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July 1st, 2016
The Mill recently joined forces with award winning director Daniel Wolfe of Somesuch and Droga5 to bring the epic story of father-son duo Auguste and Jacques Piccard to life for Hennessy 'The Piccards'.
 
The Gold Cannes Lion award winning spot for VFX, documents the Swiss inventor’s feat in becoming the first man to reach the stratosphere, before his son continued this pioneering spirit 30 years later in reaching the deepest point in the ocean.

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We caught up with Creative Directors Gavin Wellsman and Jasper Kidd, to discuss how this project came together.
 

THE BRIEF:

Gavin: Hennessy have a fantastic track record of creating commercials with unique stunning visuals, so we knew we had to create something memorable that would continue to push the boundaries for Hennessy and its audience.

What stood out from the brief was how important it was for the whole spot to feel like one continuous journey. Which meant that the submarine would travel up into the depths of the ocean. We did this by coupling visually stunning elements created by Chris Parks with transitions that took the viewer from space to sea.

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Jasper: From the moment I saw Daniel Wolfe's mind blowing treatment for this spot I knew it was going to be incredible, every last detail was thought of. Arriving on set to witness the stunning production design, miniature motion control work and underwater tank took the commitment to perfection to another level.
 
The creative twist in the story is that it’s one upward journey, which developed into the idea of an ocean in space as the bridge between two narratives. An incredible amount of work went into shot design to try and get the audience to understand that the balloon continues into space and becomes the submarine that keeps rising.
 

THE EXECUTION: 

Gavin: The most important thing on a large project like this was to make sure we had a diverse group of artists to match the wide range of disciplines required for a spot of this scale.

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2D 

Gavin: There was a great amount of research that went into creating this spot. Our aim was to get as close as possible to the look and feel of the original story from the beginning of the project. We researched images, blueprints, documentaries, stock footage, various kinds of clouds and what heights they are formed at.
 
As we got further into the project, we started to realize that what was factually correct wasn’t always the most visually pleasing; one example was the shape of the balloon. The balloon was designed to expand almost 4 times the size by the time it reached the stratosphere, which is factually correct. However it made the balloon became completely spherical which wasn't the right look and mood for the spot. We then opted to keep the shape more sleek and stretched. 
 
We combined digital camera footage with 35mm, this along with our fully CG shots. It was then printed back to film to blend all these formats into one cohesive piece of imagery.

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3D

Jasper: The CG world was all built to scale in Maya, so the height of cloud types and size of the mountains on the ground would all have the correct scale and parallax. Landscape and cloud references were gathered from Auguste Piccard’s first flight in Augsberg, Germany, which was extremely informative for all the matte painting work.
 
One of the biggest CG elements was the balloon, for which we used Marvelous Designer to simulated the shape of its cloth folds and Mari to texture the 32k pixels worth of high resolution fabric. The cloud work for the opening sequence was a massive undertaking and was generated in Houdini. We also created a CG gondola and submarine to augment the miniatures on set which were modeled in Maya, textured in Mari and rendered in Arnold. Nuke also helped created the 2D projections of the underwater cave and the cloud breakthrough shots.

THE FINAL PRODUCT: 

Gavin: The biggest take away was how much time people were willing to commit to the project because they knew this was an incredible story to be told and it had the potential of being a memorable spot. 
We had bi-weekly meetings with the creative team from Droga5 was amazing and really helped us make great progress from week to week.
 
This coupled with the DP, Colourist and Editor staying involved throughout the process was a real bonus; it gave us a different perspective covering all bases of the diverse disciplines for a project of this magnitude.
 
Daniel Wolfe was such an important part of the job throughout, his creative vision for the piece was incredible and he really helped us stay true to the original brief. The result speaks for itself!

BEHIND THE SCENES

Take a look behind the scenes of the award winning project here: