The Miniature Magic Merging Two Iconic Japanese Brands

Article first appeared on LBB Online

Speaking to LBB’s Tom Loudon, Heckler Singapore creative director Cody Amos breaks down the collaborative campaign from SK-II and Maison Kitsuné

Celebrating a collaboration between two iconic Japanese brands, SK-II and Maison Kitsuné, the latest spot from Forsman & Bodenfors and Heckler Singapore is meticulous and eccentric.

Cody Amos, creative director at Heckler Singapore, shares insights with LBB into the innovative collaboration between SK-II and Maison Kitsuné, blending miniature sets, CG animation, and cel-animation techniques.

With innovative camera perspectives and old-school animation harmonised with modern CGI, the campaign transports viewers into another world.

Unravelling the inspiration behind the collaboration, Cody discusses the fusion of miniature sets, CGI, and cel-animation techniques.

View the behind the scenes on the campaign:

LBB> Can you walk us through the creative process behind bringing the whimsical creatures and environments to life?

Cody> The cool thing about this project was the amount of different elements that came together to make something really interesting. The production designer did a great job of building the big miniature sets (known as bigatures down in Wellington), which was a great way to have the star feel like she had grown huge and was towering over a beautiful park. The sets were big but only went back so far, so we had bluescreens all around them and added matte paintings and skies in post. The matte paintings used lots of images of the trees from on set, so that they matched in style. Miniature trees have a certain aesthetic that isn’t realistic, but is really fun. We also replaced all of the water in the lake scenes with 3D water so that we could add ripples and also reflect the sky and the horizon that was all made with 3D matte paintings.

Of course, there was also the 2D animated Fox! This was hand-drawn and cell-animated by Fred Venet’s team in France. There were quite a lot of restrictions on how much the fox was allowed to move, so we kept this pretty simple. He’s a chill, meditating kind of fox.

LBB> How did the choice to shoot on a miniature set in China influence the overall aesthetic of the campaign?

Cody> The miniature set was a huge part of the aesthetic. This set the foundation of the look. All the extra stuff we added to the shots took their lead from the miniature design. Trees and hills and everything else we said had to match the miniature. It would have looked very strange if we said realistic trees next to miniature tree models. We wanted to create a certain world design that felt cohesive and fun, more than aiming for realism.

LBB> What were your biggest challenges during the post-production process, and how did you overcome them?

Cody> The most challenging shot was probably the growing shot at the start. We had a very ambitious camera move that swirled around the main character as she grew from her normal size to a giant Alice In Wonderland size. We shot her on a bluescreen with a Bolt-controlled camera. I shot a BG plate with a modified camera move, trying to account for the growth size. But it didn’t exactly just come together smoothly in post. We did all sorts of tricks in comp to make it feel natural. I also liked the little layers of clouds and things we added to help sell that she was growing huge.

LBB> Could you elaborate on using matte painting and CG to create the detailed backdrop environments?

Cody> All the cameras were 3D-tracked so that we had a digital version of the camera. This allowed us to add CG water on top of the real water on set and extend that water back to the horizon. On the horizon, it was mostly paintings made out of a mixture of things, including on-set photography. Some things needed building in 3D, especially for one shot where the camera starts wide and flies down towards the hero. This required a lot of 3D extensions because it was so wide, and the angle changed so much.

LBB> What role did different camera perspectives play in capturing dynamic angles and depth in the shots?

Cody> The director Fred De Pontcharra was super creative with all of the camera angles. He filmed multiple versions of the film with a phone and his girlfriend, and I think he played the fox. In all of those versions, the camera is very free. I think all that playing around comes through in how the final film is shot.

LBB> Can you discuss the balance between incorporating old-school cel animation techniques and modern CGI in the campaign?

Cody> I think the key is just to let them do their own thing. The film has an almost collage vibe because the talent is photoreal, the environment is a mix between models and CG, and the fox is cel-animated. It’s really just the environment models and CG that want to feel completely unified. But the fox is sort of its own thing, although we did make sure to colour and “light” the fox in a way that felt tied to the environment.

LBB> What considerations did you make in terms of colour and shadow work to enhance the interaction between cel-animated elements and the environments?

Cody> We “light” the fox by changing how it’s coloured and shaded. This is totally informed by the shot that it’s getting integrated into. However, we also had some restrictions as the client wanted the fox to stay fairly true to its usual colours. So it was about balancing between shading it really dynamically and keeping it simple and true to its original design.