; how can we get as many assets as possible in the time and keep the quality high and allow for nuanced performance. 

What's the process for creating characters like these? They balance photorealism with clear comedic characters brilliantly, so is it hard to hit that sweet spot?

BC: With animation, it can be tricky to align everyone on a performance. We have the animation talent that are able to land a great performance, whatever the brief. That makes life a whole lot easier. 

It's our job to make sure that we never push the facial pose too far. Less can be more, and the tone of the humour is vital. This spot had a clear comedy arc that starts utterly natural, moves on to facial expressions and movements that sit comfortably in the realms of what is possible but then quickly descends into the hilariously absurd. It was very important to move the ‘slider of funny’ at the right moment.

Above: Breakdowns of the elements that make up each animal character.


What was the trickiest element to get right? How did you achieve it? 

TR: Creating a single, completely photo-real CG character in the 10-12 week timeframe of a commercial can be challenging. Creating seven unique CG characters from scratch within that time period is a feat not to be underestimated. 

We have an incredibly strong and extremely talented team of VFX artists that worked together seamlessly through dozens of model, groom and look development iterations to create highly detailed and anatomically accurate characters. 

On top of this, a huge amount of care and attention was put into giving each character their own personality and quirks through imperfections and asymmetry in the model and carefully considered animation.

How was working with Tom Kuntz on the project? What did he bring into shaping the characters? 

BC: We have a long-standing and fruitful relationship with Tom Kuntz. He’s one of the best directors in the world and, for the last two years, we have worked on a series of fantastic VFX projects with him. With that comes a great understanding of his preferences for this type of work. 

Creating a single, completely photo-real CG character in the 10-12 week timeframe of a commercial can be challenging. Creating seven unique CG characters from scratch within that time period is a feat not to be underestimated. 

He always has great ideas and guidance when it comes to the performance, particularly when it’s the right time to tone it down or turn it all up to 11. 

What's harder - fur or water? (to animate, that is. Not in a paper,scissors,stone sense)

TR: That’s like asking what’s tastier, pizza or burgers. Depends on who’s eating them.

If we are talking about simulations, fur is much quicker to simulate and takes up significantly less space on disk than water sims which can very quickly fill up the network. It also means you can get through many more iterations of fur simulations allowing you to get to a pleasing result faster. 

Having said that, getting every hair in a character’s fur “groom” looking completely photoreal in the first place is a very time consuming and challenging task.

Is it nerve-wracking working on a Big Game spot? Do you ever think of how many eyeballs will be on it on the night? 

BC: Few projects get you buzzing like a Super Bowl spot. 

They have added pressure because the anticipation and expectations are so high. 

We love working on high profile spots for that very reason. 

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