Chocolate Tribe would like to set the record straight, it’s not all live action

When we heard that Chocolate Tribe’s latest ad for Showmax, celebrating the iconic Muhammed Ali, was almost 80% 3D visual effects our masks nearly dropped to the floor. And we weren’t the only ones, as the team admits that most viewers thought it was simply clever live action trickery at play. Rob van Den Bragt and Tiaan Franken from Chocolate Tribe pull back the VFX curtain to share with us what it took to bring Muhammed Ali back to life in just over 3 months.

‘It’s our biggest curse, when we do our job right, nobody knows we’ve done our job. Invisible effects are really what we strive for and that means the harder you work, the less you get noticed. It’s a nice dilemma to have and of course we take it as a compliment.’

Let’s bring you up to speed. Chocolate Tribe’s creative, technical and in-depth industry knowledge is a culmination of over 25 years of international experience. They have always been passionate about two things; proving that Africa can compete with the big guns and delivering international quality standards. Their success is evident in their stable of A-lister clients like Netflix (Amsterdam, Los Angeles), BBC, DMC films, Voltage Pictures, The Mill (New York, London), Glassworks, Automatik, Romance Films, Moonlighting, DiPrente, Ogilvy, TBWA and M&C Saatchi Abel.

Okay, challenge: Which bits are the real Ali and which are the 3D Ali? Aaaaand go!

Showmax ‘Game Changers’

Q: When are we watching the real-life human actor portraying Ali and when are we looking at the Ali you made in 3D?

Tiaan: It’s only when ‘Ali’ is sparring with the boxing bag that he is the real person who was shot by live camera.
IDIDTHAT: Shut your mouth!
Rob: It’s our biggest curse, when we do our job right, nobody knows we’ve done our job. Invisible effects are really what we strive for and that means the harder you work, the less you get noticed. It’s a nice dilemma to have and of course we take it as a compliment.

Q: Bringing someone as iconic as Ali back to life is no small feat, what was the process?

Rob: It was a gruelling 3 and a half months and most of it took place during the most stringent level of lockdown. Director Adrian de sa Garces from Egg Films cast a boxer of similar build and fighting style as Ali. After filming multiple close-up moments of the boxer and various reference angles, we went into a motion capture session to digitise all the boxer’s movements required for the full 3D Ali performances. With the live action plates and motion capture done, an advanced postvis was assembled. For the next…
IDIDTHAT: Waaaait. Postvis?
Rob: After production, we combine the previs elements with the live action photography to quickly preview the film in a very crude form.
IDIDTHAT: Um, previs?
Rob: Previs is the process of visually blocking out a scene before creating it, generally done by creating rough 3D elements, crudely animating them and placing cameras in a 3D space. The scenes are then edited together to form a rough view of the planned shots.
IDIDTHAT:
Got it! As you were…
Rob: For the next month and a half our 3D modelling, texturing and shading team started sculpting a highly detailed Muhammad Ali model, as well as shaping the various 3D spaces for the live action and computer-generated Ali to perform in.
Tiaan: To make sure the body dynamics and deformations were as true to life as possible, Ali was rigged with a skeletal, muscle, fat and skin simulation system, simulating all the different layers needed to add that extra weight to his movements.

Behind the scenes of Showmax ‘Game Changers’

Q: We need to wrap our heads around this sorcery, how did you capture the essence of Ali so well?

Rob: The same way we would approach a big Hollywood 3D project, by meticulously crafting every single tiny aspect. Hair, muscle, body, nerve simulations.
Tiaan: Even the peach fluff on his face, that’s the level of detail you have to go to. The shape of the hair, every little detail was needed to capture the true essence of Ali. Quite a responsibility to capture such an icon.

Q: Okay, but the ring and the chairs and stuff are real-life though, right?

Tiaan: All boxing ring and video monitor shots were fully done in 3D, as well as about 70% of Muhammad Ali.
Rob: The ring, chairs, microphone, floors and lighting made it look like it was in a certain time and represented the era of when Ali was in his prime. Capturing the small nuances and crafting the smallest details were integral. We then brought all the sporting heroes onto the CGI screens surrounding the Ali, making the space, as well as the content on the screen, fit within the powerful narrative spoken by him.

Let’s briefly pause our existential crisis where we question everything that is real…

Showmax ‘Game Changers’ is of course not the only eye-popping project that Chocolate Tribe has had their invisible hand in. They work on numerous projects for Netflix, Disney, ShowMax, and many more, serving both the film and commercial industry and we haven’t even mentioned all those beloved ads you know so well like Investec ‘Human Searchbar’Nedbank ‘Secrets’ and Allan Gray ‘Father’s Share’.

Here are a few of our favourite spots from the Chocolate Tribe reel that prove that this really is a leading VFX team putting SA on the global map.

(Below) Chicken Licken ‘Big John Mjohnana’: In just 2 minutes, this bad boy for Chicken Licken has over 40 VFX shots.

Chicken Licken ‘Big John Mjohnana’

Chicken Licken ‘Sbu 2.0′

(Below) Penny ‘Christmas Doesn’t Need Much’: Chocolate Tribe collaborated with Glassworks to animate over half the ad, rig all lead characters, as well as produce the 3D animation for the social media campaign. Want a heartwarming ad to get you in the Xmas spirit? Grab a tissue!
(Below) The short film ‘Robot and Scarecrow’ comprised over 140 visual effects shots, of which Chocolate Tribe delivered 127. All shots contained either the fully CGI robot, scarecrow or both. The project was a first for South Africa, due the scale of the VFX production.

Penny ‘Christmas Doesn’t Need Much’

Robot & Scarecrow Short Film

Chocolate Tribe is a female black-owned company founded in 2014 by Nosipho Maketo- van den Bragt and Rob van den Bragt with a BBBEEE level score of 1. Based in Joburg it has grown over the past 6 years to a fleet of 20 magicians who have been creating some high-end visual game changing gems, and because of the international and local demand for excellence, they still continue to grow. So, if you want an African company that will deliver international quality and who also happen to be really great humans, join the tribe!

Contact Chocolate Tribe

Senior Producer: Corlia Ohlson de Fine
Phone: +27 (11) 327-6346
Email: prod@chocolatetribe.co.za

If you are keen to join the Tribe, drop us a message on Jobs@chocolatetribe.co.za

View Website

Produced by the IDIDTHAT Content Studio – Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder

*This content may not be reproduced or used in any part without the prior written consent of IDIDTHAT. Reprints must credit I DID THAT.co (ididthat.co) as the original publisher of this editorial piece and include a link to this site.

This Editorial is paid for by Chocolate Tribe. Want our studio to create content that puts your agency/company/kickass ad you made in bright lights for the whole industry to see? View or editorial packages or contact julie@ididthat.co and we’ll make it happen! #Boom