Best Advertising Production 2017: “Canal Kitchen”

At last year’s animago, Unit Image took home their second trophy, this time for their work on a spot titled “Canal Kitchen”. Just one look at the range of visual effects in the one-minute ad is enough to understand why the jury decided in their favour.

Exquisite cuisine requires the finest ingredients, much like successful television entertainment. In the Canal+ kitchen, however, instead of preparing food, the chefs are cooking burning cities, throwing cans of footballers into a pot, using explosions as spices and sautéing cartoon characters.

The ad was created to showcase the new selection of channels offered by the pay-TV provider Canal+. The project called upon Unit Image to integrate cartoon figures as well as photorealistic 3D models and animated characters with live-action backplates. The five-week timeframe available for compositing was extremely tight, and Unit Image had to expand their team to 30 people in the course of production. Their biggest priority was to create invisible and seamless effects that sustained and enhanced the optical illusion.

Broad VFX spectrum

Each effect in the spot is different from the other. For this reason, the team had to get very inventive – especially in the realm of look development – and write separate scripts for each effect. The project also called on the artists to show a very broad range of abilities; indeed, it takes different skills to animate a photorealistic 3D Velociraptor as opposed to a 2D character. The client also had a very high quality standard, explicitly stating that they wanted visual effects comparable to those in major blockbuster films. To live up to these expectations, the Unit Image team used ZBrush, 3ds Max, V-Ray, Houdini, After Effects and Nuke.

Action toy cars

One of the most complicated effects in the ad was the high-speed toy car chase. It was also the effect Unit Image had the most fun with. The team already had a significant amount of experience working with cars on previous projects, and this was one of the reasons the agency BETC and director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet sought them out as their VFX partner for the spot. During the shoot, the team used toy cars on strings as stand-ins. The human characters were available as 3D scans provided by, and the team filmed the close-ups with actors working against green screens. In terms of compositing, the process was made even more challenging by the small-scale characters in the large-scale kitchen.

More effects

The Unit Image team filmed the close-ups of the footballers in a green-screen studio and then digitally expanded their numbers in post. The mini crowd that gets scooped out of a can with a spoon is full CG. It took the actor playing one of the chefs several tries at cracking the dinosaur egg prop before it finally broke in two perfect halves. The team modelled the 3D dinosaur using ZBrush; after that it was animated using 3ds Max. During the live shoot, the team used celery stalks as stand-ins for the chopped-up comic-book characters, and then replaced the character in the pan with an animated dog with a rainbow interior. The red robot was a real-life, on-set prop, only to be replaced in post with its own CG version.

The Unit Image secret

The secret behind Unit Image’s ability to produce such a consistently high level of quality begins long before the production pipeline gets underway. For them, the key to success is recruiting the right people for the team. Anyone interested in working at Unit Image needs to be a talented and motivated artist and a great team player.

(Mirja Fürst)