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Nature Made by Already Been Chewed

By Meleah Maynard
Cinema 4DHoudiniRedshift

How Already Been Chewed created a 3D-animated spot for a sneaker that has the world’s lowest carbon emission.

Barton Damer—and his Texas-based design, motion graphics and 3D animation studio Already Been Chewed (ABC)—has been cranking out award-winning work for iconic brands for over a decade. But this year, Damer worked on what he describes as his favorite project yet: a 3D-animated spot for Cariuma, makers of a sustainable sneaker that has the world’s lowest carbon emission.
Using C4D, Houdini, Redshift, After Effects, and the Forester plugin, ABC created and animated creatures and rainforests to tell the story of how the earth-friendly shoe’s upper is woven from bamboo while the outsole is made from sugarcane.
We talked with Damer—as well as ABC’s Lead Motion Designer Bryan Talkish and Lead VFX Artist Mark Fancher—about how the ABC team pushed themselves to create forests, foliage and animals to showcase the Cariuma brand. Here’s what they had to say.

Is this your first job for Cariuma?

Damer: This is our second project with them. They’re a relatively new company based in Brazil, and I love that their manufacturing process considers the damage being done to the Earth. We do a lot of spots for shoes and sneakers, but I really wanted to work with Cariuma because I wanted the opportunity to push ourselves to create all kinds of nature and creature animations.
I was trying to reach out to them they found me with a direct message on Instagram. It was great because they gave us full creative freedom and the creative was based off real things and their actual production processes. Like the upper is made from bamboo shoots that are turned into strings that can be woven like fabric. What a cool process to visualize. And this isn’t shown in the spot, but I also like that they plant a tree in the rainforest for every shoe someone buys.

How did you concept this unique spot?

Damer: We knew we wanted to do some amazing things, like show how sugarcane is used to make the outsole. Concepting this was really a way for us, as artists, to dive in and think about how to do more with nature animations. This was also a good opportunity for us to do more with character animation, so we decided to use a hummingbird as the tour guide for the story.
That particular hummingbird is very well known in the rainforest, so it made sense to choose that one. Cariuma gave us photographs of the hummingbird to work with. When it came to visualizing the process of making the shoe, we really wanted it to be clear that the various steps don't destroy the rainforest. In fact, things like cutting down bamboo allows bamboo to grow faster.
Once I understood the whole manufacturing process, I was able to present a creative brief for how we would approach the project. They liked our ideas, and it was definitely an investment on our part to push the production level so much, but it was well worth it because we’ve had a lot of new clients come to us because of this spot. I can honestly say that this was my favorite project of anything I’ve worked on so far.
The level of production really utilized all of the strengths of our team. We’ve done some spots that are awesome but we didn’t get to flex as many muscles. This project was heavy on look dev and C4D and Houdini techniques, so it really represents what we are capable of.

Describe how you made and animated the hummingbird.

Talkish: Before the actual animation process began, we collected slow-motion reference videos and images of hummingbirds in flight to better understand how the fast-moving birds zipped around and behaved.
The hummingbird was rigged and posed with the C4D character joint tools to create a custom skeleton. Next, the auto weighting was refined with the weight manager and weight painting tools to smooth and correct the skinned geo. To finish the rig and start animation, we set up null controllers and IK chains on the bone and joint system, and
deformers were used on the skinned geometry to help control specific parts of the bird.
The primary, repeating movements, like wing flaps and chest beats, were dialed in on a stationary hummingbird. All of the other animations (head movements, lower torso and other subtle things) were done using the built controllers from shot to shot, depending on the motion through the scenes.

Tell us about how you used Forester for C4D for the rainforest.

Damer: Forester is a really cool plugin. For this project, we used it in combination with Quixel Megascans to create the rainforest, especially all of the tiny details you see on the ground. Forester was also good for adding wind animation to the trees that you see in the background. If trees aren’t moving, they can look like statues.
Talkish: We gathered some plant and foliage assets from Megascans through Quixel Bridge and used C4D to break them apart into their individual pieces, stems, leaves and branches. Then, we added a layering stack of deformers with varying degrees of strengths and directions to emulate wind and ambient movement.
Vertex weight maps were used to help restrict areas of influence on the foliage. We applied random effectors with animated noise patterns to leaves, giving them some wind-rustling motion. Some plants were kept whole and rigged with a bone and joint system, IK dynamics and wind. After creating a bunch of variations, the plants were all baked down to alembic files to be used throughout the shots.

Talk about some of the interesting effects, like the weaving of the upper.

Fancher: The weave for the macro shot was animated by morphing between two versions of the weave in Houdini. The main version of the weave was already in its final landing position. The other part was a little trickier: We had to cut the weave into pieces and pack it into this underlying web formation while maintaining a consistent point count for the morph to work.
The result was brought into C4D and animated further to make it feel more cloth-like and have its action matched for the next shot where the upper is formed. The initial weaving pattern for the upper formation was reconstructed out of splines by creating several weave densities in flattened-out UV space and masking them based on the texture of the original shoe.
The weave was then placed onto the shoe in world space by matching it to the original geometry via corresponding UV coordinates. From there, we made a copy of the weave and added some noisy displacements to it. Then, we grew an attribute across the original surface of the upper and used that to reveal and interpolate between the noisy/offset version and the clean/landed version of the product, similar to how we did it for the macro shot.

Barton, do you see ABC doing more of this type of work?

Damer: I do. I’m a big believer in only posting the type of work that you want to do, and we’ve stuck with that. Unlike many other studios, we post about 99 percent of what we do, which has led to more work that we enjoy. We’re really proud of this project, and we’d love to do more things like this in the future.

Meleah Maynard is a writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.