New media creators Tronic Studio combined motion-capture, extensive hand-animation and fluid dynamics to simulate the painterly moves of NBA Cavaliers' star Lebron James for an interactive website feature introducing Nike's Lebron sneaker to the Chinese and Korean markets. Commissioned by agency AKQA and re-formatted as a Flash animation, Lebron is the latest of some dozen interactive sneaker vignettes that Tronic Studio has produced during a five-year relationship with Nike, working first with R/GA and now AKQA.
Working from a series of still photographs of the NBA star, Tronic Studio partners creative director Jesse Seppi and art director Vivian Rosenthal used motion capture to isolate the artistry of his footwork as his signature shoes drive down court leaving behind a trail of white paint splotches, while posing in a series of offensive and defensive moves.
Evolving Production Style
"Our evolving production style is a response to the marketing trend toward multiple, simultaneously branded spaces that make up a larger event or situation where brand content requires a synthesis of creative techniques drawn from broadcasting, the interactive world and environmental design and architecture to create site-specific pieces for display across media from the Internet to animated Times Square video screens, malls and exhibition halls, building facades, TV, wherever," said Seppi. "We have no media preference but things do get more interesting when we are asked to consider the total experience, which allows us to draw on our backgrounds in architecture."
While conceived in a linear fashion with a minor narrative flow, the final AQKA Flash vignette was designed to be played interactively at the command of the visitor forwards, backwards, skipping scenes as Lebron shows off his moves, culminating in a cinematic slam-dunk. "At key moments the action zooms in on the shoe, allowing the viewer to access more information, then to continue the action," Seppi added.
"AKQA provided key moments as photographs and we had to imagine what it would look like for Lebron to hit those moves as he dribbles down court," said Rosenthal. "Clicking on any of those moments starts the video of the virtual Lebron."
"This production was a refinement of a concept devised for an earlier Michael Jordan project in which the biomechanics of playing basketball are communicated through an isolated pair of animated shoes, but for Lebron we used a much more complex foot system to accurately follow the subtle definitions of the ankle and toes as they move inside the shoes. To get the level of realism desired we used motion capture files of an basketball player moving across court and enhanced it with a great deal of hand animation," said Tronic's Seppi.
Painting the Court
The final touch, a series of fluid, white paint splotches that appear under Lebron's sneakers, is meant to convey Lebron's on-court artistry, moving so smoothly as if he's painting the court.
Tronic's original Nike commission was on Nikelab, the first website to really show high-end 3D shoe modeling, and came as a result of the partner's background in architecture and their understanding of the tectonics of the shoe. "The clients wanted us to really get inside the shoe and show it from angles that you couldn't view with practical camera techniques and it's been an interesting journey since," said Rosenthal.
3D Studio Max
Character Studio to incorporate motion capture.
Tronic Studio: https://www.dexigner.com/directory/detail/5258