Super Bowl ads and 2.6 million reasons for snazzy special effects

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Companies that forked out US$2.6 million each for a 30-second spot during the recently concluded Super Bowl XLI are hoping snazzy special effects will give them much needed bang for those really big bucks.

The special effects will certainly help to make those ads memorable, believes at least one Canadian e-commerce expert.

Special effects and animation in TV commercials enable products to stay longer in viewers’ consciousness and generate interest and controversy, says Tim Richardson, e-commerce professor at Seneca College in Toronto.

“Long after the game, people will continue to talk about interesting commercials and surf the Web to watch clips again and again,” Richardson said.

Many of these ads are getting great traction on user video sites such as YouTube and Google Video.

Such residual publicity is “priceless” Richardson said, and may compensate for the steep cost of the ad.

The Seneca professor said ad companies realize this, which is why there’s this concerted effort to create “more exciting and sexier ads year after year.”

And that trend certainly keeps the makers of special effects and animation software very busy – and happy.

One such vendor is San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk Inc.

“Super Bowl spots are a battle for eyeballs and the most exciting and memorable commercial scores a touchdown,” said Rob Hoffman, senior product manager at Autodesk.

He said several post production facilities used Autodesk’s software to create a range of effects – some very apparent and others barely noticeable.

For instance, aXYZ Design, a Toronto-based digital content firm that specializes in 3D character creation, used Autodesk’s Inferno visual effects system to develop the “sad dog” spots for Budweiser Beer.

In the sepia-toned period piece, a neglected white dog gets to ride the Budweiser wagon during a parade after a vehicle splashes mud over his plain coat and transforms him into Dalmatian look alike.

Hoffman said the Inferno tool was used to create composite shots of the dog and graft it onto the parade float shot. “The effect was simple, but the spot connected with a lot of people.”

On a more eye-catching note, London-based video production outfit Nexus Production Ltd. turned the Grand Theft Auto video game on its head when it produced the “video game” advertisement for Coca-Cola.

Hoffman said Nexus Production used Autodesk 3D Max animation modeling and rendering software in that project.

He said companies “pull out all the stops” when it comes to creating effects for Super Bowl commercials because of the phenomenal exposure the event offers.

In many cases companies don’t need a high-profile event to motivate them, said Richardson.

“They employ the effects because it can be done.”

The Seneca professor noted that a few years ago, some of these effects would have been very expensive to produce, but technological advances of the past few years have changed all that.

Developments in high definition (HD) technology are also pushing production houses to use high-end animation tools, Hoffman said.

“A poorly rendered animation or effect would have gone unnoticed with traditional TV sets. Today those same effects would pop up as glaring booboos on HD-enabled sets.”

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