No, they aren’t animated characters. They are human beings who were made to wear body suits. “The design of the characters is such that one gets fooled into thinking it is animation,” shrugs Rao, which was indeed the very illusion that had to be created. “In a sense, it is ‘live’ animation!” he quips, referring to the fact that it was all shot live.
Prakash Varma, ad filmmaker, Nirvana Films, has directed the commercials, and reveals that the Zoozoos were a big challenge to create. The practical aspects of how they will move, talk, gesticulate and emote were very important. Essentially, costume design and artwork were crucial elements.
“It took me three weeks of pre-production to understand how it will work,” says Varma. There were two fabrics that were considered for the body suits, and one was rejected for it had too many wrinkles and was shiny. The wrinkles would have shown when the characters moved, thereby shattering the illusion of animation. “So we chose the more practical, thicker fabric,” Varma explains.
The production team divided the outfit into two parts: the body and the head. The body part of the outfit was stuffed with foam in some places, while the head was attached separately. To make it look bigger than a human head, a harder material called Perspex was used, which in turn was stuffed with foam (with scope for ventilation).
If one wishes to understand the size of this head, here’s a fact: a human head would typically reach up to the mouth level of this giant Zoozoo head. “We kept the hands and legs thin, which is why we cast women – and occasionally children – wearing the costumes,” says Varma. The thin limbs, contrasted with big bellies and a bulbous head, all add to the illusion that these creatures are ‘smaller’ than humans. Sets were created to suit the size of the Zoozoos.
Cinematically, this ‘size’ was a trick: the creatures look smaller than they actually are on screen, to portray a different world of sorts. For this, the speed of shooting was altered: Nirvana shot it in a high-speed format to make them look the size that they do.
Furthermore, simple sets/backdrops were created and spray painted with neutral Greys – a colour of choice so that attention isn’t diverted from the main characters. For a supposedly ‘outdoor’ shot, even the shadow of a Zoozoo was kept ‘live’ and not done in post production: it was painted in a darker shade of grey on the ground. An even lighting was maintained throughout.
There was virtually no post production work done.
The films were shot by Nirvana in Cape Town , South Africa , with the help of a local production house there, called Platypus. Incidentally, the same combination of people also worked on the ‘Happy to Help’ series last year. When asked whether Cape Town is fast becoming a tourist spot for Vodafone and Nirvana, Varma laughs, saying, “Oh no! It’s just that we are very comfortable with the team there and know what sort of work to expect from them.”
Nagpal adds here that the production cost had to be minimal for unveiling such a large number of commercials. “Otherwise, our production costs would exceed media spends,” he quips.