Getting wired: R/GA marries tech and creativity

Digital house at forefront of interactive movement

The convergence of technology spawned by Gotham’s Silicon Alley with the creative energy of the television, film and commercial production community is a hot topic.

Few, however, are the companies that truly straddle the worlds of wild new applications and the Internet. “In 1992, we made the commitment to interactive, and we have struggled through making it into profitable business,” says Robert M. Greenberg, president of R/GA Digital Studios. His company established its reputation by developing the eye-catching titles for features, including “Superman” and “The World According to Garp.” Greenberg also made Woody Allen’s vision for “Zelig” possible, and stretched the possibilities of digital effects for commercials, like the Diet Coke ads in which Paula Abdul dances with Gene Kelly.

It was the move into developing CD-ROMs, Websites and computer games under the same roof as work for the special effects that made Greenberg’s operation really unique. “What I find is that production companies open up interactive divisions because they think it’s easy, because they think its similar to what they already do,” Greenberg observes. He learned the hard way that it’s not.

Staying the course with this division, R/GA Interactive, has not only added to Greenberg’s bottom line, but it has enhanced the scope of his work in digital effects. Greenberg was among the early users of Sprint Drum, which allowed for the creation of a “virtual studio.” People in different geographic locations could contribute ideas to a project as it was being created. The interactive division went on to create a development site on the Internet. This allows clients to have quick input and approval, and saves a lot of time. It’s much faster than Fed Ex.

One of the more outstanding examples of how Greenberg used interactive technology for a commercial is now visible in two campaigns for the Dodge Intrepid, a car completely designed on a computer. “Chrysler had created an elaborate database of every single part of the car, and they gave us that to use in developing 3-D computer generated animation.”

The CGI team at R/GA, led by Mark Voelpel, then worked with the Intrepid’s actual engineering data, consisting of more than 9,000 individual parts. Bob Hoffman, lead programmer, developed a proprietary interactive data management system, the Greenberg Data Visualizer, which enabled the team to retrieve parts visually, rather than by name. Due to the volume of the data, R/GA custom optimized their proprietary rendering system, Imrender, reducing the rendering time by 70%. Softimage Mental Ray was used for texture, while animation was done in Softimage.

The advances in technology since the completion of first Intrepid campaign last year allowed the CGI images of the car used in the new series of spots to be put in a more realistic environment with spokesman Edward Herrmann.

Making this all the more amazing is the fact that Greenberg’s staff in New York was working on this project with director Terry Windell of a Band Apart in Los Angeles, and advertising agency BBDO/Detroit.

Clearly, R/GA Interactive has moved beyond CD-ROMs and Websites, and is now focused on content development and transactional engines for the Internet as well as its work in special effects.

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