Our main workflow these days is to use Maya/Vray on our commercials. This project, however, came at a period of time where it would be more beneficial to us (for internal scheduling reasons) to dust off our old Max/Vray pipeline again and do another commercial with it.
This time around we had a very small team. There was only 3 of us doing any 3d work. We were able to get a model to start from of the phone from the client. I took the model and reworked some areas of it and cleaned it up so that we would get proper meshsmoothing on it. I also did the same for the laptop model. Another artist modeled the camcorder from scratch while our supervisor modeled the GPS unit using the phone as a base model to start from. After all of the modeling was done, all of the models were given to me to create materials for. Since the phone was supposed to appear to be transforming into all of these other objects, everything basically needed to have the same materials applied to them. After we got the materials all set up, the three of us began animating. Since we were a very small team we had to handle all the animation ourselves which was a little daunting at first. I handled two of the transformation shots and ended up taking over and finishing a third one. While this was going on I also set up the light rig that we ended up using for all the shots. The rig was entirely set up using an HDR panorama that was shot on location durring the shoot. I plugged that HDR into a Vray dome light and used Light Cache and Brute force for GI.
Animating was probably the biggest challenge on this project. Although once you got your head wrapped around it, it really wasn't that difficult to do. We first focused on the big moves. We didn't care if it was physically possible for something to move a certain way or if it was floating out in space. We just focused on making some interesting movements with the bigger and more noticable pieces. After that we went back in and starting the real work which was to connect up all the big pieces so they weren't just floating around and give them connectors and gizmos that would support their motion. Finally, we did a pass on the animation where we added parts inside the objects to make them appear to have circuit boards and components that would actually be inside these objects and we used those to help hide any bits behind as the transformation happened. So a piece of the phone may slide behind a circuit board while another piece of the camcorder swung out from behind something else. You do this enough times with enough pieces and eventually you have a transforming phone.
The next challenge we had to overcome was that the actor was holding the real phone in his had in all of our plates. So when we did our animations on top of it you could see the real phone in his hand underneath our CG. We already had an artist do some camera and geometry tracking for us so we had a rough hand model that we were using for shadow catching. I took that model as well as a still image we had of the actors empty hand that they shot on set and mapped the hand photo onto our 3d geometry. I had to do a lot of pulling and pushing of the UV's to get them to line up ok since the angle of our camera and the hand photo were fairly different. I rendered out an empty hand pass that the compositor used to help paint out the original phone from the plate. He would just use little bits and pieces from my render as needed to fill in some gaps. We ended up do this for several shots.
Rendering was simple. These weren't complex scenes really so they rendered pretty fast. I think we were around 1 hour a frame for the worst case close up shots. Everything else was between 10 and 30 minutes. It was a lot of fun to work on this project. Not only did it turn out looking pretty cool, but I got to push myself a bit with the animation, and nobody had to work any long hours.