Social media is clogged with advertising content that users just scroll right past. But Los Angeles-based creative studio Warm & Fuzzy
has found a mesmerizing way to help Coachella, Adidas, HP and other top brands get noticed. Using CG, the studio creates short VFX-driven, GIF-style videos that routinely garner millions of views.
Take the trippy video the studio made of the massive Ferris wheel at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Created in collaboration with director and noted Instagram creator Ari Fararooy, and Santa Monica’s White Owl Aerial, the video showing the ride twisting and gyrating drew so much attention—750,000 views on Instagram and another 275,000 on Twitter—that the fact-checking site, Snopes.com
weighed in to assure readers the effect was really CG.
That’s the kind of reaction Warm & Fuzzy co-founder John Bashyam hopes for. Animated in Maya, rendered in Redshift and composited into live-action drone footage captured on site at Coachella, the wiggling Ferris wheel is almost, but not quite, photorealistic. And that’s what sucks viewers in. “When you’re scrolling on Instagram, there’s a lot of generic content you want to get past. But when you scroll past something that looks weird, surreal and impossible, you want to stop and look at it,” he explains.
From Feature Films to Impossible Animations
Before starting Warm & Fuzzy, Bashyam worked as a VFX artist for clients inside and outside of the music industry, including Coachella and other music festivals. He also had a stint working on VR projects and feature films at a large VFX studio. That’s where he met his current business partner, Andrew Jerez. “We were frustrated by the inefficiencies of a large studio and we thought we could do better on a smaller scale,” Bashyam recalls.
Instead of competing for the same feature-film business, Bashyam and Jerez sought gigs doing branding work for their existing freelance clients. Soon, the compelling social-media content they were creating was in high demand, in part, Bashyam says, because that type of advertising can be targeted based on browsing history. It also helps that younger generations spend a lot of time on Instagram and Facebook.
Designed to be viewed on small screens, these specialty animations are made in the style of looping GIFs, and can be either fully CG or 2D, depending on the project. And while some videos showcase products in seemingly impossible situations, others help clients generate branding buzz on location or for future events.
Coachella’s Funky Ferris Wheel
In addition to the Coachella’s Ferris wheel video, which was completed over the festival’s opening weekend, a second clip depicted one of Coachella’s many art installations taking flight. Warm & Fuzzy accomplished that by painting the real sculptures our of aerial plates and replacing them with CG replicas that seemed to float gently upward as crowds milled around below.
Bashyam supervised the live-action shoots and handled the CG on site, working in a trailer tucked behind the main stage. Bashyam did the look development on his own, setting up the lighting and rendering out a single frame to check his work. Once he was finished, he sent the frames to the studio for rendering in Redshift.
Warm & Fuzzy switched to Redshift a few years back because it allowed them to use a smaller render farm while allowing them much faster turnaround. “Redshift is so fast, it makes doing things like this on site in a weekend possible for us,” Bahyam says. “We made the leap when Redshift was fairly new and never looked back. It’s great to get feedback instantly on look-dev as opposed to waiting several moments for a frame to come out.”
Golfing in Style
Another attention-getting collaboration with Fararooy resulted in some eye-catching videos for sports equipment manufacturer, Callaway. In one video, a golfer is seen teeing up against a picturesque background. As the branded ball roars high into the air toward the camera, the POV pulls back unexpectedly, staying just ahead of the spinning white orb.
In another fully CG Callaway video, the camera tracks alongside a golf ball that’s been whacked by a Callaway club. As it flies, the ball to deforms into shapes based on real, slow-motion golf videos. Then, the ball cracks open like an eggshell to reveal a tiny Callaway-branded rocketship that zooms out of frame just as the video loops back to the beginning.
Like Coachella, which shifted its marketing strategy away from traditional production into the hands of Instagram creators, Callaway hired Warm & Fuzzy and other creatives to do something intentionally different. “It’s a smart strategy,” Bashyam says, explaining how the studio worked closely with Fararooy to get a seamless connection between CG and Live Action.
Getting the Light Right
Bashyam says the most important thing to do when creating these kinds of videos for social media is to get the light right, and he cited an all-CG video the studio created for Budweiser as a good example. In the video, a series of beer bottles pass in front of the camera as if on an assembly line. The bottle in the center of the frame drops by a few inches and its cap flips up, pausing in midair to display the brand’s “King of Beers” motto, before falling back down.
The visuals have an atmospheric, photorealistic feel with a glowing light effect on each bottle and a bit of mist swirling around the bottom of the frame. It took some research to figure out how to handle the lighting in a photorealistic way, Bashyam recalls. “It looks so glowy because there’s a light behind each of the bottles, which is something they would actually do if they were shooting a beer commercial. It was not a simple setup, so it was nice that Redshift could handle it.”
Rendering Once for Multiple Deliverables
With so many different formats—Instagram, Facebook, Reddit and Twitter—requiring radically different specifications, Warm & Fuzzy routinely makes platform-agnostic renders in Redshift. Next, they turn to After Effects to generate a variety of deliverables. "It's annoying to have to render the same thing only with completely opposite aspect ratios, so we render things out of Redshift in a square aspect ratio and zoomed out at a high resolution," Bashyam explains. “Doing all of the cropping in After Effects before we export allows our clients to use content on any platform.”
Though he enjoyed working on feature films, Bashyam finds his current work more interesting and creative. “You can feel like a cog in a machine when you're working on films, but now we can do something for a couple of weeks and move on to the next project, which is always something different.”
Bryant Frazer is a writer and editor specializing in media and technology.