Complete CGI Bruce Lee commercial for Johnnie Walker

Making of CGI Bruce Lee in Johnnie Walker “Change The Game” Commercial by Mill Studio
BBH Creative Executive Johnny Tan and Joseph Kahn talked about doing this concept a year ago. We shot it in Hong Kong, and then we worked with vfx company The Mill in London to create a completely CGI Bruce Lee over nine months. EVERY shot of his head and every detail in there is completely cgi. We got Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee’s daughter, to come aboard and we really picked her brain to make sure that everything was accurate from look to soul. We wanted to be as respectful to the man and legend as we could.
The Mill helps Johnnie Walker, BBH China and director Joseph Kahn bring martial arts master Bruce Lee back to the screen
Johnnie Walker’s latest spot “Change the Game” features a fully CG facial performance from legendary Bruce Lee. Whether you watched his fast moves and daring fights as a child, or your big brother did, Bruce Lee holds an iconic place in cinematic history.
Working again with BBH China’s executive creative director, Johnny Tan, The Mill delivered “Change the Game” for Johnnie Walker. The spot features a walking, talking Bruce Lee and what was vital for the film, was that the story and performance were believable and seamless. The film had to show an authentic Bruce Lee, one that the audience would completely believe in, especially as he is an internationally renowned screen legend and one that the Bruce Lee estate felt really captured his true style and protected his integrity, completely representing a lifelike Bruce Lee.
The Mill wanted to create a new benchmark for achieving the most realistic and seamless head replacement shots ever used on a commercial to date and as part of this challenging process decided not to use the traditional method of motion capture. Bruce Lee and Johnnie Walker needed to be groundbreaking and push the boundaries of what can be achieved, so all of the facial CG was created through hand animation.
The teams were headed up by 2D lead artist Andy Dill and 3D lead artists Sam Driscoll and Francois Roisin, lead modeller, Dan Moore and lead animator, Carlos Fraiha, The Mill worked very closely with Johnny Tan from the outset and began by all sitting down and reviewing hours and hours of Bruce’s archive footage, pulling out as many images from as many different angles as possible. Each new angle brought the team closer to the most realistic 3D face.
Andy Dill explains some of the process “I think Johnnie Walker “Change the Game” is incredibly special because of the distinctly unique human approach The Mill decided to take. The decision to minimise motion capture techniques and instead rely on the skills and talent of the artists really shines through in the final film. The team did whatever it could to get every shot to work and we’d normally have an easier task with the motion capture technology, but the level of micro detail that the artists were able to develop, craft and include is what really makes the spot look so convincing and feel so incredibly lifelike, we all pushed our skills to the limit and trusted our eyes above all else.”
“The team used the Bruce Lee footage as reference, and hundreds of Bruce head models were created with every single feature meticulously modeled to get the exact nuances and facial expressions absolutely right. What everyone wanted to achieve was a seamless performance, so convincing that when you watch Bruce you can see his real emotions and believe that you are watching Bruce Lee the man, not a model, pixels or wireframes, which is why it was so important to create the animation by hand. The challenges and level of detail involved on this project are something we are all hugely proud of.
“We were very lucky to have incredible input and feedback from Shannon Lee from the Bruce Lee Estate, which was invaluable in creating the true emotions of Bruce, as well as working so collaboratively with Johnny and Joseph, which was a great experience with both of them providing support and direction through the entire project”.
Joseph Khan, Director, HSI comments “The final product is something that is truly beautiful and your talents really shine through. I think we’ve taken CGI humans to a whole new level and this will be the bar everyone will look up to now. I feel very fortunate to have worked with such a talented and brilliant group of artists and the committed production staff that supported it. Every bit of your sweat and blood have been noted and appreciated, you’ve rolled with the punches and delivered something truly magical. You remind me why I love working with visual effects – to create impossible dreams”.
Client: Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Director: Joseph Kahn
Cinematographer: Christopher Probst
Agency: BBH, Johnny Tan Creative Director
Agency Producer: BBH, Krystie Koh
Line Producer: Merrilyn Lim, Gravity Films
Executive Producer HSI Productions: Kim Dellara
Music: Brain & Melissa
VFX: The Mill, London