The story, based on the real life migration of a Scandinavian robin, presents the young, spritely bird and his epic, visually stunning journey across mountains and sea before finally reaching the garden of a young girl, who eagerly anticipates the annual return of the robin.
The young robin overcomes many difficulties along the way form a falcon attack, to a lighthouse storm before being picked up by a trawler. The Mill’s 2D and 3D teams carefully crafted a fully photo-real CG robin characterful enough to ensure the viewer emotionally connects with every step of its journey.
Mill Creative Director Jonathan Westley (Wes) comments, ‘The story of migration needed to be 100% believable but also emotionally captivating for the viewer. This was challenging because the footage of the vast mountain and ocean scenes at the start of the spot were shot in an observational, documentary style, not a traditional setting for character animation and storytelling.
This transition was able to take place thanks to Director Sam Brown’s approach to the shoot, which always had the story at the centre. It was then down to The Mill’s 2D and 3D teams to really bring this character to life.’
Mill Creative Director and Head of Animation on the job Jorge Montiel explains, ‘Working with specialists in robin behavior helped us with our detailed observation of the classic behaviours of the robin. We then worked to match these behaviours to the various settings and experiences the protagonist in the story faced.
The way robins move, their size and their lack of facial expressions meant that the bird’s personality had to be evoked almost entirely through it’s body language. This had to then be linked directly to changes in environment and the birds’ interaction with the things around him. Every little breath, heartbeat, twitch had to be present, and in time; allowing this tiny creature to take centre stage amongst the dramatic landscapes behind him.
It was amazing to work with Sam on this challenging project. He’s great at telling stories which capture human emotions and the way he tells stories works beautifully with animation, ensuring that the characters are able to sparkle and are the true focus of the story.’
One of the key challenges to making the robin look as realistic as possible was through it’s feathers which are notoriously difficult to craft in CG. Lead 3D Artist Adam Droy explains, ‘Building on our previous knowledge of feather work, we knew that creating a photo-real robin was going to be our most demanding bird job to date.
With that in mind, we went about crafting a bespoke feather tool that would allow us to create such accurate feather simulations, down to the micro details such as how many barbs a feather has, how soft they feel and how each feather reacts to the light.’
The final look and feel of the spot was created by Mill Head Colourist Seamus O’Kane who states, ‘From a Colourist perspective the most satisfying aspect of this film is that it is a celebration of beautiful photography that illustrates a narrative of hope and endurance.
With this goal in mind we worked the sense of time and place into the edit initially using the background plates and then, as the animation developed, we swapped in the iterations of composite shots.
This orchestrated workflow left a sense for the natural palettes that DOP Steven Keith Roach captured and we worked to ensure that this natural epic quality remained imbued into every shot. There was never a sense that characters had been added into shots. As we dealt with the final timelines the overarching emotion was that we merely observed this story and brought a coating of elegance to enhance emotion not believability.’